I’ve known for years that this time would come, and that it would likely arrive with little fanfare. My mother, or increasingly more likely, my brother and I, would have to clear out our family home of over fifty years and ready it for sale.
I have a half century’s connection to these rooms, this yard, this place, and the people who have inhabited it in those years, and I guess I’ve intuited that there’s a part of me that will feel a bit unmoored when my key no longer opens the front door – when it’s time for a new family to call this house home.
There’s something about being in this physical space, surrounded by its familiar things that allows me to connect to all of the previous iterations of myself. My dad has been gone for over twenty years, but in the house I am able to conjure him almost fully formed. When we sat around the dining room table, these last 18 years, as my mom basked in the company of her grandkids, I could simultaneously imagine my own grandparents in their familiar seats sharing that space with us.
But the air in the rooms shifted the moment my mother died. Were I to take photos of the house now, leaving aside the possessions we’ve already begun rearranging, the photos could not hold things as they long were. They are already not.
I think a part of me has known this too – that the moment you begin your leave-taking, it’s already too late to fix the mental picture of how things were on top of how things are. The images like a set of stacked acetates will no longer align to a register. So I’ve been making photos of the house and the neighborhood in which I grew up as long as I’ve been making photos, at the rate of a frame or two almost every time I have visited for well over a decade. Many I’ve shared here before, but I hope you’ll indulge me a highlights reel.
If there is a place that feels a part of you, don’t wait. Make your photos now while its rooms are full of life, just as you’d like to keep them preserved in your imagination. It’s not a substitute for the full sensory experience of inhabiting a beloved place in the company of the people who shaped its meaning for you. But I do believe a photo, carefully made and considered, can sometimes retain an impression of the emotional intention of its maker. Soon enough my only means of revisiting the house will be via memory, and when I lose my sense of the creaks in the floorboards or the particular slant of October light in my old bedroom, it’s my hope that these photos will give a little more shape and substance to these rooms when I want to keep company with them in my mind’s eye.
Be well and take good care,