A Proposition: You have been given the opportunity to go on a 4:30 a.m. five-hour road-trip to upstate New York. Your destination: a small house off of a busy highway with no mattresses, wifi, cable television, or indoor plumbing (only the last item is a joke). Your task: sifting through furniture, household items, and the occasional thumbtack within a bag within a box within a bigger box within a bigger bag in order to compile and bring home items worth salvaging and toss items worth-not into a giant dumpster out back. Oh, and you'll be returning home that night so hopefully you're comfortable sleeping in a moving vehicle.
Would you do it?
Unless 1) the house holds some overwhelming sentimental significance, or 2) you've always wondered what it's like to work as one of the people who cleans houses on Hoarders, you probably--understandably--would not. However, mostly for reason 1 (and a little for reason 2) I feel inclined to make this trip with my mom and uncle.
The house is--was--my great grandma's, and although she died more than seven years ago my whole family still refers to it as "Baba's House". Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of times spent there as a kid: catching toads in the tall grass, walking through the woods behind the house, riding around the property on the back of a motorcycle with my uncles, staying up late with most of my extended family to watch that horrible 2003 Hulk movie, and, at the end of a long night, falling asleep on the porch to the peaceful sound of trucks zooming by (I'm not being sarcastic--that sound actually lulled me to sleep).
Despite the more elaborate, expensive and memorable vacations my family has taken, my recollection of the time spent at Baba's house fills me with a deep sense of wistful sentimentality that is not replicated by later memories. This feeling is connected to a fondness for a time in which the simple joy of being with family superseded that of going to some touristy destination, making dinner plans, or connecting to the wifi network. I'm not saying my family doesn't value time spent together now (we definitely do), but it's understandably harder to focus on the simple important things when things like constantly-updating smartphones and managing a work/work balance constantly stand between us and our better selves.
I don't expect that going back will enable me to relive the carefree-ness of being a kid or inspire me in some profound and inextricable way. Like the people who used to visit it every August, the house and property have weathered, matured, and changed over time. It has been renovated and re-painted, the woods behind it have shrunk as new houses have been built, it has been occupied by tenants on some occasions and abandoned on others, used as a pit stop between destinations and a humorous conversation topic at family dinners. In other words, it has been a long time since that house has matched the one in my memories. And now it's being sold.
Maybe I feel a particular connection to that place now because I'll be moving out of my house and into an apartment around the same time that it will be occupied by new permanent residents. I'm losing access to one symbol of family, comfort and stability, and gaining access to something shakier--something impermanent that requires a degree of self-sufficiency that I've never had to have.
So I'm setting my alarm for 4 a.m. this weekend. I probably won't sleep in the car. I'll probably take more furniture, decorative items and kitchenware than I'll need to use in my new apartment. I'll probably cry. But I'll also probably be glad I went.