My son stood at the window, staring out from the kitchen at the backyard of the only house he’d ever called home.
He’s 11, and will show you how tough of a kid he is at any turn. But even the toughest kid has his soft side. I approached him. “You OK?”
A tear rolled down his cheek.
“We’ve had a lot of memories in this house, haven’t we?”
He nodded and turned his head from me.
Reality was setting in for him. This would probably be the last time any of us ever set foot in this house, as we would close on the sale of the house a few days later.
We now live in a new house in a new city. And that chapter in our life has closed, and the house, which we lived in for 14 years, is now part of our past. And what an important part it was. We moved into that house when our daughter was seven months old. It’s the only home she really knows either.
I hugged my son and told him it was OK to be sad. And then I asked him, “Do you hear it?”
“Hear what?” he said, wiping the tears from his face.
He stopped and cocked his head upwards, listening. He laughed. “Yeah, I think I do.”
We stood in the echoing emptiness of a vacant home, and the sounds came roaring to us.
Sure, over 14 years of raising two kids there were sounds you don’t want to remember. Crying babies. Arguments. Frustrations over homework. And that house was also, on occasion, the place of truly sad times. A phone call telling us a loved one had passed. The last moments of a beloved family pet. Frustrations over homework.
But those sounds were the exceptions to the norm. And those weren’t the sounds we heard.
We heard squeals of delight on Christmas morning.
We heard shrieks from the first jump in the always-cold pool in March.
We heard dinnertime conversations about everyone’s day.
We heard cul-de-sac parties with our neighbors who became so much more than just neighbors.
We heard my daughter playing piano.
We heard my son playing the trombone.
We heard me trying to play both the piano and the trombone, with disastrous results.
We heard cheering for Alabama football.
We heard Fourth of July backyard barbecues.
And we heard laughter. Oh, man did we hear a lot of laughter. Deep, from the gut laughter. Laughing at the good times, the fun times, the silly times, the times that trump all of the bad times a billion times over. We heard our family’s history, and what a wonderful sound it was.
I know plenty of folks move all the time. We’re not those plenty. My parents still live in the house I was raised in. We still visit my inlaws at the house that was purchased the very day my wife was born. We have the wonderful benefit of being able to return to the homes where we both grew up, where we learned life’s most important lessons. My kids, because of how life works sometimes, won’t have that. But they will always have the memories.
As we prepared to leave for the final time, I told everyone I wanted us each to share the funniest moment we remembered from the house.
Mostly, we told inside jokes that were silly and goofy and unique to us, so I won’t bore you with them. But I can tell you this much — the laughter was loud. Man, it was loud. In the present, and so loudly from the past. And it was beautiful.
As my wife and I were preparing to walk out of our house for the final time, she turned in the kitchen and blew a kiss to the house. “Thank you,” she said. I seconded it. “Thank you, indeed.”
Thank you, house, and may your next owner find years of joy, happiness and certainly laughter that we found within those walls.
We leave behind our house, but we do not leave behind our home. Because our home is wherever we are together. But we were together for 14 years at a pretty special place.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.