By Arthur H. Gunther III
A day or so before my brother Craig and I recently closed on our late parents’ house, I said goodbye to a place that was never my childhood home, never one of infant, toddler, pre-teen and teen yin/yang that moves one toward the whole. No, all that happened — with failure and success — in six other locations, all within a few miles of one another practically from birth into young adulthood. The house that I gave a last tip of the hat to was instead a short-lived way-stop before the adult growth and development that you hopefully progress into and succeed.
When my parents bought their second home (the rest were rentals) in 1964 in Pearl River, N.Y., having lived in nearby Hillcrest since 1953, my brother and I came along because we were not yet established in work and life — income, marriage, etc. Craig was there the shortest time, less than a year, and me a bit longer. So this new house was not the “home” of parental authority, of fifth-grade friends playing card games in the backyard, of eighth graders studying for the first state Regents tests, of many Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthday parties, of visits by grandparents, of thoughts of young love, of getting a driver’s license, of growing up. All that happened elsewhere, and the 1964 house was for a time lodging, and my brother and I were thankful for that.
In summer 1964, 51 years ago now, as a young-enough man, my father gave me the address of the new house, and I went over by myself, finding it set off the road a bit within a driveway yet to be paved. I parked my red VW and, with no house key, walked about the property and peered into the back patio door, taking note of how the “basement” was finished, unlike the Hillcrest house. I stared at a wall and thought this house was well constructed and that my parents had made a good choice for themselves.
Yet I also realized this would not be a home of growing-up memories, that I had to move myself on soon enough. What part of the yin/yang this place would play out there I did not know, and I would rather have let all that finish in Hillcrest. I saw no reason to move, not then anyway (my father had always liked Pearl River, had long wanted to live there.) But that was selfish, for my parents had already given us so much.
My mother would live happily in the new house for about 32 years, until Alzheimers and then her passing a few years later. My father would be there for 51 seasons, living independently quite well until just days before his own death. In those decades when our parents shared the house, it was a place for grandchildren to visit, for the yin/yang that continues even as sons/mother and dad all grow older.
After my father died in April and the house was listed but before the sale went through, the house was cleaned of furniture, etc., and I kept occasional watch, not able to stay for long periods out of sadness but there long enough to be as responsible as I had to be in the situation. When all was said and done, just a day or so before the closing, I looked in every room and paused for every memory I could recall. I saw my relatively young parents and a much younger me. I also saw the hallway where my father and I laughed in March as I literally dragged him into his bedroom after he fell, after he stood for the last time in his house of five decades.
Moving downstairs on that last visit, I locked the patio door that I had stared into in 1964 and went into the backyard. I peered against the glass and looked at the same wall I had first noticed 51years before. I walked over to my present car, also red, left the property and drove the old route back to Hillcrest, pausing there with a tip of the hat to the old homestead, the one where so much had happened in the relative shortness of childhood.
The journey was complete, that one anyway. Some affairs are now in order as the yin/yang of each life, including my own, my brother’s, too, continue toward equilibrium.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at email@example.com
Just doing what you’re so good at, Art-
A very nice essay that makes me just a little envious that my memories were never that memorable.
Thanks for sharing yours, my old friend.
John, thank you for that. Perhaps memories are relative to our experiences, so I also thank you for being part of my SV school days. Best, Art
Ah, the wheel turns. Wonderfully written- I had such a clear picture in my mind as read.
And we have clear pictures from you, Philip, quite literally.