The house is strange and things are missing and nothing is quite right. My grandma is moving out of the ancestral Davidson home and it hurts.
The clock is off the mantel, my great-grandfather’s sculling oar from Cambridge is gone. The rooms are all oddly empty. It echoes oddly.
If it wasn’t for Amelia this would be unbearably sad. She’s reminding us that things are changing. It’s somebody else’s turn with this house now; their turn with this space. Honestly, since the house next door has sat empty for six months waiting for a buyer, and the house on the other side just sold after a struggle a year or two ago, I’m betting this will be apartments. Maybe nobody wants beautiful old homes any more, but they sure want land that’s near New York City.
I think that’s why they cranked up the taxes so high that they’re squeezing everybody out. That seems to be the plan.
So Grandma can’t stay, and maybe now I see that she should have left a long time ago, that it was maybe partially my sentimentality that kept her here when she should have left. I think she’ll be happier somewhere else now. She doesn’t need to spend her last ten years as a curator for these ghosts. There was a time when we thought one of her four kids or sixteen grandkids would rise to take the house, but it never happened.
Gewel and I aren’t the ones. It’s a wonderful house, but it’s surrounded by New Jersey. New Jersey is not the place for me. It’s huge problems and no direct benefits. Great schools, but I won’t need them for another five years. It’s barely closer to my parents and no closer at all to Gewel’s mom. That’s leaving aside that I’m making about one tenth as much money as I’d need to make to maintain this place. Maybe I’m not even doing that good. The monthly tax bill for my Grandma to live in her own house would shock you if I told you. To live in New Jersey is to be trapped in traffic, stuck at work, and easy prey for organized vultures.
New Jersey is a place for rich young couples with lots of kids.
And since those people don’t really exist, it’s sort of turning into a ghost town.
It’s breaking my heart that I won’t have much family in Jersey any more. My aunt and uncle and cousins are up here, and we’ve always been pretty close, but I don’t know how it would work out, me showing up out of the blue and staying for two weeks with wife and child in tow. Maybe they’d let me but I’m not sure they’d enjoy it as much.
Jersey was always the foundation of our family, to me, and 705 Larch Avenue was the seat of the family. Losing this house is a lot like losing a member of the family.
Right here, on that staircase, that was the last place I saw my great-grandmother. And my great-grandfather. And my cousin. And so many other people who are still alive but I still won’t ever see again.
I know this house has to go away. Life has no use for the old and it never did. We are all of us mired in our particular slice of time, and it is only through procreation that we can send tendrils in either direction. This is all there is.
I am burning some leaves and twigs in the back yard right now, fifty years of yard waste collected in the northeast corner. Waste isn’t the right word. What happened is that they left that corner alone, to turn into the Davidson National Forest as we called it, for squirrels and earthworms and probably the occasional homeless guy. My father and I were clearing it out for the first time ever, raking the leaves back to reveal the beautiful black soil, the best soil on the entire property. Bagging up the leaves and taking them to the dump, to be composted for the good of the whole city; that’s sort of a weird choice, but that’s what he wants to do. I’m just burning as much as I can. It feels like I’m spreading the ashes of the property on itself. I mean, I know that I am, but it has a funereal aspect to it.
In a very real way, this house made the family. The Davidsons — the four Davidson siblings (of whom my mother is the oldest) and their mother, my grandma, have traveled together for sixty years now. This house was their ship. We’re a close family, closer than some. We know each other, like each other, see each other every year. No matter how far the Davison family has flung, we still come together and this house is the nucleus. The new nucleus will be wherever Grandma is, and we’ll meet there for Christmas. But we won’t be in the same enormous house. It won’t be the house where we all live.
It is sad to watch this house die. This has been a very, very, very good house. It has kept alive so many special human beings. I’ve been here my whole life.
There has been a lot of sadness lately. Winter in New Jersey.