08 September 2009


Our oldest is off to college. Anyone who knows me well would expect me to have been waxing sentimental at his departure. But life had other plans - being in the middle of moving halfway across the country has a way of reducing life to practicalities rather than sentimentalities.

I was fully ready to indulge in memories of the little boy who would pull the pans out of the kitchen cupboard and climb inside it as his "rocket ship" (and that was one skinny little cupboard; of course he was one skinny little boy). And the boy who would put on his "Jim Craig hat" (The Man from Snowy River) and chase imaginary horses around the back yard. The former little boy was seen, the last couple of nights before he left, tucked in bed at night reading the same series of books he'd read endlessly about 10 years earlier (The Great Brain books by Fitzgerald). But I was swamped with details to manage for the move - but not so may details that I didn't have time to appreciate those evenings before he took off for new adventures.

And I would normally be expected to dissolve into tears of sentiment and nostalgia at the thought of his last evening at home being spent with his younger brother along with M and P, the first two friends he made when we moved to that house almost 9 years before. Those same two boys came by again at 6:45 the next morning, and they were the ones to help him grab his bags and walk him out to the car and say goodbye. They could not have done anything more perfect. These two boys (now young men, much taller than I am) who spent hours playing in my yard, climbing the rock wall, and eating brownies; and in more recent years, were over playing basketball and x box, were a lifeline for my oldest in the first year after we moved in. And now they were here to say goodbye.

It was not just the goodbye of friends who will meet again at Christmas break. Just before the boys came by to see our oldest off, my son had to take a walk that I know very well - the walk of someone about to leave for school, who is also leaving their childhood home for the very last time. I took that same walk some 28 years ago - and I still remember every step of it. Having your family move at the same time you start school is a profound jolt. For me it worked very well - going off to school took the edge off the move, and I found myself pushed out of natural shyness as I formed a new home at the university. I'm hoping and praying that our oldest finds the same.

And the two young men, M and P who came by that morning are like extra sons who I loved watching grow up. And they were like sons to me one more time: two weeks later, they came by again, the night before the rest of the family was leaving, and they stayed and helped clean house until past 11:00. True friends to the very last; I always hoped that our home felt like another home to them, that they were always welcome - late or early, covered with mud, just as theywere. They made me feel that that was true by being there on that last night.

That was what made me cry - having two of my "other sons" taking care of us when we really needed it.

But still and all, we're in the process of moving - learning our way around, finding a house, church, doctors, sports, and all those other little details. That keeps me busy enough that there's not much time for sentiment. But there is always time to be thankful for some really good years when we had a house full of wonderful neighbor kids.

The last few days were full of goodbyes from M and P and the many other kids who have been part of our lives. That was a good reminder that while the house we left had some irritations that drove the parents crazy, for the kids it's not the perfect house, or lot that matters, in fact imperfection makes things a lot more welcoming. It is knowing that you will always be welcome whenever you drop by that matters.

So maybe I am taking a moment here to be a little sentimental, and hoping that old friends will feel welcome any time in our new home. But I'm also thinking that we need to be sure that our new house doesn't feel too perfect, and that folks know that they are always welcome, just as they are.

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