What to Keep

We’re moving. If those words aren’t enough to strike terror in your heart then you have never moved.

The reality is that we moved, mentally at least, over a year ago. New empty nesters, my husband and I bought an apartment in Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle. We saw the downtown changing, growing more vibrant and interesting and we thought a two bedroom condo would be a good investment. We got a good deal and spent several months completely rehabbing it. If we didn’t like living there, we told ourselves, we would sell it, or hope that a great new downtown apartment might be enough to lure at least one of our kids back home.

Initially, we used the condo as a pied a terre. We often stayed in the apartment on weeknights and returned to our “country house” a mere six miles away on the weekends. We filled the apartment with new furniture. We brought only our favorite spiffy “city” clothes, our favorite books. It was like getting married all over again—right down to the new dishes in the cabinets and the pristine set of cookware I bought to accommodate our new induction cooktop. Except that we had never had that the first time around—at least not with each other. Dave and I are a blended family, so we started out life with tons of stuff and two of our three children already in tow.

The downtown address cut Dave’s commute down to a six-minute walk. We spent more time together. For months I wrote on my laptop in my brand new study overlooking the three rivers. Our new apartment was pristine, uncluttered, our very own swanky Air B&B. In private I called it out love nest. We became newlyweds in a way we never had a chance to be been the first time around.

We lived this way for a year. Quite happily, I might add. Eventually, though, we grew tired of maintaining the house, of shoveling the snow and raking the leaves, not to mention paying two sets of bills. We decided to sell our suburban home. When we told the kids we were putting the house on the market, they were upset, one of them in particular—upset as in couldn’t talk to us for weeks—weeks!—without exploding in anger or dissolving into tears. Exasperated, my husband finally demanded, “What do you expect us to do—hold onto the house and preserve it as a shrine to your childhood?

“Yes,” our middle daughter answered, quite calmly. “It was a great childhood. It should be a shrine.”

What greater compliment could a child pay her parents? How heartless we were for expecting to build a fun, new, grown up life without them.

Our daughter was right. Our home is a shrine to a life lived with three beautiful children, to twenty Halloweens and as many Thanksgivings, and seven Harry Potter publication day celebrations, magical nights spent gathered around the firepit toasting marshmallows while we took turns reading until morning. The backyard, a burial site for several goldfish, one snail, one hermit crab and the ashes of a beloved dog named Raggs.

How does one pack a shrine? The answer of course, is that you cannot. Some might say that the power is in the space; it is hallowed ground. But if that’s the case then the lucky young family who will move in next week got themselves the deal of a lifetime.

The power, for us, anyway is in the memories, individual and collective. And so, ultimately we decided that the best way to preserve our shrine was to pillage it. We invited our children and all of our dearest friends to take anything and everything that held any particular meaning from time spent with us in our home. A dish, a sofa, a favorite painting. Part of it is selfish; it allows us to continue to visit our things, revisit the memories again and again. But the kind of shrine we want to build going forward is a loose and living one, filled with the people we love and those who love us.

That is what we’ll keep.