For many people, “Arlington Road” conjures up the 1999 mystery thriller starring Jeff Bridges with the tag line, “Fear Thy Neighbor.” But my relationship with Arlington Road started well before 1999, and there is nothing fast moving, mysterious or thrilling with my real-life Arlington Road. Not much to be scared of either (though there were scary moments), no high drama, no terrorist plots. My Arlington Road has been more like a slow motion reality show, one that continued for years on end, and like a daytime soap that no one watches any more, it is about to be cancelled.
My relationship with Arlington Road started on May 29, 1964, when my dad bought the four-bedroom Colonial on a corner lot in Brookline, Massachusetts for my mother and their growing family. The grantee on the deed was to my mother only—it states that it is granted to her “in her own right,” quite unusual in those days. I’m not sure how or why my mother was able to work that at 29, but she did.
My brother Paul was 7 when the family moved in. I was 5, my brother Aaron had turned 1 a few days earlier, and my mother was five months pregnant with my brother Michael. I don’t know when Sandy the dog came along, but it must have been shortly after. Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, graduation and birthday parties, shivas, dinners of all sorts were all celebrated in that house for over half a century. My father died in the house in 2011, my mother this past November. Now it is time to say goodbye.
No “thing” has ever been part of my life for over a half century. So I am not really sure how to properly say goodbye.
I go over the house a lot, sometimes for a specific purpose, sometimes finding a purpose. In the months since my mother died, I’ve gone through every drawer, every nook and cranny, sometimes cursing my mother, sometimes crying over memories long gone, sometimes laughing to myself. I’ve returned cable boxes, met brokers, packed up pictures and old tax returns, spent hours in the little office upstairs that was my brother’s bedroom going through bills and receipts. I’ve emptied buckets of leaking water, supervised estate sale guys, clean out guys. The house is hollow now, totally empty. As they say in the business, it’s “broom clean” and ready for sale.
Despite the emptiness, I still go over there every week or so. I walk through the empty rooms, trying to force memories, but when you try to force them, they never come, do they? I walk through the backyard, among the flowers my mother loved so much, all a little overgrown without anyone tending to them. “That’s a Clemetis,” my mother would instruct me about the flower that grew up the fence in the back. I’d laugh to myself because it sounded a little like a female body part to my teenage (and still to my midlife) brain, and I’d give her look of disdain that teenagers do so well, but I’ll always remember it.
The memories come easily at night in my own bed, when I am trying to sleep.
I remember listening to Al Sherman, “Hello Mudda, Hello Father” on the record player in the living room. I remember “practicing” the piano while I eyed the chocolates on the coffee table. I remember reading Cliff Notes on my bed, surrounded by the most horrid neon green and pink square geometrical wallpaper. I remember reading World Book encyclopedia, never getting much passed “A”. I remember popping a Speed pill one time when I came home from college on vacation because I didn’t think I could stand being there for even another second (and I thought that would help.) I remember bringing my husband to Shabbat dinner to meet my family for the first time; I remember bringing my kids over for sleepovers.
I remember cream cheese brownies in the freezer, a cabinet filled with junk food that was off limits to me (I was chubby.) I remember getting my period for the first time; I remember hiding candy wrappers in the over the door shoe organizer. I remember the aroma of white buns from the oven on “fish” night. I remember sneaking the dog my ABC steak (if you are my age, you know what that means) under the kitchen table. I remember watching All In the Family in a big chair with my dad, and having my mom try to straighten my hair by wrapping it in an empty coffee container. I remember spending hours making bubble gum chains, playing 4 square in the back yard, petting the dog for hours as I lay with her on the bare kitchen floor, and watching The Wizard of Oz on the pull out couch in the basement– marveling over “color” TV. I remember my father’s laughter filling the house—always, his constant laughter.
Early next week, my brothers and I will say goodbye with some beach chairs, a bottle of Crown Royal (my dad’s drink) and a toast or two. We will tell stories, conjure up more memories, and I am sure we will tell more than a few of my dad’s jokes. I will tell them that whenever anyone asks me if I am sad, I am tempted to respond, “Does a bear shit in the woods?” because that is what my dad might have said.
In truth, I’m sad, happy, relieved, but mostly a little weirded out that it won’t be ours anymore; that someone else will be building memories there. But I doubt if the next owners will have 50 years of memories—that is pretty special. I just hope there is half as much laughter.