The email came from Zillow. Thirteen years after my sisters and I had sold the house where we’d grown up, it was back on the market.

There hadn’t been more than a moment’s doubt that we’d sell the house after my mother passed away. Although located in a lovely Long Island suburb with top rated schools, a wonderful library, and a lively mainstreet, none of us had any desire to move back to town. The house itself was solid and comfortable, but it needed work. Built in 1945, my parents had moved in when I was a baby in 1966 and done minimal renovations over the years. In the last decade, after my father died and my mother was living there alone, she’d managed just the bare minimum maintenance.

We had no intention of putting money into the house in order to sell it, because we assumed that whoever bought it would knock it down and start over. We didn’t paint or stage the rooms. Instead, we painstakingly sorted through forty-four years worth of memories, keeping what was valuable, monetarily or emotionally, and calling 1-800-Junk to collect the rest. When we’d cleared ourselves out, we set a reasonable price and sold quickly to a young couple. Then we waited for the wrecking ball.

But the house stood. I wasn’t a stalker, but I kept my eye on the property. I had married a boy from high school; his parents still lived nearby, and we visited them often. Once in a while, I’d drive by my parents’ house to check what changes could be seen from the outside. At some point, the new owners added a small deck to the back of the house, the barbeque inviting and sparkling in the sun. One day, I cried quietly in my car when I saw that the huge Weeping Beech tree, whose leafy branches had swept down from the heavens and shielded me as I played in their shade as a little girl, had been cut down. I prayed that it had been diseased, and wasn’t a victim of a zealous quest for curb appeal. I never saw the new residents, but I was silently thankful that they’d chosen to make the house their own rather than replace it.

Then the Zillow email landed in my inbox. It had been a very difficult month. My husband’s father, a quiet and gentle man who had shown me nothing but kindness for four decades, had passed away. Another link in the weakening chain connecting me to my hometown and my childhood had been severed, and my husband and his siblings were actively discussing selling their parents’ house and moving their mom closer to us. Soon, there would be no physical connection to my childhood. Except, in some odd way, my parents’ house – just beyond reach, but frozen in time in my memory.

Zillow indicated that the house was a “new construction,” an obvious error that I pondered before realizing that the interior had been so transformed, it was as if the house had been knocked down and rebuilt from scratch. Somehow, the retention of the exterior had allowed me the illusion that nothing significant had changed on the inside over the last thirteen years. In reality, as I scrolled through the photographs, I could barely figure out which room was which. It took me several tries to identify my former bedroom. There were two new bathrooms that hadn’t existed before. My basement, with its wood paneling and vinyl flooring, where I’d had my bat mitzvah disco party and later my Sweet Sixteen, now housed a screening room and a wine cellar. It was as if my childhood had been erased. And the pain was somehow more visceral because from the outside, I hadn’t had a clue.

My initial impression was that nothing from the home I knew was still intact. But on a second pass through the photographs, I realized I was wrong. My mother had simple and elegant taste. In the living room, alongside her blue velvet couches, a marble inlaid coffee table, and a baby grand piano, she was most fond of the beautiful window treatments. In my memory she’d helped design them, but I can’t be sure. They recalled Japanese shoji screens, sliding wooden panels with diaphanous blue fabric that let in the light but shielded the family from the prying eyes of the outside world.

After we sold to the young couple, I never approached the house, to look inside the windows and see how life had moved on within its walls. If I had, I suppose my mother’s window treatments would have guarded the new inhabitants as they guarded us. They are all that remains.

Sleuthing on Zillow my Childhood Home was last modified: by

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