Houses In Motion

It’s been almost a year since Aunt Val died.
I’m driving with my dad across the San Fernando Valley, on our way to Aunt Val’s house. Though we were all promised that the house would remain in the family, it has been sold, and there are many things to be picked up and moved out. Thankfully, there has been precious little pettiness and bickering within the family about her things so far.
My dad has asked me to help him pick up a china cabinet which belonged to my grandmother, and is intended for my mother.
I wonder why he didn’t ask my younger, stronger brother to help out, but I don’t ask. I’m always happy when my dad asks me to do things with him, so I decide not to push my luck.
We ride mostly in silence, but not uncomfortably. I’m lost in thought, though it won’t occur to me until later that this is the last time I’ll make this drive. This drive that I’ve made since I was in a car seat. I’m thinking about what I could talk to my dad about: baseball? the kids? my family? work? We end up talking about them all, and the drive passes very quickly.
As we drive down Aunt Val’s street, it hits me: this is it. I’ve been asked to help my dad move furniture, but I’m really here to say goodbye to this house that’s been part of my life since I was a child.
A tremendous sadness washes over me as we back into the driveway.
I exchange polite hellos with Aunt Val’s daughter, who is responsible for the selling of the house, and walk inside.
It’s the first time I’ve been there since her death, and the house feels cold and empty. It’s more than just the furniture being gone. It’s her warmth and love that are missing.
Most of the furniture has been moved out, but certain things remain untouched: her bookcase, filled to overflowing with pictures of the family and children’s artwork…some of it mine…still dominates tne side of the living room, the recliners where my great grandparents spent most of the last years of their lives opposite. I remember sitting in my Papa’s chair, while Aunt Val sat next to me, watching Love Boat and Fantasy Island, thrilled that I was staying up past my bedtime, watching shows intended for grownups, putting one over on my parents who would often drop my siblings and me off for the weekend.
I loved those weekends. When we spent time with Aunt Val we were loved. We were the center of the
Universe, and though she was well into her 70s, she would play with us, walk with us to get snacks,
let us stay up late. It was wonderful.
In the living room, the table where Aunt Val would put the artificial tree at Christmas is gone, though it’s footprints still mark the carpet. In my mind, I put it back, fill the space beneath it with gifts, warm the air with the laughter and love of the entire family gathered around it, singing songs and sipping cider.
I blink and the room is empty again. The warm light of memory is replaced with the harsh sunlight of
the fading afternoon. Aunt Val’s dog Missy is nosing at my hand, asking to go outside.
I lead her toward the patio doors. Aunt Val’s dining room table, where the adults would sit at reunions and holiday meals, is still there, covered in paperwork and trash. It’s a little obscene.
When I was little, Aunt Val would always sit at the card table –the kid’s table– with us, and when I was fourteen or so I was moved to the “adult’s table.” The next year I begged to be granted a spot
with her at the kid’s table again.
Missy is impatient. She urges me through the kitchen. I look at the cabinet where my great grandparents kept their Sugar Corn Pops cereal. Regardless of the time of day my brother and sister
and I would arrive at her house, we were always hungry for cereal, and Aunt Val was always happy to
oblige. This cabinet, which I couldn’t even reach, this cabinet which held so many wonders is now empty, and at my eye level. I am sad that my own children will never get to look up at it’s closed door, and proclaim themselves starving with a hunger that can only be cured by a trip to the Honeycomb hideout.
The kitchen counters are littered with dishes and glasses. Notes written in Aunt Val’s handwriting still cling to the refrigerator, surrounded by my cousin Josh’s schoolwork.
They say that when a house is passed over by a tornado, it can do strange things to the things inside. They say that sometimes a whole room can be destroyed, and the table will still be set, candlesticks standing, untouched by the violence of the storm. As I look at the refrigerator, unchanged in nearly a year, I wonder why some things have been left alone while others have been
completely dismantled. It’s like a half-hearted attempt has been made to honor her memory.
I walk onto the patio. Missy runs after a bird, and disappears around the corner of the house, leaving me alone.
I stand on the patio, knowing that it will be for the last time. I see the backyard through the eyes of a child, a teenager, an adult, a parent. I look at Aunt Val’s pool, and remember when I was so small, riding around it on a big wheel seemed to take all day. I remember playing with my cool Trash Compactor Monster in the shallow end, before I was big enough to brave the deep end and it’s mysteries, known only to the Big Cousins. I remember being unable to ever successfully complete a
flip off the diving board, and reflexively rub my lower back.
I look at the slide, and the sobs which have been threatening since I walked into the house begin.
In summer of last year, I’d taken Ryan and Nolan to spend the day with Aunt Val. The three of us sat
with her on the patio, eating hot dogs she’d grilled for us, drinking punch she’d made. The kids talked eagerly with her about their plans for the rest of the summer and the upcoming school year. I watched her listen to them, the same way she’d listened to me say the same things twenty years earlier, happy that they were getting to share in her unconditional love the way I had.
We went swimming. Nolan and Ryan both doing cannonballs and flips, Aunt Val always giving them an approving, “Good for you, kiddo!” after each trick.
God, I can hear her voice as I write this.
When they grew tired of tricks, they took to the slide. They took turns for a few minutes, going head-first, on their backs, on their knees.
Ryan was sitting at the top of the slide, waiting for Nolan to get out of the landing area, when he screamed and raced into the water. I immediately knew something was wrong, and rushed to the water’s edge to meet him.
I got him out, and saw that he’d been stung by a wasp.
We patched him up with baking soda and some Tylenol, and prepared to spend the rest of the afternoon inside, watching TV.
Aunt Val wouldn’t hear any of that. She picked up a broom, and some Raid, and marched out to the angry nest of wasps, which we now knew was just beneath the upper edge of the slide. The wasps were pretty pissed, and beginning to swarm, and I couldn’t stop my 84 year old great aunt from wiping them out, so the kids could continue to play.
I’m looking at the slide, remembering that day, remembering how scared I was that she’d get stung and would go into shock, remembering how much fun the kids had with her.
I remembered that day, and recalled a thought I had back then, watching her battle with those wasps: Aunt Val isn’t going to be with us forever. Some day I’m going to stand here, and she’ll be gone, and I’ll cry.
So I cry. I miss her. I miss her. I miss her. I miss her. It’s not fair that she died. It’s not fair at all. I miss her. She was in perfect health one day, and the next she was gone. It’s not fair, and I miss her, and I have to say goodbye to this house, and that’s not fair either.
The finality of her loss takes hold, and refuses to let go. I cry until my sides hurt and my throat is dry. My cheeks are soaked, my nose is running. It’s fitting that as I bid farewell to the house and person who played such an important part in my childhood, I sob like a child.
After awhile, I pull myself together, take a hard look at the backyard, run my hand along the slide, and say goodbye out loud.
I walk back into the house, and I help my dad load the china cabinet into the car. It is heavy and cuts into my hands as I lift it. I’m nervous about dropping it.
Aunt Val’s daughter comes out of the house. I want to scream at her for selling off this enormous part of my childhood, but I don’t. I continue tying down the cabinet, tell her goodbye, and get into the car.
We pull out of the driveway, and drive down the street for the last time.
I speak effusively with my dad on the drive home. I talk about the kids. I talk about work. I talk about the Dodgers and I ask lots of questions about when I was a kid. I want to cherish this time with him, make the most of it. I don’t want to waste any of the time we have together.
When we get home with the china cabinet, my mom asks me how it was being at Aunt Val’s house.
“Tough,” I tell her.
She understands.
We unload the china cabinet. My dad hugs me tightly and thanks me for helping with him. I tell them
that I love them, and I drive home, alone and silent.
It’s been a year since Aunt Val died.
Truth is, it could be a day, or a decade. She is gone, and I will always miss her.

210 thoughts on “Houses In Motion”

  1. Very powerful story of your Aunt Val, for a lot of reasons that we can all relate to. You really can write. I like how you use the present tense, it kind of brings us all along with you through your day.

  2. Wil, i’m so, so, sorry. i know how it feels to miss someone so bad…
    your aunt Val sounded like someone really great, and special. hold on to her memories.
    i’m sorry about your loss, but i’m happy that you had such a great aunt! :) i don’t have an aunt, and i’ve always wanted one.
    your post was, as always, wonderfully written. i’m sure your aunt would have been proud! =D

  3. Wil-
    I was not expecting this letter from you this morning. I still have tears coming down my face as I write this. When you write, its as if we (the readers) are placed exactly in your shoes and experience your joys and sorrows as if they were our own.
    I to had two great aunts that I visited all the time when I was younger. Reading this today brings back memories of their homes, their cats, the smell of their houses. Both of my aunts lost their faculties before their bodies passed on and returned to the earth. But they live on in my memories when they were vibrant, alive and laughing with that twinkle in their eyes that only an aunt can do.
    I sincerely share the loss of your Aunt Val. Thank you for sharing.

  4. What a beautiful, sad peice. I can really tell that there’s a profound joy at the center for your Aunt, and her effect on your life. All of us can only hope to be mourned so well.

  5. No matter how old we are, no matter how worldly, no matter how wise, no matter how we fill our lives we will always cry when we come to understand the power of love.
    Thanks for sharing such love.
    The Last Doctor
    ?who?

  6. If only everyone would realize how little time we have to enjoy our loved ones. My Uncle Jim just passed away and I was impressed (however, not surprised) with the turn out at his viewing and funeral. He had touched so many lives. My family on both my mother and fathers side were very close. Uncle Jim would always try to take care of family matters as soon as possible and he didn’t have any patience with those who were too busy to. Those who would say that they would take care of something when they got “around to it”. He once made a bunch of round disks with the words “to-it” on them. He would hand them out to family and friends and tell them they now had a “round to-it” and to do what needed to be done. Take the time to make great memories.

  7. I imagine that your father knew exactly what he was doing when he asked you to help him.. instead of your “stronger” brother.
    YOU needed this…
    I needed it too. Thank you.

  8. Wow. That was truly amazing. It blew me away. I cried, which I don’t do too entirely often. I never realized what a fabulous writer you are and I’d love to hear when your books comes out. You havne’t stopped impressing me since ‘Stand By Me.’ It’s so weird, there’s so many memories I have that involve you yet I don’t know you. Thank you for that, even though you have no idea who I am, thank you. Truly.
    Please let me know when your book will be published.
    Cheers!
    -mel

  9. My mom died last week and as part of her will, the house where she lived for the past 40 years will have to be sold. I cried as I read about your Aunt Val and I thought of all the memories tied up in this house that I call my home. You have my sympathy at this difficult time and my hopes that the good memories you hold will blot out the pain you feel now.

  10. Ok, time for my poor attempt at cheering Wil up.
    I once knew a lady who sounds alot like your Aunt Val. Her name was Vera but everyone called Maddy Sue (don’t ask me why). She had lived in my village longer than anyone I knew and she was such a sweet old lady. She was blind and couldn’t walk very well, but everytime you went walking past her front step, even though she couldn’t see you, she’d always call your name and tell you to slow down and not to rush.
    Although she was sweet she was right old battleaxe too!
    Once we had an infestation of flies in the village and she went bananas. You’ve never seen a woman of her age swear so much!
    She used to scare me to high heaven, but I loved her too.
    She died several years ago but her son’s only just decided to sell the house. I hadn’t thought about her years but, after reading about your Aunt Val, I sat and thought for a long while and realised that, in her own special way, she loved us all too.
    Thanks Wil, God bless.
    Annie

  11. I read this it touched me a lot. It made me think of my great aunt bernice she died last june. Well I hope all goes well with your family.

  12. I have no words. I read this at work and cried like a girl for about 10 minutes. We all have these moments. We shared yours. Thank you.

  13. Wil & Co.,
    This is totally unrelated to this topic, and I apologize for that, but I HAD to share this because it will probably be the closest thing to a miracle that I will ever witness.
    Here goes. Six months ago I walked off my job because of the incredible a-hole that was my boss. Ten years and absolutely no respect, but I stayed because I loved the job (used music store. Need I say more?) Anyway, when I left, I left in the worst possible way, with no other job waiting for me. I know what some of you are saying. Either that I should be proud for sticking to my guns and refusing to take the abusive childish behavior form this a-hole boss and walk out in a very dramatic fashion (which I did, thank you very much) or you are saying that I was a complete idiot. Well, both are correct. I accepted that and tried to get on with my life. Notice that I said “tried”?
    I grew up in the stereo-typical abusive, bi-polar mother, bad childhood, blah, blah, blah. (Can you tell I’m over it?) My biggest problem was that I never had anything in my life that was of my own making, that was truly mine. Nothing to love. That was until I found this little music store. I turned this miserable little part-time job into a full-time salaried position with more responsibilty than I had ever had and more respect than I have ever received. I loved this job because through my ideas, it was continuously expanded and improved. I discovered that change can be good! Then I walked out. Doh! Needles to say, the following pity party was galactic in proportions. And then, just when I had finally resloved that I must move on and be a grown-up and get on with my life, when the most remarkable thing happened.
    This morning, 10:23am Central Time, the asshole boss that I felt drove me away from my reason for being (I know, but I’m gay and the dramatics are required by the union. Sorry) knocked on my door and asked me to come back. He actually said that they had fired the little “party boy” for being late, again, and he, HE, said that he would like it if I came back. He then added that he realized that I was the perfect person for this job and that this job was perfect for me, his words, I swear. He then did something that made me think that Hell itself froze over. He very simply apologized. HE APOLOGIZED!!! I could now understand the saying “You could have knocked me over with a feather” because you could have.
    I realize that he will only be nice for a month or so and then probably go back to the way he was. I also realize that there is nothing that I can do about it. Thank God that his brother runs the store more than him so I can look forward to working with him again. I know that the coming time will probably be stressful now and then and I can live with it because I am doing the one thing I love the most. I am tired and my feet hurt a little and haven’t felt so good in six months.
    In closing I would like thank whoever is responsible for this (God, Bhudda, Jehova, Vishnu, Allah, Zaktar the Immortal (you never know), etc) and I thank you all for allowing me to share this moment. And thank you Wil for giving me and all of us this chance to share and rejoice in all things.
    Peace,
    Thespar
    Mike Bailey
    Springfield, Illinois

  14. Wil–
    My deepest sympathy on your loss, though it was last year. I lost my mother 10 years ago, and a very close friend two years ago this month–you do get used to the absence, but I don’t think “getting over it” is an option, not if you expect to lead the life of a thinking, feeling being.
    I still remember the way the kitchen smelled when Mom was making Thansgiving dinner (rarely less than a two-day process!) and her asking me to taste the filling for her wonderful pumpkin pie. And there are days I’d swear I can still smell Steve’s cologne…
    I would recommend the book “What Dreams May Come” by Richard Matheson, which had a profound effect on the way I look at death. I would also say:
    “Death is that state in which one exists only in the memory of others…which is why it is not an end.”
    Yes, one of the best definitions of this most painful part of life…from TNG. And a reassurance that though your Aunt Val is no longer available to battle wasps, she’ll never really leave you.
    Damn, now I’m crying, too..
    Syd

  15. Wil-
    My grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer this summer. I saw him this week and he looks good, but you can tell he’s not the same as he was last summer. I fear that he’ll miss the little things in my life (I’m only 20) that I haven’t achieved yet, like my college graduation and if I ever get married. I want to have kids one day, I want him to be around to see them. I really can’t talk about how I, selfishly, want him to stay, because I think it’s only going to open up wounds. We’re trying to live our lives, not concentrate on when they’ll end, right?
    Your words are poignant and I appreciate them, because they capture exactly what I know I feel on a day-to-day basis.

  16. Wil-
    My grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer this summer. I saw him this week and he looks good, but you can tell he’s not the same as he was last summer. I fear that he’ll miss the little things in my life (I’m only 20) that I haven’t achieved yet, like my college graduation and if I ever get married. I want to have kids one day, I want him to be around to see them. I really can’t talk about how I, selfishly, want him to stay, because I think it’s only going to open up wounds. We’re trying to live our lives, not concentrate on when they’ll end, right?
    Your words are poignant and I appreciate them, because they capture exactly what I know I feel on a day-to-day basis.

  17. Wow. So moving. I’m crying like a baby. I think everyone can identify with that loss in that way. My paternal grandfather passed away a few years back and even though I thought I was ready for it, I wasn’t, and it still hits me like a ton of bricks.

  18. wil, whats it been? like 5 days now? Throw us a bone, anything! we need you! I need my fix!
    LOL, kist kidding. A great entry, was also very moved. You have transitioned from child actor, to actor, to just being, to being a writer. I don’t think we’re ever destined to “be” something, just destined to do things worthwhile to others. Throughout your life, that’s all you’ve done. And now by writing, you’re doing it again. Don’t stop, as long as you feel it, don’t stop, for yourself and for us :)

  19. wil, I have to throw in with everyone else and say thank you for sharing that experience with us. truly, thank you.
    and I also have to agree with those above and say you should really write a book. in fact, if my company didn’t just stick to cookbooks, I’d be pitching to you myself.
    thank you, again.

  20. I think Wil is forgetting a poignant piece of his childhood memory:
    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon is the only light we’ll see
    No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
    Just as long as you stand, stand by me
    And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh now now stand by me
    Stand by me, stand by me
    If the sky that we look upon
    Should tumble and fall
    And the mountains should crumble to the sea
    I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
    Just as long as you stand, stand by me
    And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
    Stand by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah
    Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me, oh now now stand by me
    Oh stand by me, stand by me, stand by me

  21. Went to visit my 102 year old grandmother today. Unsurprisingly, she’s old and frail, and her mind is gently fading into twilight. But we chatted, and it was just like the old days when we were kids and she’d make every visit enjoyable and exciting. Like your Aunt Val by the sound of it, she always treated us as people not kids, and we loved her for that. And she’s still just as interested in our lives, and today was great, she revelled in our presence and we revelled in hers, and although I’d just thought of the Sunday trip as the thing I was doing after a great Saturday night out, actually it was the best part of my weekend, and I realised briefly what’s really important in this life. Which is just what you’re so good at reminding us, Wil.

  22. Very moving and powerful, Wil… I almost chastised myself for crying halfway through. But after reading (some of) the many comments, I realized I was not alone.
    I’ve lost people — some of them old folks whose time had come, and some of them people my age who died too young. It never gets any easier. We do honour to them by remembering their lives. After they are gone, that is the most we can do.

  23. Wil,
    I was a fan long ago, have only newly discovered your website, and now am a fan all over again.
    Sometimes when we lose those close to us, memories of them sneak up on us and flood our senses, obliterating all else. Your entry triggered one of these floods for me. My mother is dead 9 years now, and though I have learned to cope with the reality of that loss, I have never truly got over it. I remembered cleaning out her closet for my father, and taking the dress she wore to my high school graduation home with me. It still has a place in my trunk, never worn (doesn’t fit), but never donated to the charity that received the rest of her clothes. After reading your story I took it out and buried my face in it, and just …remembered. The little things get you through.
    Thanks Wil.

  24. Wil,
    A very stirring tribute. My Gram Mary died in 2001 at the age of 84. I know how you feel when the family matriarch passes on. There is just such a huge void…she led all of our family traditions and gave me huge helpings of self esteem when I visited her. I was lucky to have her in my life but there was something “okay” about her passing at age 84 of old age. 84 years is a decent life.
    Sadly, my parents are are dead as well. They died young (in their 30’s). I hope you go many decades before you have to write about your parent’s passing.
    Take Care!

  25. Wil
    I know how you feel. A month ago, September 15th, my whole world fell apart when my grams died. Reading your memories of your Aunt Val reminds me of what I’ve been going through. Although, I lived 4 hours from where my grams I use to spend all my time with her growing up. She helped raise me until my family moved away when I was 5. I spent every summer with her, and she was the greatest. I’ve cried everyday since she’s passed away, and I know I’ll always love and miss her. Thanksgiving is going to be our first holiday without her, and I know this year is going to be the hardest year of my life…the hardest since my best friend died when I was 15.

  26. I don’t want to be insensitive now, but I like your “normal” entries better. The ones that doesn’t sound like they’ll get published somewhere. Now I feel like an asshole. I’m really not. I swear. I feel for your loss and all, I wasn’t singling this specific entry out in any way. But honesty is a quality too right? I’m sorry if I offended anyone (good thing it’s comment number 200 or so…). Just an opinion. You do write great stuff.

  27. I understand how you all feel. My grandma is still living, but we put her house up for sale this past summer and it sold so fast I didn’t have a chance to get there and say goodbye. My grandma’s house was the one place that was stable for me, having moved 13 times before my 10th birthday. I’ll miss the huge backyard which seemed made for kids, and the tree my mother mowed down as a teenager, and the place where my cousins and I made swings with rotten rope which broke under my weight and sent me crying into the house. It’s sad, but I suppose it’s the way things are. *sigh*

  28. Don’t feel bad there, Plume. It’s not that you’re an a-hole, you just are so completely disconnected from your emotions that you have no awareness whatsoever of how tacky and tasteless it is to post such a comment in this string.
    Wil is honest. You’re honest. The difference? Your honesty makes people feel sorry for you. Whereas Wil’s honesty just makes folks feel healing from his words and honesty.
    Try checking out this site here: http://www.clintonpresidentialcenter.com/… It may be more in line with your taste.
    Take care of yourself there, Plumey.
    You bet your poop.
    -McLean

  29. I am very disconnected from my emotions, emotionally troubled even. But anyway, the morning after it struck me that I was so busy trying not to be insensitive that I ended up being very insensitive and I want to apologize, I shouldn’t have posted that, certainly not after that entry. I’m sorry. I’d delete it but.. well I can’t.

  30. Wil,
    As sad as this day clearly was for you, I’m at least happy for you in that you got to visit the house one more time before it was sold. The old rickety farmhouse where I grew up was burned down to clear the land about ten years back. I had wanted to go back to see it one last time before that, but the fire department moved up the burn date before anyone could notify me, and all I got was a phone call telling me “it’s gone now” and some pictures my folks took. It wasn’t losing a family member, of course, but it did leave me feeling like my roots had been torn from the very ground and cast to the four winds.
    I suppose I could end by telling you once again how wonderfully you express yourself in writing … but at this point doing so seems almost superfluous. It would be like telling Eric Clapton that I think he’s a pretty good guitarist. :)
    – David

  31. > Note to self: don’t compose in Kwrite. It really
    > messes with the word wrap
    ew kwrite!!!
    *binky shudders and again makes sure she has no kde proggies on her laptop.*

  32. Wil,
    I am sorry for your loss. Your story brought back many memorys for me as well as the other 800 or so people who have already posted a responce. It is always sad to lose someone thaat you love.
    I think you should have Val’s daughter beamed directly into space.
    Peace
    JS

  33. I understand Wil,
    I lost my Uncle Bob about two years ago.
    You’re right, it isn’t fair. Yes, I miss him. But the memories are what keeps them alive dude.
    You were loved, that’s Aunt Val’s legacy to you…
    ~Kaylin

  34. Wow! My throat welled up as I kept reading. I knew what was coming but I still kept reading. I lost my Nanny in the Spring of 95 and I still cry about her death, and I guess I always will. There is nothing more special then a grandsparents love. I remember doing things for my Grandmother that I would never do for my own mother. But thats what its all about. I see the same thing happeneing to my children and their grandparents and instead of trying to say,”Hey they don’t eat that at my home or they are not allowed to watch that at our home.”.I just let it slide, because I know that the cycle continues and hopefully my children and their childern and their childrens children will all go through the cycle, for it is one cycle that should never be broken.

  35. I personally am not one to throw around the ‘I know how you feels’. Yes, I’ve experienced family loss but believe that loss and grief are far too unique of emotions for each of us to think that I ‘know’ exactly how someone else feels.
    Instead, know that you do have my empathy.
    Thanks so much for sharing this story that obviously many of us are relating to.
    Gabe

  36. I am sorry for your loss, and I am glad that you finally let go. It is a huge step in the grieving process. I can say things that a million other people will say.. remember the good times and cherish what you have now. I know that is what should be said.. So I will say it.

  37. Wil, Seeing a loved one in your mind as they used to be is a comfort nomatter the time that has passed. My grandfather died four years ago and I still cry when I think of him. He was so special to me, and the memories are still so very vivid.

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