Maybe what they say about childbirth is also true of moving house — you forget how hard it is so you can decide to do it all over again.
I have moved quite a few times over the years, sometimes just a few blocks within the same city, sometimes from city to city, or country to country — even across an ocean, and back. I have lived in Ontario since 1979, first Woodstock, then Hamilton since 2000 (though in a few different houses) — so that is fairly stable.
And even though I am looking forward to my coming move from Hamilton to Toronto (end of August), to live with my partner, I have mixed feelings about leaving my house, my garden, my neighbourhood, and living in Hamilton, where I have felt at home ever since coming here. I have lived in this house since 2005 — only 13 years, but yet a long time, especially because many of the things here, including books, manuscripts, and other papers, have been with me for much longer than that. Not to mention the things I brought from my mother’s house after her death, in Pennsylvania in 2009. I am finding childhood cards from and to my grandparents, photographs of people and places I’d almost forgotten, recipes, programs, souvenirs, writing by schoolkids I taught who are now at least 30 years old — and this is after months of recycling during the winter!! And of course, there have been many good visits and gatherings in this house, making it more of a home.
Moving is hard for anyone, but for a writer, there are special problems. We are like squirrels and magpies — we save things, and we love interesting, shiny things (or dull things which could be polished to rare beauty). All is grist for the miil, if not now, then in some indefinite future. Those old manuscripts (even ones written on typewriters (how long ago was that?) or saved on printer paper with punched holes, could be useful — a line here, a verse there. And the books and journals: my own (for which I’m grateful), those by good friends and acquired at readings, and all the books that I turn to for comfort, inspiration, curiosity, or just to reconnect with a good friend — a companion who makes me feel and think. “You have a lot of books, don’t you?” says every work-person who comes to the house — and then often has a story about their own writing, or their kids’.
And the stories, the memories, attach to so many everyday things: the patch of lily-of-the-valley where my cat lay down when he was dying; the painted barn-board my mother bought for her house in the country; the painting by my friend Rita-Anne who died last year, the blanket we took camping, my great-grandmother’s menorah? Keep — or let go? As Michele Landsberg once wrote about a missing family samovar, “There is always a story,” even if the object is gone. That’s also the theme of the beloved children’s book, “Something from Nothing” (written and illustrated by Phoebe Gilman, adapted from a Jewish folk tale.)
And who will move into the house? What will they tear down, or repair? This was the only house I’ve lived in where I made extensive changes — tearing down a wall, completely reshaping the bathroom, adding to the garden. There is more I could do… with money, time, inclination (and a healthier back). Maybe it is time for new people to come here and enjoy it, as I move on with my life somewhere else.
Even the house seems to know change is on the way — the aging washing-machine gave up its watery ghost, the garden looks like the end of summer rather than July (the iris have some strange ailment, too). And several houses on the street have been sold this month. Maybe, the way we do with children as they grow up and leave home (my son, for instance, now lives in Cape Dorset, Nunavit — and I moved from the U.S. to Canada as a young adult), I can love the house and still let it go. There’s always a story….
Listen to Ellen reciting poetry.
“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.” White Queen to Alice, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, by Lewis Carroll.
peach and gooseberry
sweet-tart on the tongue
spread on toast, muffins,
bagel with raisins
and cinnamon –
spice of the sabbath
now her body is jamming
itself, cells stuck and clogged
blocking the vital
flowers jam in the garden,
jazz musicians gone wild,
cacophony of tulips
trill of daffodil
violin tones of violets
and weeping redbud,
one gooseberry bush
bursting into flower
to be picked.
Ellen S. Jaffe, 2016
for Sharon H. Nelson (2 January 1948 – 12 June 2016)
published in Persimmon Tree, Summer 2017