Every once in a while, Dave and I come up to Barrie, the town where my parents lived after their retirement. Our son Chris, our friend Annie, our granddaughter Phoebe and my brother Sean still live here, although not together.
When we're here, we stay with Sean in my mum and dad's house, and it's always disquieting. So much of the house is as my parents left it; so much is not, and I just can't figure out how I feel about that.
I think we must all want to be able to "go back" to somewhere familiar, although as an Army kid it didn't occur to me that there would ever be such a thing. We all knew that Army families don't live anywhere for too long, and if you were hardcore, as we were, you could actually never know anyone other than more Army families.
With that background, I certainly never expected that my parents would buy a house with a big yard, that Dave and I would get married there, bring home our children, our friends, our in-laws, our colleagues, acquaintances and people we met at the beach. It was a lovely warm home, with the doors always on the go, cars and bicycles in the lane, new babies and old neighbours sitting in the shade of the catalpa tree which threw its sticky flowers all over the yard. Someone was always making tea (never me---I can't tell when water has become tea, so I was excused); someone else was always drinking it.
Now that both my parents are gone, when I'm here I find myself careening crazily from giddiness to silent tears: smiling at the framed pictures of the grandchildren and their children all willy-nilly on every close-to-flat surface, touching the kitchen table my uncle made from a Canadian Tire door one day, drying my face on a towel that hangs next to my mother's bathrobe.
The house is not in great shape structurally and we all worry about it, but Sean says there's no place he'd rather be, and now sitting in what was my brother Doug's bedroom, under a huge poster of Bob Dylan in curls and a velvet jacket, I'm inclined to understand him. Catching a glimpse of my dad's medals sitting on the china cabinet I remember my parents buying with such joy and trepidation, I can see how this house can pull me in, even though my feet are freezing. Brushing against a fairly badly-done trapunto picture I made for mum and dad in the 70s, hitting my toe against the quirky kitchen chair for the 8th time since starting the dishes, and finding that the bathroom door won't quite close, I wonder at the happiness we felt here over the years and suspect that maybe nostalgia has hit me upside the head yet again.
Back and forth, pain and joy, delight and sadness, familiarity and loneliness. Now that's the kind of house I want to leave for my kids.