Tomorrow is the day . . . the day I have been anticipating yet dreading. Tomorrow morning I will wake up just as I always do, get dressed, make coffee, spend time in the Word, talk to my Father, and eat breakfast. But it will not be an ordinary day, because it will mark an ending, the end of a 65-year-old story. You see, for the past year and a little more, Art and I have been living most of the time in my childhood home, a home that my parents bought new in 1953. And tomorrow I will leave it forever.
I don’t think it would have been so hard to leave, if I hadn’t had the privilege of living here so recently. My family moved here when I was seven, and I left for college when I was seventeen, married at nineteen, and never lived full-time at Knollwood again. But it was my parents’ home for most of their 65-year marriage. They were forced to leave ten years ago because of Dad’s health. They came to live with us in Tennessee, and Dad went to heaven eight months later. Mom lived the next years with us and later with our daughter Brenda in Georgia. But in December of 2017 she broke her hip. The hip healed just fine, but she now needed someone around full-time, so we brought her back to Tennessee to live with us. She recovered so well that a few months later we three came back here to Knollwood together.
Art and I began working to repair and refurbish the house, which had seen more than its share of wear and tear over the years it spent as a rental.
It was good to be back. Many old friends in the neighborhood and at church made us feel right at home. From May 2018 until January 2019 we worked on the house, took care of Mom, and began to feel like Michiganders again. During our daily walks, we explored all the streets of Clawson, marking them on a map to be sure we didn’t miss even one. Clawson was fully developed before I left for college in 1964, so not much had changed. Of course some of the old businesses were gone—the roller rink, theater, A&W, dime store, gas stations. But there were new and thriving businesses in the same buildings.
We walked over to the park for concerts and other events, and I told Art how much more fun the park used to be before it was developed, when it was still a bit of an urban wilderness with more of nature to explore. We watched the band play the old pep song as it marched onto the football field at Homecoming, and I told him about drinking my first cup of coffee during a cold evening on that same field, trying to stay warm while waiting to play at half-time. We explored my old high school, inside and out, trying to discern where the old part ended and the new began. We found the photo of my graduating class, one of the largest before the baby boom began to wane. Much had changed, much remained the same.
That summer, all of Mom’s children came back to visit with her, to see the home that was no longer home, and to recall their own memories of growing up in this little town where we all had our roots. And this summer they returned again, briefly, to honor the memory of our dear sweet mother who had loved us all, right up until the end of her 97 years. We could all feel the sadness of knowing that with Mom gone, we would probably never all gather together again.
We have spent the better part of a year refurbishing the house. The work was hard, but we enjoyed it. We knew that eventually we would sell it, but we wanted it to be beautiful again, for the next family to enjoy. Floors were refinished, both levels painted, a brand-new kitchen installed, updates and upgrades everywhere. It was a labor of love, in honor of the memories that could never change. The family is gone now, the work is finished, and during these last days we have a chance to breathe, and to consider all the changes that have occurred over the past year.
It’s not just saying goodbye to a house, it’s goodbye to an era. We were born and raised here, and for fifty years we have been coming back to this place we have always called home, the place of our childhood. After tomorrow, there will be no reason to come back. We five Gardners are scattered, and we wonder if we will ever see each other again. Mom’s passing also marks the end of our season of caregiving, first for Dad, then Art’s mom, then mine. All our parents are gone now and we feel like orphans. We are the old people now, and we don’t know what’s next for us. So we look back, and grieve for our parents, all the changes, all the old days, all the memories. We are blessed with sweet memories, and tomorrow we will leave the last symbol of those days. We will drive away from Clawson, possibly for the last time.
Bittersweet. It’s the perfect word to describe my feelings today. Sweet memories, and sorrow at leaving so much behind. But I know that in time the bitter will turn into poignant remembrance, and the sweet will remain.
I believe that this unfulfilled yearning for the past, for the family bond, the fellowship, is really a longing for the fulfilled Kingdom of God. Deep in our hearts we long for the perfect home, not of nostalgia, but of meaning and purpose, of love and joy. Jesus said, “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there you may be also.” Those who know and love Him are part of a much larger family, the Family of God, with members from every tribe, people, and nation. One day He will return for His own and take us to be with Him forever. It is in that place He is preparing for His children, His beloved, that all our longings will be satisfied, and there will be no more goodbyes.