I felt heavy of heart as my friend Elaine and I trudged up the wooden stairway for the fifth time. The sound of our footsteps on the wood was so sweetly familiar. The farmhouse that I’d grown up in was almost entirely empty and ready to be handed over to Jake and Callie, the young couple who would soon be moving in.
When I’d started to clean out my family’s belongings two months earlier, I thought the job would be impossible. I had set up regular work days for myself. Friends and family knew which days I’d be there and would often stop in to help. At first I felt all I was doing was shifting things from one side of the house to the other as I sorted and decided which items were to be kept, donated or tossed.
Belying the large amount of salvage items, we hauled out a huge pile of garbage bags to a dumpster I’d rented. I was making progress, even if it didn’t look like it. I had an auction house collect what they suggested would sell. Then Saint Vincent De Paul came with a truck for the family belongings that we decided to donate.
Today was my last visit to pick up a carload of keepsakes; the Christmas Crèche that Casper had made, personal letters, a couple chairs and the many unclaimed afghans that Mom had crocheted.
Stepping into what had been my brother’s bedroom, I thought aloud, “The safe stays. Jake is buying it. There’s only one more box of private papers to carry down to my car.” My voice echoed in the now nearly bare room. It gave me a strange, empty feeling. Dust bunnies that had hidden under his bed and dresser rolled around the floor in a breeze from an open window.
Quickly moving through the bedrooms that my big sisters and I had shared, I looked to see if we’d missed anything. There was nothing in the pink bedroom, but on the wall of the dormer in the blue room, I spotted an old mirror.
Stepping forward to take it down, I said, “This’ll go into the dumpster. It’s damaged by age.” My voice echoed again. Even my footsteps had echoed.
Suddenly feeling betrayed by time, I remembered when this secure enclosure had been my childhood nest, a place of safety where I had the privacy to sleep, change clothes, cry over my little hurts that I thought were the end of the world at the time and to enjoy reading an endless number of books.
Turning to leave, I stopped and looked back. Dust bunnies in this room were rolling around in a breeze, too. Commenting to the friend helping me that day, I said, “Elaine, I want to sweep these rooms, but Jake said they don’t want us to clean. They’re going to remodel right away, so everything will get dusty again.”
My friend replied, “If it’ll make you feel better, let’s get some brooms and start sweeping.”
Smiling sheepishly, I said, “If you don’t mind.”
Moments later as I rounded up all of the dust bunnies, lost necklace beads, crumbled off corners of old books and memories of Saturdays when Mom insisted we cleaned our rooms, I realized that while I hadn’t wanted to sweep…I needed to sweep to gain a sense of peace about leaving my childhood home behind.
Jake stopped by the house as Elaine and I were sweeping the downstairs patio room. Just as I found a flashlight, two plastic Easter eggs and scrap paper beneath the two steps leading down into the room, he stepped into the kitchen and admonished, “You don’t have to do that.”
I straightened up and looked at him. A scene from the movie, Fiddler on the Roof flashed into my mind. Golde and Tevye were leaving their home in the village of Anatevka. After packing everything they owned, Tevye was in a hurry. He said, “Come, Golde!”
She answered, “I have to clean up…to sweep the floor.”
Being a man, Tevye asked incredulously, “Sweep the floor?”
Turning, I said, “You don’t understand, Jake, I have to sweep.” Being a man and a young one at that, I don’t think he entirely understood-there is a world of difference between wanting to do something and having to do something. Like Golda, sweeping gave me a sense of closure.