Still, it was really hard seeing everything from the home that's been "home" to me for 60 years, leave, to be sold or donated to charity so the funds could pay for the care I'd been providing since my brother died in 2014. When I saw that the last of the house's contents were gone, I could only stand silently, as something like the wind, chill and solitary, blew through me. So many memories within those walls. Dad took it better than I did, I think, feeling at first a bit miscast but then accepting his new surroundings as a safe shelter. He has grown to love his new place with a view of the woods, and someone there all the time if he needs help. He has made friends with other Veterans, and they spend many an hour sitting out in the garden area exchanging stories and bad jokes, their rapport not like that of siblings, but as people who had breathed and endured wartime, the internal scars of which they all still bore with honor.
I visited him just a few weeks ago, and one of the drives we made was down the street of the old house. It looked to be occupied by a family, there were a couple of kids bikes out front and new flowers had been planted and the trim around the windows had been repainted. Dad was happy to see it went to someone who would care for it as he did with the laughter of children within those walls no longer only an echo.
Good people honor their Veterans as we are taught to honor our parents. Dad bought his house 10 years after his service in WWII when he left the military for good. He did everything he could to make sure we lived in a safe world, even before we were born. That is why my "vacations" the last 30 years have been back and forth to Dad's house to care for him and my stepmom when she had Alzheimer's and later just my Dad. My big brother, a retired Navy Submariner who worked for Electric Boat, made sure the house stayed in good condition, with both of us making sure there was enough money in his bank account to handle its upkeep (you can't see it from this angle but my brother and I got him one of those recliners that lifted him up to a standing position). I handled cooking and cleaning, canning and freezing, so meals when I was gone, were easy. Clothes were mended and the gutters were cleaned. After my stepmom died and Dad was recuperating from a minor stroke, my brother moved in with Dad so we didn't have to pay for in-home care, which he was needing more of.
When my brother died I realized just how much he had been doing for my Dad that was now up to me so more frequent trips were made and nursing care was arranged so Dad could stay in his home as long as he wanted to.
The town's only grocery was across a two-lane 50 mph roadway that leads to the mountains. We were NOT allowed across it on our bikes on our own, even if there was a four-way traffic light at the intersection with the grocery and the gas station. There was no even THINKING of breaking that rule. We knew the consequences of being reckless, and it was not a slap on the wrist or a taxpayer-funded 'stimulus'. Outside of that, there were all kinds of places to roam, and in the summertime, we were pretty much outdoors from breakfast to supper, no helmets, no sunscreen if we could help it, no hand sanitizer, no shin guards.
But, like the examples of our parents, and the lessons of TV, which did not yet involve drugs and spandex, we were careful with our weapons, even if they were plastic. Besides, should those rules be broken, we knew who the Sheriff in town was, and it was Mom, even if she gave up her actual Deputy Sheriff badge and an 18 year career in Law Enforcement, when they adopted both of us.
On Saturdays, the cars came out to be washed and sometimes waxed. I could earn spending money for candy by washing the station wagon for Dad and gladly did so, learning early the correlation between labor and putting food on the table. Our Dads would mow, and our Moms would get groceries and bake cookies for the week.
Now, so much of the area has changed I see houses down the street where there's no money to repair a roof, moss taking over, plants growing in the gutter, but there's a new fishing boat or a Hummer in the driveway of the very modest home. On others, there are bars on the front doors of the homes we'd run up to ring the doorbell on Halloween, without any adult in trail.
The very last look at the house - it was completely empty, nothing at all left, but walls that held within them so much.
The span of that empty space is as wide as our grief.
As I left the house that last time, I looked up to the Heavens and told my brother told him I loved him, went to the car, climbed in and started the engine and gave my Dad a hug there as he waited for me. You can't NOT take the opportunity for a hug. For it might well be the last one. Dad and I are not related by blood but we are, by a life lived, commitment honored and memories made. He touched my cheek, with work-weary, dry, thin hands, an old man's fingers, yet still, his hands, my Daddy's hands, touching my rosy cheek where the strength of his blood still flows within me, will flow, even after his long journey back to his reward.
I looked at the house as I left it that last time, my family pictures now adorning the walls of Dad's new place. All of those memories seemed to condense in it, as if the house alone were the source of them, shining from it from that big picture window, glimpsed just for a second as my rental car pulls away, like that 10 point whitetail you see the split second after he sees you, when he's already gone, even as you yearn for him to return.