Coming home from work today, I counted five “house-for-sale” signs—including the one pounded in my own front lawn. I marvelled at how quickly that simple sign had somehow added a depressed look to the house we’ve called home for the past six years.
This evening, as I look at it from the comfort of our den, the sign, silhouetted by the moonlight, strangely resembles crosses I’ve seen on graves in far off parts of the world. And I try to pinpoint a reason for the shadowy heaviness resting on me. I know from experience—we’ve moved twice before—that there are really no grounds for the feeling; we will build again. But I search for answers anyway.
It was twilight when I came home the day of the first move years ago. The house was sold, the deadline was set, the boxes and pads and things to be moved were scattered throughout the rooms. My wife and children weren’t home, and the house was lonely, desolate, and dark. I moved through each of the rooms that night, speaking almost aloud to them.
The kitchen first, all redone by the two of us—plaster, paper, tile, glass—three weeks after we had married. On the table were radishes, crisp leaf lettuce, onions, and young beet greens—the first crops from our small garden. And later in the season, there were lush tomatoes, corn on the cob, cucumbers sliced in briny vinegar, and fruits and jellies and vegetables canned and stored in the cellar, along with potatoes and carrots, sanded against the snows and bitter winds of the long eight months of winter.
Leaving the kitchen, I had walled into the living room, where more memories surfaced: the first toddling steps over the floor, our friends and relatives coming. Our families together after sacrament meeting. And then the two of us alone, and the closeness and love.
Then I had turned away from the living room and stretched out on our bed, where our two oldest children, ages ago, had lain as we played and tailed with them, marveling at the perfection of a nose or chin, or tiny hands, or wiggling toes.
Here we’d lain far into the night, talking of hopes and plans. And here too, my wife had lain exhausted and sick after we’d buried our second child—a lovely daughter.
I remember hearing the front door shut then, and my wife calling to me from the living room. Even before I had time to answer, she had known where I would be. And there, in our bedroom, among the boxes, in early summer twilight, the last night in our first home, I’d held her close and wept.
And now it hurts when I think of it and know it’s got to come again. I stay in the den this evening, avoiding the rooms as I’d tried to do the second time we moved. But it hadn’t lasted long then. Eventually, alone, I did the same thing as I had before leaving our first home—moving through the silent rooms, unconsciously saying good-bye.
Yet the second time I tried to be more rational, telling myself it was only brick and lumber and glass—inanimate objects, things, material. No breath, no life—just a shelter for man.
But somehow the memories were stronger than my will, or want to suppress them. In this room we’d cried for joy and prayed our thanks when we’d brought another child home. In that room I’d held my wife after we’d buried another child—a son this time. Through that window the moonlight streamed as we still made plans, dreamed our dreams, laughed, loved, hoped, lived. And in that room, on our knees, we’d cried when we found that dad was dying.
Then another daughter, and laughter again. And in all those rooms the joy, the love, the fulfillment of life.
My wife coming into the den brings me back to the present. Sensing the mood of my thoughts, Darlene sits and knits quietly, affording me a few more moments of silence.
I have vowed that this time my feelings won’t get out of hand, so I turn and sit across from her, an unopened book in hand. I watch her face—a thin half smile plays on her lips as her hands move deftly, swiftly. Suddenly the half smile fades into a frown, and she stops knitting to count quietly. But smile or frown, hidden behind her tenderness lies a strength—for me, for our children, for our future. And love swells up, love made strong by shared experiences of twenty-one years now, love we’ve left in so many places, split, divided, buried, loaned, given away—but in so doing more blessed with it than we had ever been before.
One of the children turns on music in another room, and a song floats in—the same song that was playing on another night in this, our third house, when I had come home utterly exhausted. Events of the day had made me question the worth of it all, and I’d slumped down in a rocking chair, relishing the comfort and peace of home.
Our youngest daughter had crawled into my lap then, and tiny arms crept around my neck. “Rock me, daddy. Please!” So I rocked and felt the pressure of her arms around my neck and felt the hope and determination surge back into my tired body. By the time Darlene called all of us for dinner, I was ready to conquer the world again. How strange and strong the power of being loved and needed.
I stand and move to the window now. The moon has climbed behind the trees, and the words For Sale are hidden for the present. How many of those four homeowners whose signs I saw on my way from work really had the desire to move? How many of them were tantalized by that restless urge the poets lament? And along with me, how many of them had necessity tapped on the shoulder?
It seems to me that man, eventually, should have roots somewhere, should have a place he is part of, a place to come home to, a place where his mortal remains can be laid to rest.
Darlene moves to stand behind me, slipping her arms around my waist. Hope enters our hearts. Maybe this time the roots will hold with a tenacity that will keep every likely wind from moving us on like dry tumbleweeds to be stacked against some barbwire fence until another gust of wind rises to move us on again.
The moon clears the top of the trees. The words on the sign are visible again. Yet now, somehow, as Darlene and I stand together, they don’t seem quite so oppressive. And I find an excitement welling up in me at thoughts of our new home.