I was suffering from a vicious tooth ache when we signed the lease on our old house almost six years ago, just before Thanksgiving of 2004. I’m not sure why that is important here, but it seems appropriate and I think it’s because it’s really the last thing I have really strong memories of prior to the day, about two weeks later, I found out I was going to be a father. (Okay, that’s not true. The last really strong memory I have from before we found out was of sitting on the couch in our apartment in North Plainfield, NJ surrounded by boxes on a Sunday morning in December when Andrea walked in with a strange look on her face and said, “Remember that test I took this morning…”)
When we signed the lease to rent the house, we had done so hoping it would be the place where we would start our family. We didn’t know then that it had already started. We had taken Edgar, our bulldog, with us because our landlord wanted to meet him and she ended up playing with him as we signed the papers. (There would be a weird symmetry in the fact that just over a year later, she would be playing with baby Benjamin at the settlement as we bought the house from her.)
And that was the first memory I have of that house. A nasty toothache. Our landlord playing with our hyper dog. And hope of starting our family. Nearly six years later, that house and that neighborhood are so full of memories, that everywhere I looked, I saw reflections of a scared couple becoming confident parents and tiny babies becoming little boys. The laughter and even the tears echo throughout the house.
The house itself transformed as our family transformed. It seems that one moment I was walking up and down the stairs trying to calm a colic Benjamin and the next moment, I was watching them come down the stairs, faces all lit up on Christmas morning. In the kitchen I have such vivid memories of putting together the gingerbread cradle that I would use as a prop to tell my family our good news, but added to that is the memory of the step stool that was constantly moving around the kitchen so that the boys could see what we were doing or “help” us cook. I spent hours and days in the basement building an armoire that could serve as a changing table at first and then as a dresser for tiny clothes later. Hours and days were spent much later, transforming the basement itself into a playroom.
Andrea and I had bought this turtle toy very early on that had numbers on his back and when he rolled, he would go “bump-a-bump-bump” in a slow turtly voice. Almost as soon as we moved in to the house, he was placed on a night stand along with a lamp in what would be Benjamin’s nursery. I can still picture it sitting there, even as the room went from a nursery to a little boy’s room to a room shared by a pair of brothers.
Even the neighborhood is filled with memories.
The house wasn’t always a place of joy. In those late nights, early on with a fussy, crying colic baby, my worst fears as a father would haunt me in the darkness. As his cries echoed in the nursery, I wondered if I was cut out to be a father. In the dining room, he screamed on the floor I had placed him as I buried my face in the couch, crying myself, wondering if God would grant me the patience.
However, I will always remember that house with bittersweet love. It was the house Benjamin took his first steps and Matthew would say his first words. It is where the four of us would share knock-knock jokes and start a family tradition of movie night. It was that “wittle wed house in Bethlehem” where those two little boys would become each others best friend and brothers. It is where I would learn that, yes, I could be a good father as God did give me the patience.
It was with great sadness, combined with excitement, that we left that house and I think I will alw
ays miss it. The memories associated with it seem endless. However, now we are in our new house, and, already, the memories are starting to pile up as I look forward to many, many more here.
Postscript: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Edgar. I can’t think of the old house without thinking about our first little one. In the almost nine months before Benjamin came along, he filled that house and owned that house. He would love playing in the backyard or sneaking up to our room during the day for a nap. When Benjamin came along, he would put up with the baby tugging at his ears and climbing on him, almost as if he was part of the house. And, it was out that back door that I would send him one rainy day, six days after Matthew was born, and it would be the last time we would see Edgar alive.
Postscript #2: It is interesting as we unpack boxes how pictures and items and memories mix together. How a baby toy can be found in the same box as a notebook from college. Or how a picture of Andrea in Spain, just before we met is in the same box as a picture of Benjamin next to Edgar. Or how media guides I worked on when working with the Orioles are stacked on top of baby books…It’s almost like past versions of our lives are time traveling to meet other versions.