Home Bound

The emotional ties to former residences need to be severed


Published:

Illustration by Don Kilpatrick III

The willow tree in the backyard is the only marker remaining that my former house once stood on the site. Without it, I couldn’t have placed exactly where my 1920s bungalow was.

In all, six homes were razed to make room for what became an aborted plan to build condos for seniors. Too few people signed up, and the idea was scotched, but not before the plumbing and fixtures had been yanked out of the ill-fated houses.

After I moved, I occasionally drove by the house. I approved of the pale-blue color the new owners had painted the exterior. I also liked the fact that they hadn’t modernized the home. But those owners, like their neighbors, were gone.

The homes stood dark and empty for months. Then I read in the newspaper that they were to be demolished. I planned to say my last goodbyes, but I was too late.

I arrived one afternoon, only to find a half-naked street. I cringe at that overused word “closure,” but that wasn’t all I was seeking. I had hoped to salvage one of the leaded-glass windows that framed the golden-oak mantel. But, like a scene from The Twilight Zone, all traces of the homes were gone.

I’ve developed a sentimental, albeit illogical, attachment to all the homes I’ve occupied — even after I’ve left them. It’s relatively easy to move, but it’s much tougher to move on. A home’s spirit lingers.

Several years ago, I drove down a Detroit street to revisit the first house I lived in. Some ex-neighbors’ homes were burned, some had been leveled, and many were dilapidated. But my old home, white with green trim, looked pristine. Even the color scheme was the same as it was decades ago. I looked wistfully at the home’s big bay window, the same one through which I watched life’s passing parade as a little boy.

But I didn’t want to see my second home, only five blocks away. I heard that there had been a fire there, although it hadn’t destroyed the house. Still, I imagined all kinds of horrors: a weed-choked field where once flowers had bloomed, peeling paint on the shutters, and crumbling brick.

If I ever vacate the house I now live in, I’d want the new owners to keep the garden well-tended and the house maintained. And please, leave the color scheme alone.

But, really, what right have I to expect that the new owners will feel as I do? People have different tastes, as well as varying ideas as to what constitutes a home.

You surrender any claims once the for-sale sign is taken down. Keys are relinquished, but the emotional connection with the property is more difficult to abdicate. Inevitably, the new owners will make changes. The deed says it’s now theirs, but it really doesn’t feel theirs until they put their imprint on it.

Since I bought my current home, I’ve spent endless hours installing new tile, wallpaper, flooring, window treatments, and light fixtures, painting inside and out, and maintaining a garden. I never considered if the former owner would approve, and why should I? It’s mine.

If I ever move, I don’t plan on taking any emotional baggage with me. As much as sentiment tugs at me, home is about living in, and for, the present. You can go home again, but you can never go back home again.

Sure, that weeping willow tree, busy with birds, looks sad standing there alone. For years, I watched it turn from soft yellow in spring to lush green in summer. But I hope when someone eventually builds a new home on the site, that tree will provide shade and beauty for its new neighbors, as it had for me.

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