My parents built a house in the valley (the Flats) of Medicine Hat roughly 40 years ago and lived there until I was 5. When we moved out, it was to a bigger house on the hill, in a better school district. They kept the small house as a rental property. They lived in the big house on the hill for 30 years and the majority of my childhood memories are there. Now, they are facing retirement, and have decided to move back to the small house in the valley that they built.
I came alone to Canada, without my husband and kids, to help them settle in after the heavy lifting part of the move was done. At the end of the first night that we were there I picked up my Dad's to do list and we all laughed about one item, "Move Shit Around". It kind of sums up my Dad perfectly, as well as what we were going to be busy doing all weekend.
My sister and I focused on unpacking boxes, gathering up our own stuff to take with us, moving furniture around, shopping for and hanging curtains on 8 windows and 2 closets, creating a family photo wall and just generally trying to make the house feel more lived in. We were glad for all the things that we have learned watching home make over shows and I really felt like I was living an episode of one of them. I would have loved to do a big reveal for my parents, but they were there the whole time, doing almost as much as we were. For all the work that we did though, I have a feeling the thing that Jill and I added the most to the house was us. Our laughter and energy hopefully brings a happy mood to the stress of moving and fills up the house with love. By the time we left, the house felt more like a home and my Mom was smiling and laughing again.
It feels good to be able to help my parents in this way, to help them start a new chapter in their lives, the way they have helped me do in the past. Families grow and change, as do the relationships within them, and every time I visit I am reassured that despite the distance of me living in another country, the threads that bond us together are long and run deep.
I asked my Dad for one thing before I arrived, all their negatives. My parents, and most people, tend to value the prints and the photo albums they create. Those are the things that are kept and treasured and the negatives are usually a remnant, never to be looked at or used again. For me though, the negatives are the originals and the raw materials that will let me tell my own story, from my point of view, my way. I started looking through the box that they packed for me and I found entire sets of double prints, in the order that they were taken and including every image that was shot. I love this. My parent's photo albums are edited versions of whatever adventure we were on and these complete sets of double prints, untouched for 25 years, tell a richer story. I had to leave them in Canada, not wanting to pack them in a checked airline bag, but I will bring a carry on suitcase on my next trip in the summer so that I can bring them safely home with me. Expect to see a whole new round of reminiscing and nostalgic pictures from my past around here soon.
The most poignant moment of the trip for me was visiting the big house. I will have an entire separate post about this later with pictures, but I'll say now that I thought the visit would be sadder than it was. I'm sure I will miss the house more in the years to come, but honestly, it was so empty and kind of worn out. The life that it held was gone, with my parents and their things. And while there was still evidence of us having been there, foot prints in the cement, drawings on the walls underneath the paneling and messages written by a 12 year old me on the floor underneath the carpet, it did not really feel like our house anymore. I took pictures of all the details to remember things that were part of my life for so long, but the house felt tired and stained and I think it needs a fresh start too. I would love to see it restored, old carpets torn out and peeling paint sanded away, to reveal the original wood and architectural details. If I had the money, I would do it myself. Oh what a grand house it could be. I have my own life far away though, and that chapter is now closed. It will be up to the next owners to decide what to do with that old place. I hope it is well loved once again.
Visiting my past is always something I enjoy doing. I love change and I love to connect and deepen my relationships. It was a great trip filled with love and I am leaving with a better sense of where I have come from and where I am going.