In 1952, they walked up the stone steps for the first time. Proud homeowners, they considered the small, brick, three-story row home a castle. It had three bedrooms and one bathroom — an embarrassment of riches for a working class man and his wife. It was also a place they could raise their growing family and provide a foundation for their dreams.
Little did they know how many generations would pass through that house and the impact it would have on dozens of lives.
Bricks, mortar, walls, windows and doors. These are some of the pieces of the foundation, the building blocks of a house.
Love, attention, support, kindness and time. These are some of the pieces of the foundation, the building blocks of a family.
When the building blocks of a house and the building blocks of a family combine it creates a home — a safe, comfortable space for children to prosper and for parents to realize their goals. Throughout 61 years, that row home became a refuge, a museum, a nursing home, a party place, a nursery, a restaurant, a pool hall, a mental health clinic and, most of all, a family treasure where many of the most important events in our family’s history took place. The home is a reflection of the gentle, open and loving environment that my grandparents created for us and anyone who was a guest in their home.
Last month our family said goodbye to that home. It sounds like a sad occasion — and there were tears shed and a sense of melancholy hovering over the old place — but in the end this is a story of renewal and a family bond that transcends the physical. The home can be removed from our family but the memories shared therein and the relationships forged inside live on no matter how many miles separate all of us.
My grandparents are in their late 80’s and the time has long been past for them to transition to an independent living facility where they could be free of home maintenance, stairs and all the other demands that come with owning a home. Sure, they sacrificed some of their independence but they gained the opportunity to live out their years in comfort with people assisting them and caring for their needs, as they have spent their lives caring for others.
At their home, there is no historical marker on the wall. No president slept there. There are no tour groups clamoring to take pictures or get inside. But to many in my family, including myself, the house remains the most special and sacred place on the planet. It is where I went when I felt unsafe or unsure of myself or when tumultuous times struck, like when my parents divorced. This is where I couldn’t wait to take my girlfriend, who became my wife, so she could pass the “grandparent” test. This is where my boys inhaled my grandfather’s stale cigar smoke and played on his 50-year-old pool table in the basement. This is where I indulged my love of my grandmother’s spaghetti sauce and where she doted on me as only a grandmother can. This is where my grandfather taught me the art of “roughhousing” and the joy of eating a homemade snowball.
This is deeply personal for me because my wife and I are beginning the search for our castle. Hundreds of miles away and across several state borders, we are plotting the course for our young family and wondering where our forever home is.
As I grow older, I realize there are only a few places in our lives that contain that special feeling whenever you walk inside — a warmth, an openness, a calmness that allows us be our true and best selves. This simple row home was one of those places for me, not because of what it was made of but because of who was inside it and the loving culture they fostered.
I can only wish that I can create a place like that for my wife, children and my children’s children someday.