Growing up we never had a family home. My father was military and our home was wherever we happened to live at the time. The only constant in our life was a house on Oak Grove Avenue in Vermont.
My first memory of the house was in 1968, we had driven up from Texas. As we turned down Oak Grove my mothers road weary exhaustion turned to excitement when she saw my Great Aunt Marguerite walking towards the house to help welcome our family. My grandparents as well as Aunts and uncles were waiting as our old station wagon with my parents, 5 children and our dog pulled into the driveway, we were rushed in the house to a table full of food, lots of hugs, comments of how much we had grown and questions about our trip, my mother was glowing with happiness to be surrounded by family.
The house was not big or fancy, it had 3 bedrooms, and 1 bathroom that had been shared by 6 girls, 1 boy and 2 parents. while they were growing up, the middle room had a set of stairs that led up to the attic, there were always books and fun treasures in the attic, but I never went up there alone as I was certain it was haunted. In the front of the house was a big porch where you could sit and wave to neighbors, relax and read a book, I loved to sit and write on that porch. And of course there were all the pictures that were staged there, before every departure we would pose for a photo on that beautiful porch.
Over the years Brattleboro would become a constant in my ever changing life. When my grandparents died, my Aunts and mother took over the house, they made a few changes, but in my mind the house never changed.
This year with the death of my mother, my aunt made the difficult decision to sell the house and release it from our family after ninety years.
On a cold day in April my siblings and I gathered with my Aunt and Uncle at the dining room to go over the details of closing this chapter in our lives and letting go of this family treasure. I was still looking for a way to purchase the house in order to fulfill one of my mothers last wishes of keeping it in the family, but the process was long and difficult and finding a way to maintain a 90 year old home that was 2000 miles was overwhelming, so I helped to clean as we packed up every movable memory we could find.
My aunt said she knew she could return and rent a room or stay with relatives but it would never be the same as being able to walk into the home she had been born and raised in. It would be an end of an era.
Aunt Joyce was playing the piano as we began loading our car, the music filled the rooms and for a moment I imagined what the house must have been like 60 years ago all the dreams, laughter and tears that had filled this home over the years, my sister Mary had asked all the aunts if they had come down the stairs when they were young for dances, I imagined my beautiful aunts walking down the stairs dressed for dances, children playing in the living room, racing out the door for school or football games, the celebrations when my grandfather won elections, making their way down the beautiful staircase in their wedding gowns, or walking out of the house to go to my young Aunts funeral, all those joyful and tragic moments that made this house a home, and gave this family the strong bond that they shared.
I went upstairs to take pictures of every room, touched each doorway and lay on the floor of a bedroom sobbing heartbroken that I had failed in not only saving my mother but had also failed at being able to save the home she loved from being sold to strangers.
While standing in the middle room the closet door that led to the attic opened, it sat open for a moment before gently closing, this happened three times I stood frozen, and called downstairs for someone to come up and witness this phenomena with me, my husband came in the room and watched as one last time the door opened then closed. We looked at one another and he said he was sure it was air pressure from the downstairs door, but I was certain it was the ghosts of all my relatives coming down from the attic to walk through the house one more time with me.
I had never spent a Christmas or Thanksgiving or significant holiday at the home on Oak Grove Avenue, I had missed most of the weddings and other life celebrations but it was a symbol of a childhood I had always craved but never had. A childhood filled with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins around the corner, and a home filled with holiday celebrations and security. I understood what my Aunt meant, we would always be welcome in Brattleboro, there were relatives to stay with, hotels to rent but I would never again enter the house filled with benevolent ghosts and those comforting memories of family.
The last suitcase had been packed, and Don reminded me we needed to leave soon to keep from missing our flight, my aunt stood up from the piano music she was sorting through to walk Don my sister and I out. The house is not even on the market yet, it could still be here when we come back in July she reminded me, I hoped so but did not want to take the chance of missing one last glance or photo.
As we pulled away from the house I looked in the rear view mirror and for a moment I thought I saw the spirits of my family who had gone before us waving goodbye to me, with a blink I looked again and they were gone. I smiled thinking the attic door activity must have been my relatives gathering outside to say good bye and wish us safe travel one last time.