By Any Other Name

When I was around thirteen years old, my grandparents sold their house and moved. 

The small town they called home for years wasn’t the same place it used to be. Incidents of crime had risen, and their closest family members had relocated to a minimum of thirty minutes away at best.

As they advanced in age, their safety and wellbeing became a primary concern for their four daughters, who wished to have at least one family member close by. Just in case. 

So, when I was in my last year of middle school, the entire family gathered to help them move to new home, closer to one of my aunts, with more space and a much quieter environment. 

Us grandchildren were handily put to work emptying the contents of their basement into the back of the moving truck.

I’m strange in that I like the way basements smell. There is something about that musty, mothball ridden smell that feels almost welcoming. Again, strange.  Perhaps, my inclination for scents of the mildewed variety didn’t come until later, until after they had moved. 

Their basement was parted off into several sections. There was the section with a pool table that we all spent hours inexpertly playing on. In front of the pool table was an old taupe-colored suede sofa. Even with these two large pieces of furniture, the room still had a decently sized open area where we would all roller skate around with one another.

In another section of the basement was a room filled to the brim with things left over from my mother’s childhood. Stuffed animals, plastic toys, baby dolls. And boxes upon boxes of stuff, heaped into a pile. Forgotten about.

Outside of that room was an old freezer that sat across from the washer and dryer, which were next to the stormdoor that led out to steps ascending to the backyard. I remember the chainlink fence that ran the entire length of their backyard and jutted up against their neighbor’s property.

In the vanilla colored brick house next door lived Ms. Nancy. She owned a yappy Pomeranian who was usually found out back, running back and forth among the length of the fence, vocalizing his displeasure at everything. Sometimes, I would tease him through the side of the fence. Ms. Nancy used to sit for my mother when my sister and I were little. My grandparent’s old cat, Rusty, was buried beneath a willow tree further out back. 

Underneath of their carport sat their trusty lawnmower, covered by a tarp. My grandfather used to hook a small wagon to the back of it to pull a pile of gleeful, smiling grandchildren around the yard.

As we were packing, I was reminiscing about our time there, as I am wont to do whenever there is any sorting or packing that needs to be done. I usually diverge away from all of the activity, and instead find the closet photo album, or forgotten about newspaper clippings to parse through. 

I remembered staying overnight with them on numerous visits, including one where old Rusty scratched my face, nearly catching the corner of my eye. Instead of consoling me, my grandmother reprimanded me for having bothered the old cat in the first place. It was my first taste of not feeling like life was entirely fair. 

When we finished packing, we all stood shoulder to shoulder in the living room. There were eleven grandchildren by this point, and ten adults. We barely fit.

The living room, kitchen and dining room all connected to one another in a circular loop that wrapped around the first floor. All of us used to be able to hold hands to form a circle that spanned through all three rooms. It was how all of our holiday dinners commenced. 

Instead, this time, we all hung together closely as we watched my mother toast the house she had grown up in one last time through her tears. My mother was never the eager public speaker, but seeing as how she was the oldest daughter, I don’t really think she had a say in the matter.

Before we all left, I snuck a pencil into my coat pocket, and headed to one of the back bedrooms. There, I shut the door and crouched down beneath the only window the room boasted, and wrote my name in shaky script along the face of the white trim.

Looking back, I’m not really sure that I can say what exactly possessed me to do such a thing. I can only surmise that I had wanted whoever came after us to know that I was there. We were there. As if they would have automatically known who “Ashley” was. 

Looking back, I’m also sure that if my grandmother had seen me doing such a thing, I would have been in trouble, even though some writing on the wall was hardly her concern anymore. 

I have this desperation sometimes to feel…noticed. It’s not in the flashy sense, it’s not necessarily born from an intense desire for attention. But it’s this eager feeling inside of me to feel…like my life matters. I’m the often overlooked middle child, the supportive best friend, the stage manager for the play in the college auditorium, hiding behind the curtain. I don’t often do the “being the center of attention” thing.

I guess it was this feeling of wanting to feel like the thirteen years I spent growing up, running around on my grandmother’s green shaggy carpet mattered. It was acknowledging all of those Thanksgivings we spent savoring my grandmother’s stuffing, me at the card table with my cousins, my parents at the dining room table with the nice dinnerware.

It was embedding all of those Christmas mornings, where we grandchildren ended up playing with the wrapping paper and cardboard boxes instead of our actual Christmas gifts, into the DNA of that brick house for eternity, even though it could be swiped over with a coat of paint within thirty seconds.

I had hoped that the people who came behind us would appreciate the sloping front yard with the magnolia tree that we all used to roll down like logs on spring evenings as much as we did.

Perhaps this desire to feel like every moment matters is what drives me to catalog as many things as I can. Whether it’s quiet moments with my children, or even time by myself, I deem all of it important enough to be documented with photographs or blurbs here on my blog. 

We lost two family pets this past month. They were fixtures on our couches and in doorways, always laying nearby, always hovering. Now, just like that, they’re gone. And the after part is the way it feels like it has always been. 

The stillness has returned after several weeks of grief. Life reliably presses on your back when you’re stopped, immobilized by grief or stress or tragedy. It urges you to move forward, because that’s really the only choice you have  

Yet I’m always the person wanting just one more moment, one more hour, one more chance for things to be right before I pass through. We are all that person at one time or another. 

Perhaps that’s why I wrote my name on that trim. I wanted just one more thing to help that house feel like it will always be a part of me. It was today, while walking with my daughter that I realize that now, I can write my name on to other things. 

I can ease myself into the memories of my children with each passing day we have together. With each new piece of my heart that I give to my husband as the years pass, it’s one more part of myself that I transcribe into him. 

We leave our names on the things we love most. On the people we love most.

It’s never time wasted when we spend time leaning into the things, the people we love most. It’s what defines us, actually.

That house mattered to me. The people in that house matter to me still. We don’t get the chance to all be together anywhere near as often as we used to. The grandchildren have families and children of their own. But we were given something magical and transcendent for a time.

The day will come when it will be the last of everything with my children. The last time watching them board the school bus. The last time they climb into bed with me at night just looking to be held. We don’t always know when it’s the last time, either.

We don’t always know when we are going to have to start over again. Memories are like a trail of breadcrumbs that lead you back to where you started, they lead you back to what matters. In this case, back to who matters.

One day, I hope for the same for my own children.

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