The Portland house is vacant for the first time since we moved away seventeen years ago. All of us have been homesick to some degree since the day we packed up the Volvo and headed off on what would become the start of the big adventure, so I asked each child in turn if they wanted to move back, offering to rent it for the price of the mortgage (quite a bargain since we bought in 1997).
When we left Portland the children were small, feral, and unschooled. For the next decade or so they clamored to go home again, the word home always pointing at that house and that city. But now they’re grown and launched. They have partners and work and lives elsewhere – the family is scattered between NY, London, and Vermont, everyone busy and occupied. The kids declined the offer; they didn’t even have time to come on the trip, to look at the walls they kissed and cried over on the day we moved away.
Through all the years of tenancy there have been friends living there, but we were hesitant to visit – because we didn’t want to intrude, because the city has changed, but more importantly because we missed it. This week Byron and I wandered through the house, then sat in an empty upstairs dormer. Floods of memories came back to both of us: the good times with the children, the hard times as we both worked endless hours.
We owned the house by virtue of my mad planning skills and ability to navigate bureaucracy, and also because it was cheaper than renting. Middle class people did not want to live in the neighborhood in the 1990’s, nobody could even imagine the gentrification that would consume the whole city in the new century. It was a wretched downtrodden sort of place, not the shiny hipster boulevard it has become.
Back then we were poor people, living a shabby impoverished life, without enough money for basic necessities. But (and this is not nostalgia talking, because I’m famously allergic to sentiment) we did have a grand time. There were stories, songs, friends, hope for the future.
I expected the trip to be brief, a quick expedition to decide if we would sell the house. But as we sat there we both wondered: should we go back? Or should we keep moving forward?