Joseph O'Brien 8 p.m., Oct. 18
- Community Blog
The house sits quietly, looking like it always did. Occasionally the wind chime in the backyard sounds. I go there a lot, so that it won't seem abandoned. I do most of the work related to the estate there; don't enjoy bringing it home to my own place. Every once in awhile I'll find something I want to clarify, forgetting that neither of my parents are around to answer questions. They left detailed notes, and it's a bit haunting to read through them.
Next month the phone will be disconnected. The first number I ever memorized over fifty years ago, and one of the first for a half dozen or so childhood friends, will be no more. My sister and I have decided on a few things of theirs we want to keep. Mom's set of pots and pans match, are of better quality than my own, and carry nostalgic value while actually being useful. There are a few other decorative things, but not a lot else. The rest will vanish in an estate sale. There isn't that much that's really valuable or out of the ordinary. There's stuff just like it at almost any swap meet or thrift store. When you're a kid, you tend to think that everything your parents have is endowed with some deep meaning. Now I realize that, like most people, they collected a lot of random junk over the years.
Dad passed away on June 21st, and mom five years before on a July 9th. The mystery of how long my parents would live, that Great Unknown of every person's life, is a known now, the numbers on the other side of the dash from the date of birth filled in and the parentheses closed.
I'm the oldest sibling, and rose to the occasion even though many people guess on first sight that I'm younger than my brother and sister. Though foul-mouthed and irritable in private, I'm more comfortable with and skillful at navigating bureaucracy than they are, and besides I was off for most of the summer. Stuff's getting done, and in a funny way I think I'll miss handling things when it's all over and settled.
The house is prime rental property in the college area, and I think I'll hold onto it for that purpose if it doesn't create too much hassle with my siblings. I own a rental duplex a few blocks away, as well as the condo where I live a little farther yet away but still in the area. Inheriting your folks' house and moving into it seems so lame, and I'm at pains sometimes to let it be known that I don't plan to live there myself.
It's a nice house just the same. We moved into it on Veterans' Day 1965, just a mile from the little house with the crazy floorplan that we lived in on College just north of University Avenue for the first eleven years of my life. The yards of both houses contain a small sprinkling of both mom's and dad's ashes, and the first one we lived in is the one I'm more capable of getting sentimental about.
Dad grew up in a small college town south of Indianapolis, in a house not far from the campus. Maybe for that reason when he looked for a house of his own in the early '50s, he was attracted to the area near SDSU, which was then commonly called "State College." College Avenue was a noisy street, probably more heavily traveled then than now because it was the only major thoroughfare in a developing area. I think he liked it that way. Yet the "New House," as we called it for the next decade or so, was on a quieter residential street and better for a growing family, and the floorplan certainly made more sense.
I suppose that now the time of life has come to think about why my dad did some of the things he did. He graduated from the college in his hometown just as WWII was getting underway, and served in the Army Air Corps. He came from two generations of lawyers, and started law school after returning home unscathed. He hated the law; I often got the impression that he felt society wouldn't need lawyers if people would just do what they're supposed to do. The only lasting benefit of going to law school for awhile was that he met my mom, an undergraduate in business administration.
He loved train travel, and had always dreamed of living in a place where there were palm trees. A number of relatives on both sides of my family ended up in Florida, but after army training there dad was never able to speak of that place without complaining about scorpions, bugs, and humidity. Instead, he got on a train one day in the late '40s and didn't get off until he reached the Pacific. Once settled, he brought my mom out and they were married in Newport Beach at the home of a friend of his mother. Thus did my siblings and I become native Californians.
He graduated from State College with a master's in education, and became a teacher. He did it for 30 years, then got his money's worth from the retirement system while taking vacation trips and enjoying life. Mom went back to work at State College when we kids had grown up a bit, and had a nice career of her own.
My folks did alright. Even now, the house they left behind is clean and comfortable and tastefully decorated, even if the stuff isn't particularly valuable or out of the ordinary. They raised three kids who all have a knack for avoiding avoidable problems. We managed to stay out of trouble, live within our means, and become reasonably responsible adults.
I wish from time to time that I could talk to both of my parents one last time, and I wonder what they would say.