The story of home is one that everyone knows, and it waits, with its
memories and lessons, to come alive again.
Leaving 1203 is a love story of a house and its inhabitants. This simple home on a hill won the soulful appreciation of all the lives sheltered under its slate roof and within its brick walls. It was our refuge when happy or sad, anxious or calm, sick or well, young or old.
Imagine the heart-tugging responsibility of emptying this home. My mother gave me this job that would begin with her death in March 2013. My work on site commenced two months later after her May memorial garden party at 1203. So many things, so many memories, so many lives interwoven here for fifty-six years—what to do, not only with tangible objects but also with the varied emotions competing for space in my heart.
Setting out on my dreaded emptying project, slowly and at first imperceptibly, I felt a warming satisfaction boost my spirit. I was taken aback—how mysterious this subtle joy tangled up with yearning. I started to rely on this inexplicable contentment, trusting in its staying power. Though overwhelmed by the magnitude of the work in front of me, I gained strength as the goodness of the past wrapped around me. Like the women in my family before me, I put one foot in front of another, trusting in what my heart silently knew.
A no-frills girl of some repute, generally unmoved by acquisition and possessions, I suddenly found everything invaluable, priceless. The teacup, socks, suet container, bottle opener, hammer, all of it, every item represented hands that touched it, swung or sipped from it, toiled or played with it. My intense awareness of each thing before me in the summer of 2013 brought it back to life, present all over again. The grill and baseball bat—durable goods symbolizing enduring relationship—and childhood chums as alive in the house as current pals helping me lift wingback chair and braided rug. What a good place, then and now.
A little story sheds light on the charm of a house called home by four generations. Not only was I the hot-shooting (freshman!) starting guard on my high school basketball team, but juniors and seniors quickly offered me a lift home after games and practices. How awesome was I, number 21, hitching a ride with these campus stars. Arriving home supposedly to drop me off, everyone tumbled from a packed car without a thought—bursting through the back door, laughing and gabbing with my parents June and Mac, reserving a back slap or quick elbow for my brother Patrick. Leaving 1203, guests always received an escort to their cars plus a McCarty’s keen oversight as they backed down the challenging driveway. The departed announced their safe navigation and farewell with a beep-beep of the horn. One evening as I walked my teammates back to the car, Betty Lou set me straight with this sobering fact of my youth: “All of us love coming over to your house and hanging around with your parents—they are so cool and we feel right at home. We’re having a sleepover at the end of the season.” (Did Betty Lou think I’d pass her the ball if I had any other option?)
That undeniable 1203 magnetism lured younger and older, long-time and first-time friends to its final three-month house party. What a grand collection of big-hearted folks showed up to help. My first cousins goofed around with neighborhood teenagers. A caregiver’s grandkids exchanged phone numbers with my friends making day trips from Charlottesville. One day my former college students appeared, the next day my college roommate. My parents’ friends brought family members, helpers brought their neighbors. My mother’s and now my adored dog Billy, a West Highland Terrier, stayed by my side every day. Last in our spoiled canine lineage, Billy stole hearts and wagged us forward. Instant, easy camaraderie blossomed among people of all ages and backgrounds, sparking their desire to return and lend a hand. I was the grateful recipient of unsought help—a swimmer in a reservoir of sheer good will.
When we first called this spot home in 1957, who could have predicted all the shoulders rubbing together, all the people drifting comfortably through for a short stay or forever? All of us real human beings with our faults and strengths, off days and way on days, everyone bundled together in a safe house. I had long known all the characters, but never enjoyed the privilege of taking in the entire play until I stepped back and observed—pausing, reflecting, admiring, loving—all the while returning to the gradually emptying home.
Ownership of the 1203 “theater” was changing hands, and the main cast members sashayed out for a final curtain call, our joined lives now coming full circle: my father the swashbuckling lifeguard, my mother that jitterbugging swinger, my brother practicing chords from Bob Dylan’s tunes, my aunt and uncle dropping off their four giddy hide-and-seekers for “summer camp,” my grandmother Plum driving all night from Florida to surprise me at sunrise, my grandfather Big Daddy hitting pop flies just out of reach, friends near and far. Like watching the pieces of a puzzle fit at last, I absorbed this one extraordinary story of ordinary people.
What indescribable joy to experience recovery in the midst of loss. Hot and sweaty, teary and aggravated, I was also happy and invigorated. An overarching wellspring of hope sustained me. I heard a whispered promise that my life would be forever enriched.
Each chapter centers on physical objects as we discover secrets inside a messenger bag and read fine print with a magnifying glass. Baseball bats knock the ball out of the park. Food for body and soul sizzles in cast iron skillets. We form a friendship, the reader and I, detectives teaming up to ferret out treasures—the things that prompt rediscovery of truths tucked deep in our hearts. The book, our joint “research” project, digs into the places that call us home and rewinds the times of our lives.
What do I wish for readers? I wish for them the welcoming sound of voices calling them, too, back home again, a renewed sense of belonging, and reassurance that leave-takings and losses come with unexpected rewards as well. I let them in on what I did with everything in the house, why, and how.
1203 excelled at its last job. The old home served as a gentle yet powerful teacher, its walls and windows sometimes murmuring and at other times shouting the core lessons for good living. While readying for new dwellers, it delivered an unforgettable refresher course in the things that really matter—relationship, generosity, gratitude, courage, simplicity, sacrifice, hospitality, joy, perseverance, relaxation, responsibility, humor, humility. Timeless truths, trusty guides for wellbeing, now keepsakes forever.
Broken hearts open wider. Hearts split by love, longing, and separation heal stronger and wiser. I gained a more intimate understanding of the people who knew and loved me first. If possible, I love them even more.