I have become used to used to documenting firsts. Births. Birthdays. Pregnancies. Beginnings, mostly.
But to say good-bye? I have never been asked to document that before.
My friend Bettina told me she was feeling melancholy that her parents were moving away from her childhood home and she wanted to document one last family gathering there.
Immediately I felt a tightness in my gut. That feeling… The one of sadness about the end of a chapter. Or, in Bettina’s case, a long novel.
I spent my childhood as an Army brat, so moving was a way of life for me. Saying good-bye, over and over and over. Every 3 years. Farewell to favorite hideaway spots, to buddies in grade school, to bike paths and climbing trees.
This home, though – they spent more than 40 years there. Accumulating bits and pieces and memories stuck in every corner and crevice of this South Beach bungalow. It’s dwarfed by high rise condos just across the street that butt up to the beach. Visiting this place was like finding an amazing vintage souvenir amidst Miami’s careless modern glossiness.
When I arrived, I got the tour. Where sisters once shared a bunkbed. The spot that was once a window broken into in the early 80s then covered over and initialed in the stucco. The faithful, fruitful banana tree. They ate breakfast on the bright, funky dishes from the 70s, drank mimosas and laughed about mullet haircuts and marveled over old photographs. There was silliness, and happiness this morning.
Claudia clipped a bit of pink bougainvillea from the blossoming bush in yard and stuck it in a vase. Stoney sniffed his gardenia bush, which hadn’t given as many flowers this season, he said. The neighborhood cat hung out and enjoyed being petted and ate from a bowl of cat food left on the porch.
Most of the house was unmoved and it seemed impossible to me, aside from the clues of moving boxes in the living room, that it would all be packed away and cleared out a couple days later.
When Bettina texted me a photo of the empty living room later in the week, my heart did a summersault again.
The silly shot I took of their bathroom clock on this morning, to mark the date and time, sums it up better than I can.
“It’s later than you think.”
Thank goodness for photographs to help us remember.