It was a Saturday morning last fall, and I was frantically scheduling middle-school tours for my daughter on SignUpGenius when I got the call. As any type A Manhattan mother with a full-time job, two children, a cat, and a Chinese hamster will tell you, picking up the phone at that moment means taking a chance that an even more neurotic Manhattan mom will beat you to the last of the precious tour spots. Just the same, I answered. It was my mother. (Hadn’t I trained her to e-mail?) Doing her best to talk fast (OK, maybe I had trained her), she said, “Deed? I know you’re busy, but I just wanted to tell you that Tia Sylvia and I found buyers for Abuela’s house, and we’re going to Buenos Aires next month for the close. That’s all.”
A few words about me, my family, and Argentina. My mother is an accomplished concert pianist, born and raised in Buenos Aires, whose life has revolved almost entirely around playing and teaching music. When she was 20, she met my dad, a renowned German-Jewish concert violinist 18 years her senior whose family had escaped Berlin right before World War II and fled to Buenos Aires. He had emigrated again—this time, to New York—when, through their mutual agent, they were set up to play concerts together in Latin America. Within two weeks, my mother knew that she loved him, and within the year she left Buenos Aires for America and married him. By 1970 the two had landed jobs teaching music at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I was born.
Selling a family home is a life event that raises questions about, well, everything. It’s one thing to hear that; it’s another thing to live it. Although I had visited my grandmother’s house many times as a child, I had never thought that the absence of a family home there would bother me. Besides, I still had cousins and friends in Argentina. And I knew that managing the motley crew of rotating tenants who had inhabited my grandmother’s house since her death, in 2004, was getting overwhelming for my mother and aunt. From time to time, they talked about unloading it. But once the reality arrived, I found myself speechless (which happens precisely never). The next few days went by in an endless cycle of rumination. Now that the house was being sold, would I ever visit Argentina again? If I did, where would I stay? Who were the buyers? Would they take good care of the place? Would I like them? Honestly, I was surprised by how distraught I was over the impending sale. By the end of the week, middle-school tours be damned, I had booked my ticket.
You know those stories about an orphaned dog being raised by cats? Growing up, I felt like that dog. Despite my love for my parents and theirs for me, there was no denying that they were a wildly different breed. They were artists. Throughout the school year, they ducked out of their teaching posts to perform in far-flung locations (spring break in Cochabamba, anyone?), alternately taking me with them and leaving me with neighbors. My father rode around town on a Kawasaki Z1300 with a Stradivarius strapped to his back. While my friends’ moms spent most of their time cooking, my mom spent hers practicing. (I credit this for the fact that to this day I still can’t so much as boil an egg.) They were also capital-F Foreigners. Never mind the matter of their heavy accents. On my mother’s first Halloween in Massachusetts, the trick-or-treaters who came to our door had to explain to her to “give us candy or money.” Regarding the time my dad slammed the door on the Girl Scouts, the less said the better.
On the plus side, I grew up going to Argentina and staying with my grandparents for a good chunk of time once or twice a year. I studied piano, took folk-dance lessons, and learned to write in a checkered composition book, like Argentine kids. When I was six, I met a girl named Andrea at a beach resort outside of Buenos Aires. We’ve been friends ever since.