How to Say Good-Bye

Maybe adulthood doesn’t start at 18. Maybe it begins when you bid farewell to your childhood home—and your mother’s place in it. Jill Bialosky shares her story of letting go, and moving on.

Photo by Matt Champlin/Getty Images

When I pull into the driveway, the first thing I notice is the real estate sign planted on the snowy lawn. Even though the house, located in an eastern suburb of Cleveland, has been on the market for a year and I have been working with the real estate agent from my home in New York City, seeing the sign makes the impending loss more tangible.

I find myself feeling possessive of this burnt-red house with the brown trim and door, of the magnolias and the frozen shrubs that line the tree lawn. My father had the house built over 50 years ago in anticipation of having a family. It is where my three sisters and I grew up. Soon it will belong to a stranger.

From the windows hang thick icicles of different sizes, all shaped like daggers. I remember ducking when I was little so one wouldn’t spike me in the head. I don’t duck this time. I let myself in the door. I find myself studying each object, each piece of furniture—the dictionary propped up on the wooden stand in the living room; the grandfather clock in the hallway that once commanded my attention every hour, long silenced; the Art Deco dining-room chandelier Mom so loved.

I go into the kitchen and see the long black-walnut table, where my sisters and I, as adults, served brunches of scrambled eggs, bagels, and cream cheese when we came to visit. Displayed on the open shelves is Mom’s collection of yellow, blue, red, gold, and green Fiestaware, assembled during her flea-market days.

I peer at the old milk chute, in the downstairs bathroom. It’s now bolted closed, but when I was younger, it was a point of intense fascination. I would come down the stairs in the morning and open the chute and find that two bottles of milk—one white and one chocolate—had miraculously appeared inside. Later on, when my sisters and I were teenagers, we would sneak through the milk chute to meet our friends late at night and then use it to crawl back in.

I am transported to a time when the house was bursting with life. The walls of this house held our laughter, our quarrels with one another, our love. I hear doors slamming. I hear my mother shouting from downstairs. I smell something cooking on the stove.

Now the house is very quiet—so quiet that I can hear snow fall off the roof when a gust of wind blows.