David and Kathy, my brother and sister-in-law, recently moved into 713 Hickory Drive, the house in Smalltown, U.S.A., where my mother spent the last half-century of her life, and they’re now well into the lengthy process of remodeling the interior. Needless to say, they do so with my blessing. My mother’s house was run down at the time of her death last spring, and it needed exactly the kind of loving care that my brother, who is the handiest of handymen, knows how to supply.
Just the other day Kathy sent me a link to an online album of some three hundred-odd snapshots showing David hard at work on 713 Hickory Drive. I haven’t been back to Smalltown since my mother’s funeral, and I was thrilled to see the step-by-step transformation of the house into an up-to-date residence more perfectly suited to the needs of its happy new occupants. While I felt an occasional pang of sentiment as I looked at the pictures–after all, I grew up there–it’s far more important to me to know that David and Kathy want not merely to keep the house in the family but to bring it back it to life.
Strange as it may sound, it hit me harder when I dialed my mother’s old phone number the other day and found that it had finally been disconnected. I’ve dialed that number thousands of times. It was in service for longer than I’ve been alive. It was on the phone that I last heard my mother’s voice, and I’m still getting used to the knowledge that I’ll never hear it again.
I wonder how long I’ll remember her number. Probably for the rest of my own life, since I have an unusually retentive memory. It’s amazing–and dismaying–how much useless information is firmly crammed into my well-stuffed head. Sometimes a good memory is a blessing, sometimes a curse, but most of the time it’s just there, taking up space. Why on earth should I know who Richard Dimbleby or Amy Denovo or Henry Vars were? Yet I do, together with countless other dusty fragments of fact that I’m able to retrieve far more readily than, say, the phone numbers of any of my present-day friends.
At any rate, I expect I’ll go to my grave knowing that the Teachout family’s phone number was 471-3319 (formerly GR1-3319). No doubt I’d do better to know any number of more useful things, but usefulness, like goodness, has nothing to do with it. In the words of the contestants in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Life is random and unfair/That’s the reason we despair/Life is pandemonium.
All that’s certain–at least in my case–is that I will always be able to go back to the house where I grew up and be greeted with open arms, even if I can’t find my way around the kitchen anymore.
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“Pandemonium,” as performed by the original cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: