We sold the house.
It wasn’t our house. Not directly, that is. Or perhaps I should say, not anymore.
You see, it belonged to my grandparents, Eve and Jack, forever known to us as Bubi and Zady. They lived at 17 Buckley Ave in Whitman, Massachusetts from long before I was born until each of them died—Bubi in 2005, Zady in 2009. Since then, legal ownership has fallen to their three children—namely, my mom and her brothers, Al and Phil.
While no members of the immediate family have resided at the rickety, two-story shack for the past four years, we have leased it to semi-distant cousins in the meanwhile, who have treated it well and provided some sense of continuity following the initial jolt of us not having either Bubi or Zady to visit anymore.
What visits they were.
Until I was eight and my brother six, we lived less than an hour’s drive in Framingham, which allowed for regular day trips to see the grandfolks, along with annual get-togethers like Thanksgiving, Passover and Labor Day, attended by the whole mishpucha—cousins, aunts, uncles. The whole lot.
Then came the traumatic experience of moving to a foreign land called New York, and suddenly the periodic family drop-in required a bit more planning and a bit more accommodation on Bubi and Zady’s part. With us no longer having an in-state abode of our own, theirs became our home away from home—a bed and breakfast whose check-out time was determined solely by Dad’s work schedule and Zady’s blood pressure.
(Each time we arrived, like clockwork, Zady would glance at our small mountain of luggage and quip, “Staying for a month, then?”)
Apart from the addition of a first-floor bedroom in the early 1960s and a second-floor bathroom in the late 1990s—the latter was considered a veritable revolution—the house looks exactly as it did when it was built at the dawn of the 20th century. The kitchen has never contained a dishwasher or proper cabinets. The second floor never acquired air conditioning. The basement was never finished.
At one point—nearly the entire 1960s, actually—six people shared its four beds and one bath. The telephone booth that passed for my mom’s childhood bedroom would, in later years, function as the dive bar (and source of the only television set) where all the men would pile in, like the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera, to watch the Sox game or to ring in the new year.
Compact and uncomfortable that the house’s innards were, the main attraction was the yard, which blanketed three of the property’s four corners. While modest by most standards—less than a half-acre in all—it was positively teeming with life, much of it vegetative. In its heyday, the grounds boasted three apple trees, two grape vines, a pear tree, a vegetable garden of tomatoes and cucumbers, and the pièce de résistance, twin raspberry bushes.
Every July and October, when the time was ripe, we grandkids were let loose to strip the bushes bare, snatching up as many raspberries as we could pile into our buckets—dodging bumblebees all the while—and delivering them to our grateful hostess, who would proceed to whip up several jars of her famous raspberry jam, permitting us to pocket our fair share of the bounty in its original, juicy form.
As well, the yard provided the main stage for a century’s worth of birthdays, anniversaries, wiffle ball games, wrestling matches and barbecues. Last summer, our temporary tenants fashioned it as the chapel for their daughter’s wedding, proving that life does, indeed, move forward.
We do not know what the house’s incoming landlord plans to do with it. He might lease it to someone else, or perhaps convert it into a duplex or a Dunkin’ Donuts. He may well drive a steamroller over everything and start over again. The land will belong to him, and he can do with it what he wants.
In a way, it doesn’t matter what happens to 17 Buckley Ave once the deed leaves our hands, since our memories of the place will endure regardless of whether the house itself follows suit.
Yes, the possibility that the site where virtually our entire family grew up could vanish from the Earth fills us all with unquenchable sadness. But it’s a sadness that has been a long time coming and is, ultimately, inevitable.
The real tragedy, after all, is not that we have picked our last-ever Buckley Ave raspberries—although that is a tragedy in its own right—but rather that there is no longer a lady there to turn them into jam.