“The house is closed. Your keys are now mementos,” was the text that I received from my brother Steve after the family home had sold last week. I stood there in my office and let out a small gasp. I knew the closing was supposed to be that Friday or Monday in Miami depending the last minute details from the buyers. Still, the idea of never going into the house which we had owned since 1958 seemed at bit surreal. My arrival at the house on 90th court did not happen until 1963, so my sister Kathy and brothers Bill and Steve had some extra time to make it their own before they had to deal with a new baby. Sharon was born in 1964 which then made the family complete.
I had not been home since my father died in 2002 when I went down for the funeral. Being in the house and not seeing him sit in his recliner also seemed to be surreal although ironically that’s where he passed away. Max and I had moved to Georgia in 1998 and had been down periodically, but Mom and Dad came up so often it didn’t seem necessary to go down there to see them. A few years ago when Mom could not live alone anymore she moved up to Tallahassee so the house had been vacant since then. My mother still had to pay the taxes and run the AC so that her South Florida home would not be overrun with mold which the moist tropical weather can do in just a few weeks.
The words of the text were still stinging. Fighting back tears was a losing battle so I quickly ducked into the bathroom so none of my co-workers could see me. The house I grew up in was no longer ours - I could never go home again. I had to work late that night so I didn’t get home until after 10:00 p.m. I told Max the house was sold and he could see it affected me. He hugged me and said it was a very good house. I told him I wanted the new family to laugh and love as much as we did.
The next morning I cuddled with my husband, put my head on his chest and started to cry. A large chapter of my life was now most definitely closed and could never be reopened-and now it belonged to someone else. So much had happened in the Cody house. I knew how rare it was that one family could own a house that was not a farm or an estate in England for over 56 years - in the South Florida suburbs that is just unheard of.
Gazing out of the second floor window of my own house, I thought about when I was a little girl. I would look out my bedroom window during the Christmas season and I felt especially safe seeing the holiday lights. I guess as a kid, I reasoned that nothing bad could happen as long as my window was framed in multiple colors of red, green, blue and orange. When I put the Christmas lights up at our house, I make a special effort to have lights frame our bedroom window so I can look outside and feel that all is right with the world. Our ranch house did not have a fire place (we lived in Miami, which is not a place known for cold weather hence the lack of a hearth) - so my parents would tell us that they would stay up and let Santa in.
On Christmas morning, the Cody kids would descend on the presents that were in five different piles that all had the same number of presents. We got to open two before church and then the rest after services and going out to breakfast. Since Miami never really got cold in the winter, we’d run around in Miami Dolphin Jerseys with shorts and go to our friend’s houses to see what sort of holiday haul they got. Yeah, back then, you could just walk down the street and hang with your friends - there was no cell phones, Facebooking or Tweeting. You could also smell the different holiday feasts being cooked as you walked on the sidewalk from house to house.
Our backyard had a swing set that my sister Sharon and I would play on since we were close in age - just 16 months apart. Unlike Georgia, the terrain in Miami is pretty flat so our backyard was fenced in but connected to four other houses in the back and to the side. You could cut between the yards to go directly across to Southwest Sr. High which was literally a stone’s throw from my house. If the jalousie windows were open, you could hear the marching band practicing for football season. The backyard also kept a little plastic kiddie pool which Sharon and I splashed in as little three and four year old girlie bears. It was an idyllic little house on a little lot in a simple middle class neighborhood - it was home.
It was the place I learned to walk, talk and have my hair done by my big sister Kathy. It was the place where we did Easter egg hunts year after year even after we had grown up and gotten our own homes and apartments nearby. It was a place where you could walk for hours on Halloween and come back with a pillow case full of candy. It was the place where my family discussed around the dinner table what was going on the Vietnam War and my sister’s need to demonstrate against it, the assassinations of the Kennedys, why Nixon was a crook, the first gay rights demonstrations with Anita Bryant, the Dolphin’s perfect season, etc. It was a place where you could eat politically incorrect food like a sausage noodle casserole, ham & corn pudding and bacon and swiss cheese quiche (which my dad and brothers devoured easily because they didn’t care whether people thought they were real men). It was the place were I got my two front baby teeth knocked out riding a bike in the street and where I hit my head on the water heater and sliced my forehead open both of which resulted in panicked runs to South Miami Hospital (luckily, my being a genuinely clumsy kid did not warrant a visit from DFACS). It was where Max and my dad bonded over cooking and our refrigerator made chirping sounds like a bird - that went on for years which Max found charming.
As I look out my own living room window writing this, the leaves are beginning to change because it’s autumn - something I never got to experience in Miami. We’ve lived in this house for 10 years and it’s bigger than that petite house in Miami. Each of my kids has their own rooms and the bathrooms are a pretty good size. It’s two stories which is not something you saw a lot of in Miami in the late 1950’s to 1970’s. We get snow here from time to time and are not any better prepared then the folks in South Florida were when it snowed in 1977 as Snowmaggeon this year so painfully pointed out. I’m not sure we’ll live here for 56 years, but I hope that my kids have the sort of happy memories I had in that little house that managed to shelter two parents and five kids who could not have been more different. Maybe the proximity in that house helped us learn the fine art of having to get along. The beauty of having a big family in a little space is that it’s always noisy and sulking quietly in your room is impossible because once one sibling pisses you off something else happens and you form a temporary alliance for pay back.
As I texted back to my brother Steve - he reminded me that I still have the
memories and I reminded him I still had the canisters of home movies in which I transfer every year for the family to look at for the holidays. Maybe this year I can find footage that is strictly about the house - that little house that held a family together through for almost six decades of Easter Egg hunts, Halloweens, Christmas mornings, Thanksgivings, five weddings, 14 grandkids and a funeral. Maybe my brothers and sisters will remember how close we were physically and emotionally - even though we live in different states. And maybe my kids and I will watch TV together in the master bedroom because watching TV in your parents room while sitting on their bed is the best thing ever and we’ll have bacon and swiss cheese quiche for brunch. Yeah, Max was right - it was a very good house.