Here at the end of Daylight Savings Time and just days before the mid-term elections, we may have the opportunity to turn inward for some peace, reflection, and the coziness of home and hearth.
These twinkling bells on my back garden gate in Olympia, Washington, used to hang on the white-picket gate of my late aunt’s home in Richmond, Virginia, where she lived from 1957 until her death in 2013. For those many decades, the bells were the welcoming sound to me and my three brothers, who spent many summers and holidays with my aunt, uncle, and two older cousins. The bells announced the transition from the driveway and the flagstone patio, backyard, and cozy Cape-Cod-style home where good cheer and real hospitality suffused the very air.
These bells conjure up so many pleasant memories for me—but a book’s worth for my aunt’s daughter—my cousin—author and philosopher Marietta McCarty, who has just published a touching and tender memoir about loving and leaving her cherished childhood home.
Bereaved following her mother’s death, Marietta faces the daunting task of emptying her family home—number 1203 on a narrow avenue (really a lane). How, she asks, might she find her way through the emotional turmoil and the accumulation of more than five decades in the house at 1203? Call an appraiser? Schedule an estate sale? Call the Goodwill? Where to begin sorting the furniture, the objects, the intangible memories, the valuables, the junk, the items useful to someone somewhere? What to keep, what to let go?
Overwhelmed at times—and justifiably so—Marietta takes one day at a time, one room at a time, one corner of the pantry, basement, and garage at a time. With the help of friends, families, and strangers, she navigates her way through the months-long process, balancing tears and laughter all along the way.
Each chapter of Leaving 1203 is dedicated to a set of objects that inspire memories of Marietta’s childhood and upbringing. “Three Baseball Bats and One Tennis Racket,” “Cast Iron Skillets and a Songbook,” “Picnic Baskets and Camping Gear,” for instance. But this isn’t just about Marietta. Her book includes loving portraits of her father (my uncle) and their conversations about philosophy, literature, the passage of time, selflessness, sorry, generosity, peace, and humility. And similarly loving portraits of her mother (my aunt, my mother’s only sister) and our grandmother—born Nelly Eliza Williamson, but also known in various stages if her life as Hilda Swenson, Hilda Smith, and, to her grandchildren, "“Plum.”
Putting myself in my cousin’s shoes, I believe I would have boxed up most everything in 1203 and made room for it in my house. I would have gotten rid of all my furniture and made space for the pine tables and cabinets and handprinted furniture. I would have attempted to recreate my blissful childhood by keeping all the things that transported back through the decades of life and to a simpler time. But no. The is not the philosopher’s way.
Marietta gives it all away. (You’ll have to read the book to find out how). And in so doing, honors the memory of her mother, father, grandmother, and all those who will forever hear the bells welcoming them to 1203 and bidding them a sweet farewell after a beautiful visit, a beautiful time.
To read more about Leaving 1203 (and to order a copy) and about Marietta and her other books, click here. We need more books like this one now—more than ever.