Moving and shaking
There are a limited number of major firsts we go through in our adult lives: leaving home for the first (as opposed to the second, twelfth or twentieth) time. Earning a degree and getting that first real job (if you’re into that sort of thing). Falling in love for keeps (as opposed to those 12 or 20 false alarms). Having a family (if you’re into that sort of thing) and all its related firsts. Retiring and realizing you should’ve started putting something away for your golden years about 30 years earlier than you did. That first greeter’s job at Wal-Mart. Your first roommate in the nursing home. The moment it dawns on you that maybe having kids wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all, so that someone – anyone – might come to visit and break up the endless monotony of your twilit days. That first death rattle and glance at the white light. The beginning of the end. (OK, so maybe this rotten weather we’ve been having since April is starting to get to me, but I think you get my point.)
Anyway, moving into one’s first home is certainly one of these milestones, although I expect not everyone whips it up into as much of an emotional froth as I did. Perhaps it was because it had taken so much time and effort to find our house. Perhaps it was because John and I had come to this crazy home-buying table later in life and were still feeling the sting of remorse. Perhaps it was that gaping and growing hole in my bank account where $20,000 had recently resided. Whatever the cause, the days leading up to the move were outright traum-o-rama for me.
I suspect I was in mild shock. For weeks, I had slept little and sustained myself on nothing but coffee, beer and food eaten out of white butcher paper. (To this day, I start clucking when I hear the words “chicken salad roll-up” – although that might’ve had something to do with the hypnotist I saw at a magic show as a kid.) I had exposed myself to every cleaning product and chemical known to man and kept forgetting about that pesky don’t-mix-ammonia-and-bleach rule. I had toiled like a farmhand, begged boxes like a college student and come in contact with more cooties than I would care to count. Add to this the fact I’m a little on the high-strung side to start with, and you have all the ingredients for a total meltdown.
Yet, when the day finally arrived – the moment we were to cross the threshold from slacker apartment dwellers to growed-up homeowners (and I hoped we could do it without smashing our hand-blown Tiffany rocks glasses) – I was remarkably calm. As I now cast back on that milestone, the day piles up into a stack of snapshots:
• When John and I arrived at the house post-dawn to await the arrival of Team Peavey, we found a UPS box on the porch – a housewarming gift from my then-editor at Down East magazine. Yes, we were bowled over by his thoughtfulness and impeccable timing and the coolness of the gift (which would take too much time to explain here – and is, besides, none of your business), but more so by the fact that after a decade of those UPS notices stuck to my front door on the Hill, we now lived in a neighborhood in which the UPS guy would actually leave a box without it being signed for. It was all I could do to keep from singing the theme song from “The Jeffersons.”
• You know how they always say to bring half the clothes and twice the money you’ve planned to take on vacation? Well, get twice the crew and twice the size truck you’ve planned when you’re moving. Honest to God, I swear your stuff expands and multiplies the minute it goes out the door.
• Our friends Lisa and Chuck stopped by to see the house but missed us in between trips. They left flowers and a note, and in the ensuing weeks I would walk by the arrangement and rub the petals that would not fade to make sure they were real.
• Between the two of us, John and I must own close to a gross of wine and bottle openers. On the day of the move, however, we could not find one of them and had to resort to opening beer bottles with power tools.
• I thought I had been very smart by pre-ordering lunch for the crew from the nearest market to our house – Anania’s on Washington Avenue. Of course, if I had been really smart, I would’ve taken a full look at the menu and noticed there are more than one Anania’s in Portland. As it turned out, I had ordered from the one on outer Congress Street, which was not anywhere near our new house. I have to say that the staff at Washington Avenue was very nice about rushing up a replacement order, and I hope Congress Street found something to do with those dozen Italians.
• When you have just had the floors refinished in your very first house, and you move in March and there is salt and sand all over your steps, do you (a.) put some runners down, act gracious to those who are helping you, and hope for the best? or (b.) watch every step anyone takes off the runners, dive under every piece of furniture with floor guards before it’s set down and run around with a broom and dustpan chasing every grain of sand you can find? I bet you can’t guess which kind of person I was.
• We left moving my office until the afternoon. My sister-in-law drove me in-town. As we headed up Congress Street, we saw a seagull swoop into traffic and get hit by a truck – I mean creamed. The moment had a Rime of the Ancient Mariner/shooting-the-albatross surreal foreboding to it, but there were boxes (boxes, boxes everywhere) waiting, and I did not think about it again until days later.
• I do not remember going to bed on the first night in our home. All I remember is that Judy and Mary had the good sense to make up the bed during the move so that there would be sheets and blankets on it when it came time to collapse. What I do remember is waking up the next morning and sitting on the toilet and seeing a hawk circling over head. It was just barely dawn. I felt like the hawk was a good omen, and I went back to bed.
• When I awoke again a bit later, I watched a woodpecker work his way up and down the trunk of the tree outside my window. “Hello, Woody,” I whispered, as he hammered his bill into a thick branch. John was just waking then, and I pointed out the bird and then asked him if that was our tree. He said he thought it was. I pondered the information, then said, “I’ve never owned a tree before.” I reflected on this milestone – owning my first (rotten, it turns out) tree – and then sat bolt upright. “Hey you,” I shouted, pounding on the window, “Get out of my tree!”
And thus the home-owning games began.
Elizabeth Peavey is currently accepting applications for lifelong protégés. Must be proficient at nail trimming and sponge baths.