My mother fell in love with our house at first sight. Even though the roof needed re-shingling, even though the paint was chipped, even though the wall paper in the the kitchen had roosters–yes, roosters!–parading up and down the length of it, my mother squinted her eyes and saw possibility.
The fireplace was made of stone and actually worked–something practically unheard of in Los Angeles. The floors were a golden hardwood–both elegant and livable. There were pink roses in the back yard, planted long ago by hopeful hands. And the people living next door had warm smiles and a son my age.
So, with a lot of optimism and a deep breath, my parents made an offer.
And the house was ours.
We re-shingled the roof, repainted both outside and in, and enthusiastically ripped the roosters off the kitchen walls.
When springtime came, we drove to the plant nursery and bought bougainvillea, jasmine, roses, and lavender for the front garden; geraniums, azaleas, mint and begonias for the back. My mother and I plunged our fingers deep into the earth and planted our garden while my father supervised over a tall glass of lemonade.
My mother loved our house with a fierceness rivaled only by her love of family and friends. This was her space–where she wrote her books, and watered her plants. This was where she drank her coffee smoked her cigarettes, read her mystery books, and cooked Shabbat dinner.
This is where she battled cancer.
This is where she died.
And now, it’s time to leave my mother’s house… with her life and mine crammed into the twelve suitcases the Jewish Agency allows me to take for the flight to Israel. I return to her rooms, emptying closets and shelves, gutting memories from the space that was hers.
I am paralyzed by the enormity of it all–-so many things to sort out. What do I take? The pewter cat that she had on her writing desk? The perfume bottles that still smell like her? The bed she died in?
Her house has fallen on hard times: The roof needs fixing. The paint has worn away with rain and sun. The garden sleeps. Somehow, I let it get this way.
Sarah is leaving today for Israel with her husband, toddler, baby, and 12 suitcases. She is leaving behind her life in Los Angeles and starting anew on the kibbutz where her husband grew up. She’ll be writing about it here.