This year we sold the house I grew up in. It felt like selling a member of the family.
My late parents were its last residents. The place had been mostly unoccupied for several years, and it fell to my brother, sister and I to sell it.
Although inanimate objects don’t usually rate obituaries, our house seems to deserve one. Anyone who’s had to part with a family home might understand.
The house is in Holyoke, Massachusetts. I’d not lived there full-time for a half century. But no matter my address, the house was always home — the place where they have to take you in, as Robert Frost wrote in a time before half a million Americans had no home at all.
I returned throughout school and career, then with my wife, and then with our children. It was where we spent almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas.
On such holidays we’d trade stories about the house itself, as if it were a character in the family saga.
Our favorite story was my father’s.
“Did I ever tell you,’’ he’d ask— repeatedly, as his memory failed — “how I bought this house?”
It had been late 1964. He was sitting in the office of his chromium plating shop. In walked an acquaintance who seemed glum, despite the fact he was newly married.
“What’s up?’’ my father asked.
“I’m getting divorced,’’ the man said.
The poor fellow had devoted much toil and money to renovating the home he’d bought for his new bride. It was a big, a pre-World War I arts and crafts-style structure designed by the leading local architectural firm. It occupied a lot and a half on an avenue lined with shade trees.
The house had a spacious living room, a formal dining room and a sweeping central hall staircase. There were back stairs off the kitchen and a former maid’s quarters in the attic.
The new owner had sanded floors, winterized the front porch, installed new cabinets and appliances, upgraded the electrical service, hung new drapes and shades. In the living room he’d installed a baby grand piano and laid a beautiful oriental rug.
Now, he just wanted out.
My father, smelling a deal, offered to buy it for cash; the man readily accepted.
But my father did not run the deal past my mother. This probably was because, although our family was living in relatively cramped quarters, she had looked at every house on the market over the previous 12 months and found each, in its own way, wanting.
So we moved in. It felt like Versailles. And there was wedding cake in the freezer.
The irony is that my father, for all his pride in having bought the house, did relatively little to maintain it.
Eventually pipes would burst, tiles would fall, paint would fleck. There was a hole in the front hall ceiling. The pool, virtually unused since my wedding in 1983, became a seasonal habitat for amphibians who raised a racket on summer nights. The piano fell out of tune. The oriental was moth-eaten.
And it became obvious that this Versailles was not designed for aging in place. Unable to ascend those sweeping central hall stairs, my parents slept on the first floor. And that is where they died — he one Christmas Eve.
Then it was time to sell my last link to the city where I was born and raised, and where my entire extended family had lived. It was where I got my first job, went on my first date and wrote my first newspaper story.
But maybe someday I will take my grandchildren to Holyoke and stop by the old place. And I will ask, “Did I ever tell you how my father bought this house?’’
Rick Hampson is a former reporter for USA TODAY.