Moving Day

The last time it occurred was twenty-seven years ago.

When it did, there were mattresses falling to the ground like impossibly large, improbably rectangular, hailstones. Baseball jerseys drifted through the air like the maple leaves of October. There was crying and screaming and tears and dust.

Last week it happened again.

I am speaking of Moving Day in the Roach household.

Moving anyone anywhere comes with a certain amount of emotion. This month weepy parents are loading up their giddy college freshmen and taking them off to adulthood. In other households, little ones are taking the leap from crib to big bed.

Boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, are moving in and out on each other with the kind of intensity that inspired the Bare Naked Ladies to actually write a song about it, with the memorable lyrical question, “Why did you plaster over the hole I punched in the door?”

As for our clan, my widower dad moved last month from his condo to a more manageable apartment. Unlike one score and seven years ago, he did it without Mom, who passed away in 2003.

But somewhere this week she was laughing at the pandemonium that ensues when the Roaches try to engage in any large undertaking. When together we always revert to the Bedlam Model of our childhood.

Back in their move of 1985, Mom and Dad had to purge our house on Vilas Avenue of the twenty years of memories and detritus that they and their six children had managed to accumulate. My mom, so overwhelmed with the sheer mass of stuff, stopped in the midst of her careful boxing and labeling and began simply throwing crap out the windows onto the lawn. 

Call it The Diary of a Mad, Moving Housewife.

I also have a memory of a mattress being thrown from the third-floor attic that served as a bedroom for my brother Bob and me. This may or may not have happened, but I can absolutely see a Roach making such a decision.

“I mean, it’s a mattress for God’s sake. How can you hurt a mattress?”

This summer, since all six of Dad’s kids are now grown adults, any action triggered six opinions. Add to that the views and schedules of spouses and grandchildren, and all of a sudden you have more than forty varying positions on how to get Dad’s Lazy Boy through the front door.

There were also spats. Dad’s move stirred hard feelings and grudges that caused venting. This will happen when big families gather. Let’s face it: Just because you shared the same birth canal does not mean you are destined to always like each other. As best as I can tell, if you are from a large family and currently speak to two of your siblings, you’re doing pretty well.

The move caused debate about what to do with everything. Keep or toss?

Like many folks his age, Dad has started spontaneously giving things away to the person who happens to be standing closest to him.

“Here. Take this mirror. I don’t even look in the damn thing anymore. No. Seriously. Take it. Why do I need a mirror?”

Many of the things Dad owns are filled with emotion, but not functionality. Example? My sister came to me with tears in her eyes, holding a New Yorker magazine. “This is what Mom was reading when she died.”  

And then there are the photos. Kodak made it very easy for us to take a vast amount of awful shots. My parents snapped more pictures of their children, posing clumsily with embarrassing hair and enormous eyewear, than Mathew Brady took of the Civil War.

Although each album holds a gem or two, many others are simply novel. Madison Flyweight teams. Prom pics. Grade-school class photos that challenge you to name each kid.

Mom saved them all.

In the end, Dad’s transition was successful. Though change is difficult at the age of eighty three, he moved on. 

I visited him today. As I was leaving, it occurred to me that he was comfortable in the new apartment, not because of what it had, but what it lacked.

A reminder of his wife of fifty years everywhere he turns.

Find more of John Roach's columns here.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com

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