The Dirt of Life

dirt of life blog mo stych

I’ve officially moved out of our house and in with my parents. The house hasn’t sold yet—a few showings, no offers—but my move to Chicago seems likely to happen before the house sells. Overall, it makes a lot of sense: I can focus on things I need to do without worrying about trying to live a “perfect” life free of clutter, unopened mail, dirty dishes in the sink, an unmade bed…I’ve walked away from our house and I’m ready to move on.

It’s not, easy, though. I miss our house a lot. Sam and I lived three other places together prior to purchasing our home, but they all felt temporary. Nothing grounded us or felt like our own space until we finished renovating our house and lived in it as our home. Sure, it was a little strange at first to be homeowners and own a space foreign to both of us, but now it is the only place I think of when I say the word “home.”

At the same time, it doesn’t feel the same to be in our house without Sam. I only know the feelings of each room when he’s occupying them with me; I am familiar with his messes and can differentiate them from mine, and it’s comforting to know he has been somewhere near me. I’ve not had that feeling in nearly a month now. It’s hard to feel his presence in the kitchen when I’m cooking, or lurking in the office when I’m reading in the living room. The house isn’t our home without him there, and it felt uncomfortable at times to be living in a place alone where we’d always been together.

So, I packed up my stuff and I’ve taken residence in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. The first night was an adjustment in so many ways, thinking I’d somehow made the wrong choice or that I’m relying too much on my parents’ hospitality, but I’m much more comfortable now that I’ve reminded myself—over and over—that this isn’t permanent. It’s transient, and my real life is waiting in Chicago. My move will happen soon; I can feel it.

I did go back to our house this weekend to rake some leaves, turn the compost, and start putting the garden to rest. It’s eerie to walk past an empty chicken coop when I expect to see my six little baby girls scrambling near the door, clucking to get my attention so I’ll let them out into the yard. The garden looked sad and neglected, as all gardens do in Autumn: the plants mostly dead, browned and limp after some hard frosts and little sunshine. Even the yard itself felt bigger and vaster than ever before, perhaps a reminder that I would struggle to maintain our almost-an-acre property on my own, without Sam to use the riding lawnmower that intimidates me with its complexity.

It was the compost pile, of all things, that made me realize how much I’ll miss our home. 

I tossed some dead Gerber Daisies (which Sam bought for me when I was in Chicago two weeks ago) into the pile and started turning it over with Sam’s grandfather’s pitchfork. It occurred to me all of a sudden that our entire history in our house—two and a half short years—was still alive, living in the compost. 

All my failed dinner attempts from early in our married life (and the more successful recipes that we couldn’t finish before they went bad). Probably over 200 eggshells from our chickens, and more chicken poop than I care to think about. Carved pumpkin remains from Halloweens. Evergreen branches from Christmas wreaths and Christmas trees. Ashes from many a successful bonfire night with friends and family. The woody remains of last years’ garden, churned up and reutilized in this years’ garden. Heck, I’ve even poured leftover bath water onto the compost pile in the middle of winter to keep it from freezing up entirely.

All of these organic parts of our life together, and our life in this house, are sitting in a pile of dirt in our backyard. Here I thought I was trying to make life better for my garden (the whole reason we started composting in the first place, even though we had no idea what we were doing), but we also gave ourselves a great gift. We’ve built a cumulative history of our time in this place, this time of our lives, and it will always be a part of this land. 

Both of my mother’s parents died by the time I was nine years old. My mom was barely into her thirties when her mother passed away, and her father quickly followed. I remember watching my family members—all my cousins, aunts, uncles—sort through my grandparents’ things, selling some and boxing up others to send off with whoever wanted to keep them as memorabilia. At that age, I never understood why people wanted some things and not others: why these plates but not those bowls? Why an old desk but not the giant record player in the living room? Someone would have a breakdown seemingly out of nowhere while holding a pillow or a photograph, and it didn’t make any sense to me.

These were all material things that held memories to my mother, her siblings, and my older cousins. I suppose that, even in my young age, I could understand that. After all, I had a connection to some of these objects, too, and I wanted to take something with me as a token of my grandparents and the time I spent there. My mom asked me what I wanted, so I took a few of my grandpa’s old bowling trophies, a string of M&M Christmas lights (we put them on our Christmas tree each year), and a couple salt and pepper shakers that my grandmother used to collect (Sam and I still use the ski boot pair in our kitchen).

After all the material goods were sorted out, my mom and her siblings did something I didn’t understand: they dug up my grandpa’s garden and they put the plants into pots and plastic bags, sending them off with people who wanted to take them. But it makes a world of sense to me now. My grandfather worked that garden with his own hands for years, growing tomatoes and other vegetables for his family, making that dirt a part of their lives. Now that this house—the only home my mother ever knew—was no longer a part of the family, they wanted to take a part of the land with them. It was the only thing that made sense to them, and now I understand why.

I don’t want to downplay the significance of my mother’s childhood home or the decades her family spent living there by comparing it to a house I’ve not even owned for three years. There were a lot more memories in her parents’ house than there are in the one Sam and I share. But I can relate to what it feels like to sever yourself from a place that holds a part of your life, your heart, your loved ones; the two homes most certainly have that in common. That’s why I’ve decided to take a bucket of dirt with me to Chicago. Yes, I fully acknowledge how crazy that sounds. I just can’t bring myself to part with the history of this place, our home, the soil we made with the scraps of our lives. When we planted the tree from our wedding ceremony in the backyard, I thought we’d have years and years to watch it grow and flourish…but now, we won’t get to do that. I can’t just dig up a perfectly good tree and expect to plant it somewhere in Chicago.

The best I can do it take a bucket of compost with me to Chicago and use it in our garden next spring. We’ll have the garden tower with us, and it’ll need to be refilled when we plant again, so why not just bring some of that dirt with us? After all, it’s the closest thing we’ll have to home. 

One thought on “The Dirt of Life

  1. Memories make a house a home. Your memories start in the dirt. Why not dig up the tree and plant it at Mom & Dad’s until you have another home to plant it at? pst

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