I knew it was coming, knew it had to happen and know that its occurrence is simply the first step in a string of good things to come. Recently, I found myself growing annoyed that it hadn’t happened yet. But once I found out it was scheduled, once it became real, it punched me in the gut and all but knocked the wind out of me.
Our lovely little house at 202 Joseph St. meets its demise Wednesday after sitting uninhabitable all winter and spring, gutted to its studs and stripped bare of all the wonders inside that made it our home. Like I said, I knew this was coming for months, but wasn’t anywhere near prepared to hear the news. I’ve powered through this whole process knowing that the demolition of the house would usher in a new house, a bigger, more storm-proof one with swankier amenities and enough space for everyone to get their own bedroom. A house just like that had been the plan for my parents’ retirement, except they were going to give our current structure a makeover because it was so important to keep the original structure, which my grandfather and great uncle built with their own hands.
I’m trying to think positive thoughts here, but it’s hard. I knew I’d be sad when it was finally time to tear the old girl down – I just didn’t think I’d be this sad.
Monday night, I lay in bed, mentally replaying all the scenes that brought us to this and all the scenes to come. Just like the sleepless nights I spent pondering the carnage while Sandy was battering our Shore, I pictured the pounding surf, the floodwaters, the howling wind. I imagined what it must have been like for my mom and brothers to gut the house – taking sledgehammers to the walls of our home to prevent mold from creeping in. I wouldn’t have been able to do it myself. Just like the storm surge from the bay that inundated our house, I couldn’t hold any of this back. And so I tossed and turned on a night when, after a full day of work sandwiched between a yoga class and a spin class, I should have had no problem passing out.
It reminds me of another tortuously wide-awake time: the day after Election Day in 2009. My beat had some hotly contested races and I had been working long nights and was compensated with a late start to that Wednesday. Early in the morning, the tumble of breaking glass woke up me up and I assumed it was a recycling truck that would soon pass. It did not and I remembered the likely culprit: the demolition of our neighbors’ tiny bungalow to make way for a stately modular (the blue one whose top you see above). Their burgeoning family had outgrown their original house and we were all excited for their new home to come together. It was a happy noise, but a violent one all the same – and this week, I just keep hearing the sound of windows shattering and the bones of a house splintering and I flinch at the thought of this fate befalling my favorite place on earth.
Even now, I can picture the faces in the knotty pine walls in my room and smell the familiar aroma of cigarettes, fresh muslin, Werther’s, and coffee – all Grandma scents that welcomed us from the moment we walked in the back door while she tottered out of the TV room (ultimately my bedroom after she passed) where she had been sewing to greet us, Virgin Mary medallion jingling all the way.
It’s not just a vacation house where we shared some good times (though it certainly is that), it’s the backdrop for all my favorite childhood memories, the place I associate with my grandparents, my first “grownup” home after college and the place where I feel closest to my late dad. The more time that passes from his death, the more I feel the chasm between us growing and I feel like he’s slipping away. Sitting around our picnic table on Friday nights, it almost still felt like there was a chance he would turn the corner into the backyard after battling Parkway traffic on his way down for the weekend.
The little house on Joseph Street has meant so much to my family and I’m sure my friends (it’s debatable they’ve spent almost as much time there as they have at their own houses), but unarguably the greatest gift it’s given me is my relationship with my brothers. Spending whole summers living on top of each other in cramped quarters played no small role in making us close. Today I’m lucky enough to consider them my very best friends. This won’t change, even though now we can spread out and not quibble over what to watch on TV on rainy days. (I’m so happy Entourage ended for this very reason.)
Our home’s open, welcoming layout and awning-covered patio made it the gathering spot for all our friends and I loved every minute of playing hostess. If the plans are to be believed, the new house will have even more hang out space and I know everyone will come back.
When my mom posted on Facebook that our house is about to suffer its final indignity at the hands of Sandy, posts of sympathy and encouragement flew in (pretty much the standard response to all of Lynn’s FB posts). It’s heartening to see that everyone is mourning with us and rooting for us, but it’s been tough being so far away from home when I know my home is suffering. In the fall when Sandy made landfall, I worked at a new organization where no one really knew me and didn’t understand why I was distraught. My heart ached for weeks and I just wanted to go home.
This week, upon learning Wednesday’s grim news, I created a meeting maker for emotionally supportive beers with work friends who accepted my invitation with no questions asked. So, when Wednesday’s work ends, we’ll file into the bar, pour some beers and toast to my family’s ancestral house by the sea. There are two things here that should tell you I’ve found the right job: 1. There’s beer. and 2. All I had to say was “guys, my house is getting knocked down and I’m going to be sad” and they immediately understood. (Or this is indicative that they really just want an excuse to drink beer?)
We’ll surely make a host of new memories in the new house, but before I skipped ahead to the bright side of things (as I am wont to do – see cookie sundaes, food poisoning), I wanted to pay my respects to the original house. The is house that made me what I really am at heart: a beach kid who doesn’t mind a little sand in the bed and is just as happy hanging at home with brothers, friends and some beers as a night out dancing through boardwalk dives.
As our patron saint Mr. Springsteen sings, we at the Jersey Shore have better days shining through, but that doesn’t mean we can’t collectively take a moment as Summer 2013 gears up to remember all the glorious summers that came before.