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The House In Olympia

This week I received some bittersweet news:  the settlement on my recently-passed grandfather’s house came through, and I’ll be receiving a portion of it to help me pay for a test review class I’m taking next month.

My grandfather, as I’ve mentioned before, was a huge influence on me where thrift and responsibility are concerned.  It was largely in his memory that I became determined to change my outlook on financial matters; he was always trying to instill in me a respect for the value and importance of money, and even tried to convince me from an early age (too early to sink in?) that his seemingly boring “hobby” of stock trading was an excellent source of entertainment.  (While I don’t necessarily agree with that last part, I appreciate his effort.)  Even in passing, he has made me understand the value of knowing that your family will be provided for after you’re gone.

So, I say the news is bittersweet for the obvious reason that he’s no longer with us.  (He, an atheist, would probably gruffly disagree with anyone’s notion that “He’ll always be with me,” and I, also an atheist, would happily nod along.)  But really, I’ve been dealing with the pain of missing him for over a year now, and news of this check coming my way doesn’t make that loss any more or less poignant than it’s ever been.  What’s been made fresh in my mind is something I’d sort of let go of:  this money is coming from the sale of my grandparents’ house, which has been perhaps my single favorite place to spend time in my entire life…so much so that I strongly considered trying to arrange a deal with my parents to keep the house in the family rather than selling it, so I could buy it when I got my finances in order.

That (being an unrealistic goal for someone in my financial position) obviously didn’t happen.  And now, not only will I never again sit in that family room on that worn recliner:  I won’t even have any reason to go back to the city of Olympia, and will therefore potentially never even see the exterior of the house again.  Instead, I get to bulk up my emergency fund and take an LSAT class…I couldn’t think of a less sentimental way to commemorate all of the time I’ve enjoyed there.

The house, it should be noted, was hideous.  The flooring and wallpaper in the kitchen looked like the worst of each to come out of the early ’70s.  The counters were a shade of yellow that could best be compared to the bilious vomit that I sometimes see coming out of ailing cats at work.  The living room, poorly lit and oddly set eight inches below the rest of the house, shook (literally, the whole room shook) if you jumped on or ran across the floor.  The shag carpet in the bathroom, while wonderful on bare feet, was perhaps a bit too plush for a room so closely associated with shameful body functions (i.e. wear your socks if you have a graphic imagination).

But I wanted it, shag carpet and all.  Or, at least, I didn’t want it to go to someone who didn’t appreciate it:  someone who didn’t spend Christmases in that unsturdy living room; someone who didn’t sit by that fireplace during an ice storm; someone whose earliest memories aren’t of sleeping between his grandparents as a kid in the master bedroom.  That family room is the last place I saw my grandmother before she died.  The driveway is the last place I saw my grandfather.  It’s weird to think I’ll never go back there.

I told my mom I was going to imagine that my share of the house represented the corner of the family room with the fireplace.  When we were kids, we used to write letters to Santa on Christmas Eve, and I would always want to put mine in the fire because I felt like that would get the message to him more quickly.  Even after I stopped believing in Santa, I kept wanting to do this each time we were at my grandparents’ for Christmas, because I liked the idea of the contents of paper being sent into the air, drifting around through the evergreen trees that surrounded the house.

Atheist or no, maybe the reason I’ll miss the fireplace so much in particular is because I like the idea of sending up proof that, whether he was around to see it or not, I’ve finally heeded some of what my grandfather tried to teach me.  Maybe he always knew I would, and I just needed to prove it to myself.

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