Memories not for sale

We were doing what older souls do now, swapping emails back and forth. Thinking ourselves oh-so-modern. Not realizing that we are maybe five technologies behind the times. To the grandkids, we might as well be painting on cave walls.

One of my cousins who still carries the torch for the family back in Yonkers, New York, let us know that the Lockwood house was up for sale. The old place — it was built in 1900 — overlooks the Hudson River and in its time was a mini-mansion for the swells.

When my parents bought it in the mid-1950s, it had seen its day. They got it for a song. Nobody wanted a cold, damp, ramshackle monstrosity with six bedrooms, three leaky baths and a fire in its history. Except for the parents of five baby-boom kids. Because of its size, it became the site for extended family gatherings, everything from Christmas and Fourth of July parties to my sister’s wedding reception. That’s why the various cousins of my Yonkers’ childhood still feel an affection for it.

We lived there until 1967, my senior year in high school. My parents finally bailed out after my oldest brother and sister had left home and my older brother next to me was finishing college. The Old Man said that if the furnace blew, there goes higher education for me and my little brother. We moved into a condo. So it goes.

The last time most of us saw the place was when it showed up as a prop in “Mona Lisa Smile,” a 2003 Christmas release starring Julia Roberts. It was a middling flick about a new teacher at a women’s college trying to expand the horizons of her young wealthy charges. Blah, blah, blah.

Julia’s character rented a room in what had been our house. An exterior and a number of interiors were shot there. Roberts stood on the exact spot where I used to accompany “Kingston Trio” songs on our record player.

So we all started swapping email stories. After seeing a photo of his bedroom on the real estate website, my brother jokingly complained that somebody had taken down his football pictures. My cousin wrote about my sister’s wedding and the charm she still had from serving as a bridesmaid. I remembered the garage and how many baseballs I tossed against its creaky wooden door.

We then engaged in various critiques from the photos on how subsequent owners mistreated her, in our opinion. The place looked sadder, I complained. Somebody else said it looked darker and that the neighborhood was going downhill. Nothing gets more self-righteous than old geezers looking back.

It was my sister who finally dragged us back to the present. “Great house, but it’s all over now,” she reminded us. Life goes on, and those rooted too much in the past miss the present. And the future. So we let it be.

I always considered it a bit of a blessing that I have been back to Yonkers on only a handful of occasions since I crossed the Hudson for Indiana a week shy of All Saints Day in 1971. That way neighborhoods never change, childhood homes never age, and friends are forever young.

But denial is no way to live. It insults the past and dishonors the future. There’s the line from “The Shawshank Redemption”: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Yonkers has changed, and the old house will get another set of owners. We have no hold on it. Not since my brother’s football pictures came down.

“(W)hatever God does will endure forever; there is no adding to it, or taking from it ... What now is has already been; what is to be, already is: God retrieves what has gone by” (Eccl 3:14-15).

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.