It Takes a Village

I haven’t written anything in a while because things have been a little crazy around here. After months of packing, moving, settling into a rental, then packing and moving again, my family has finally moved into the house my parents and grandma had built. Right now, there are five of us living here (parents and grandma, my youngest sister and me) plus two small dogs (Cooper is ours, Sadie is my grandma’s). Of course, we all know each other well, and most of us have lived with some or all of the others at some point, but it’s the first time we’ve all been under one roof; we’re all waiting for the dust to settle to see what it’s really like.

A little history on my family: we moved into the house on Camelot when I was just five, and lived there for almost nineteen years. In that time, my sisters and I graduated from elementary and then high school, we hosted eighteen Christmas brunches, and witnessed the entire lifespan of our first dog, Charlie. My grandma moved into her house, just a five minute walk away, after my grandpa died. She’s been there for about fifteen years, and has managed quite well for herself. However, a few years ago she began a fight with cancer. She beat it, but the treatment has left her weakened and with a permanent kidney disease that requires her to have dialysis three times a week. She’s getting older, and it became evident that things wouldn’t be able to continue on the same way indefinitely.

Once my parents conceived of the idea of living with my grandma, it was a no-brainer that that was what must be done. Rather than forcing an awkward, stifling living arrangement, they decided to build a house to suit everyone’s needs and maintain their independence. Thus, we now reside in a three-bedroom, three bath bungalow, with a finished basement that includes a separate kitchen, dining, and living room for my parents’ use. I would post pictures, but it’s still too cluttered with boxes and homeless furniture for that.

It must be said that, despite four able-bodied individuals and one stubborn one, plus months between moving dates, there is no way we could have made it through this major overhaul by ourselves. The first time we had to move, from my childhood home to a two-month rental house up the street, we had the help of three of my dad’s brothers, my mom’s best friend, some other friends of my dad, and a couple of neighbours. Everyone pitched in to tow boxes and furniture into the U-Haul and then into the basement storage. We managed to pull off that move in less than 24 hours, including celebratory pizza and beers, and my uncles made the three hour drive back home in daylight.

The second move was even more impressive, in a way, as it involved moving my grandma from her house one day, then moving us from the rental the next. Did I mention that the moving date was during the week, and my sister and I both had to work? Well, once again friends and family stepped up to the plate. I can’t tell you how impressed I was to finally make it to the house on the day of my grandma’s move, to find two old (and I mean that in both senses) friends of my grandma’s had been slaving away in 30+ degree heat, putting things together, cleaning, and making themselves generally useful. Never mind that one is still recovering from her own rigorous cancer battle – she and my grandma were quite the sight, all wiry and breakable, determinedly sifting through boxes.

On the second day, I woke up at 5:30 am to finish packing up my room before heading to work. It was another scorcher when I left work at about 4, and I reluctantly drove toward the new house and what I knew would be another long day of hauling and scrubbing. But my trepidation was put to shame when I arrived to see Foti, a long-time neighbour of the Camelot house, sweating through his shirt as he and my dad unloaded heavy boxes of my books into our new garage. An hour later we were joined again by my mom’s friend Ginny, who had spent the entire day at work but still dedicated her evening to vacuuming and packing up the last of our belongings from the rental and moving them in her own car to the new place. Finally, at 11:30 pm, my mom, dad, Foti, Ginny, and I locked up the rental once and for all and, swatting away the June bugs and mosquitos, made the final trip to the new place. I collapsed into my mattress a few minutes later, although I could hear my parents still moving around upstairs. I don’t know how they did it; especially considering that my mom drove my grandma to the hospital for dialysis at 6 am. On top of it all, it was my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, and I don’t think either of them took the time to give it a second thought.

When I began this post, I knew I wanted to talk about the idea of community: the concept of people working together towards a common goal. I think though, that it’s necessary to point out that although the goal – moving us – was shared, it only benefited a few of the people involved. Why did so many people take the time and energy and patience to help us move? I still can’t really fathom why, but I am so grateful that they did. It was pure, selfless, untempered goodwill on the parts of Ginny, Foti, Ken and Caroline, my uncles, and the many others who lent a hand. It’s such a simple concept, and one that we’ve been taught our whole lives, in kindergarten and Girl Guides, on soccer teams, and even in university orientation; but being on the receiving end, I feel wholly unworthy of such kindness. I wonder if I am as selfless, as willing to overlook what’s in it for me. But this is community: the understanding that, when someone needs to get something done, you step in and help them do it; and when you need help, they will be there in turn. I love my independence, but sometimes I need to be reminded that I’m not just one individual, and that, if I want community, I have a responsibility to give, as well as to take.

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Filed under cheesy metaphors, community, friends

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