Boxes, bags and beds were piling up in the garage of my family's new home on a Saturday morning in June 1997.
It was moving day.
A beautiful five-bedroom home with a two-car garage on the city's southeast side figured to be the ideal place to raise two (and eventually three) girls. Everything needed to be put in its place first, and during the sorting process, then-6-year-old Jennifer yelled, "Dad! Jill is out in the street!"
Sure enough, then-10-month-old Jill had navigated the driveway while in her baby walker. She was in the middle of the cul-de-sac, but she was safe. A neighbor had corralled her.
It wasn't a proud parenting moment, but it was the first example of why the house was perfect.
Now, 16 years later, it's time to move again.
Jennifer, 22, is a senior in college. Jill, 16, and her sister, Jamie, 13, visit one weekend a month but live most of the time with their mother in a Chicago suburb. So a five-bedroom house is a little too much on most days for a divorced dad.
Leaving isn't easy. Some people say "it's just a house," but that's too simple. Going through the house and packing meant putting away the memories as well.
The fireplace in the living room was the first I'd ever had. Nothing better than a bowl of popcorn while watching a movie or a ballgame in front of a crackling fire.
The basement fireplace was used only once for a Monday Night Football game years ago. For some reason, the dang fire would not stay lit. Eventually, the house filled with smoke, firefighters rushed in, and we learned that a chimney sweep had put a plexiglas cap on it for the previous owners.
Taking up the carpet in Jamie's room was a reminder of the two dogs -- Maggie and Duke. Let's just say that both left plenty of surprises on the floor over the years.
Her room also served as a place for her friends -- the gang called the "Waffle Fries" -- to hang out until the wee hours of the morning. They also liked spending time in the giant walk-in closet in my bedroom, and chocolate chip pancakes were part of the morning goodbye ritual. So was cleaning up the mess from the night before.
A old diary from years ago was discovered in a pile somewhere. One of the girls, probably about 6 or 7 at the time, professed her undying love for some boy.
A bag of old videotapes and scrapbooks contained flashbacks to soccer games and family vacations. A photo of Jennifer playing in her last Quinsippi Soccer League game needed the dust wiped off. Her old homecoming dresses still were in a closet, as well as nearly two dozen purses she may have used once or twice, an old knee brace from her senior year and a folder full of flash cards she created to help her study.
Cleaning out the sporting equipment in the garage brought back the days of when I would stand under the basketball hoop and retrieve errant shots, as well as the times the girls and I played catch on the side of the house. The small hill in the neighbor's yard was a great place for Jamie and Jill to go sledding with friends, or they could ride skateboards and scooters down the street into the Schlegls' front yard. The backyard was the site for many editions of "Jart-O-Mania," a memorable annual shindig in which plenty of food and alcohol was consumed while playing games all night with sharply pointed lawn jarts.
The creek was a favorite spot for kids to gather. So was the trampoline, which made our address very popular. Remembering when one of the neighbor kids, an Eddie Haskell-type, had a friend videotape his leap from the trampoline into one of the bushes always makes me smile.
The screened-in back porch was the best place to spend a summer night, especially while swinging on the old rusty glider while waiting for a hamburger to cook on the grill.
Now there's too much house and too much yard for one person to maintain. As my youngest told me the last time she was here, "We'll just go make new memories at a new house, Dad." A new family of seven is ready to move in.
While putting a few things in the car late Sunday afternoon, I saw a little boy in diapers with a pacifier wobbling down the street to the end of the cul-de-sac. His mother soon followed, frantically racing around the corner of their house. I scooped him up and handed him back.
It was time to go.