It’s Christmas morning, and I find myself walking around the house looking at what 18 years in our present abode has accumulated. Some day, these vestiges of our spendy ways will be given away, sold at an estate sale or shipped to Yucatán. We’ve always been a little house proud in our little Cape Cod that’s sort of lost on this huge piece of land, which drives our property taxes through the roof. Our neighbor across the street is the largest house in the city, a 1929 mansion called “The Chimneys.” Many of the other houses around us are pretty grand, too, build in the 1930s and ’40s, on a peninsula surrounded by Long Island Sound, a harbor filled with boats and a wide creek with all sorts of wildlife like blue heron and ibis. Today feels like the beginning of a long goodbye to all that.
Much of the time I lived here, I commuted to the city, often staying there and socializing there. I was familiar with all the shows opening on and off Broadway and was conversant in any chatter involving new restaurants. Before my life here, I was seeing someone in Riverside, and took to Manhattan life very quickly. Making friends in the city was easy, not like Connecticut. I became a New Yorker, a self-image that’s fading fast. My employer is on West 57th Street, but they let me work in an office close to home, and I hardly ever go to New York now.
Casa Nana, our future house in Santa Ana, is our gift to each other this year, but to be honest, we’ve been drifting away from the Christmas traditions for years now. When we first moved in to the house, on Dec. 21, 1993, Christmas was very special indeed. I was still in my 20s, and Paul not much older. Our first piece of furniture was a Christmas tree, and we slept on a mattress beside it. (Houses in Connecticut aren’t often sold furnished like in Mérida.)
We were the first of our friends to break out of apartment living, and we celebrated our achievement with lots of parties, especially at the holidays. We invited large crowds, and I had started paying attention to the culinary advice of Martha Stewart and Gourmet magazine, getting a little ambitious about domestic life. Eventually the parties got smaller and more infrequent. Some people assume we’re still entertaining as usual and they’ve been “dropped,” but actually we’ve just stopped entertaining. This year we didn’t even bring down any ornaments from the attic. Our Christmas cacti are in bloom and we propped up our Christmas cards on top of the piano. That’s the only visible sign of Christmas around here today.
So we closed on Casa Nana on Wednesday, and now it’s Christmas and next week I have off. The timing is really good, because now I can take the time to dwell on what 2012 will look like. It’s down to the small details. Which brings me back to why I’m wandering around the house on Christmas morning and assessing how well we stuffed this house with stuff since 1993.
Of course, I can take almost anything I want with me, but should I? I have three racks in the basement, floor-to-ceiling, filled with cooking equipment: The potato mill I used once because Cooks Illustrated told me mashed potatoes would be lighter. The waffle iron I researched so thoroughly before buying and shoving into the basement. The Japanese Neuro Fuzzy rice maker and warmer from Zabar’s. The coffee plunger. The super-automatic cappuccino maker. The domed mosquito barrier to protect food at a barbecue. My Le Crueset cast-iron collection. The ice cream maker, iced-tea brewer, slow-cooker, pressure-cooker, rotating fryer. Baking pans, jelly roll pans, roasting pans, a large glass lemonade dispenser. Cake dishes, with and without domes, and baking dishes with insulated carrying cases for transporting to the church potluck. Tricky and expensive to ship, or to replace.
Then in the attic, boxes and boxes of family and personal photos, all pre-iPhoto, plus a bag of comic books from the 1970s that I keep telling myself I’ll sit down and re-discover because when I was 9 I was sure they’d give me nostalgic comfort in my old age. Also stored away is all the crystal, silver and china. Then, the heirlooms. I have my grandmother’s steamer trunk, Dad’s army trunk, filled with mementos of other peoples’ lives — which are keys to my own personal history.
Homes in Merida tend not to have basements and attics, and we’ve already decided that the key word for our new house is “monastic.” We crave open spaces, clean surfaces, room to breathe. The opposite of the “layered” English-cottage look we’ve been enjoying up here. We both have fantasies of truly starting over, arriving with just a duffel bag and the spirit of enthusiasm we had in 1993 — back when all my worldly goods could fit on a U-Haul.
Someone’s going to make out like a bandit when we open our estate sale.