A pink Barney Rubble eraser. I know it should be something more Proustian, like a madeleine. But it's the pink eraser that gets to me.
I'm walking through my parents' house in Wilmington, Del., the day after they've moved out to smaller quarters. It's the house I grew up in, and my parents had been here for more than 36 years. With a house and family of my own, I know I shouldn't keep thinking of this place as my home, but I do.
My childhood home -- the stream running behind it where we waded, waged wars, made mud pies; the yard that once contained the rusted swing set and seesaw; the oak tree towering over the top of the house, its branches sometimes tapping my bedroom window at night, prompting me to leap out of bed, run into my parents' room and squeeze in next to Mom. When I got too big for their bed, I'd occasionally curl up in the chaise longue in the corner, somehow comforted by my father's snores.
I come in through the back door and feel the lump rising in my throat as I enter the kitchen. There's the wooden farm table I'm supposed to take back to Washington, where I live with my husband and two young girls. It seems a little smaller than I remember -- even though I sat at it two months ago on my last trip to Wilmington.
"Get a grip," I think to myself. "You're only in the kitchen."
I swallow and continue touring the empty house, the one downsizing left behind. Playroom, living room, dining room, den, front hall. Up the stairs I go, passing my old room and heading into Mom and Dad's. The furniture is gone but some stray socks and scarves are scattered across the floor, covered in dust and lint. In the bathroom, there's a curled-up tube of toothpaste. "Mom will never learn," I think, looking at the tube. Unlike most children, I was the one who told my mother to put the cap back on.
I decide it's time to venture into my old room. It actually stopped being "my" room and became "the nursery" seven years ago when my daughter, the first grandchild, was born. That's when my parents gave it a complete overhaul for visiting grandchildren: celery and white, wide-striped wallpaper, white Venetian blinds, a crib and rocking chair. It looked much cuter -- and more chic -- as a nursery than it ever did as my room.
Now it's empty but for a white wicker rocking chair with a green-and-white checked cushion. I don't know why the movers left the chair. It's anyone's to take now, I guess. I sit and rock slowly, looking around the room and out the window at the still-bare trees of early April. I glance at the wall, remembering how my brother knocked from the other side on pre-dawn Christmases. "Get up, Page. Wake up!" His muffled voice could be heard faintly through the thick plaster.
No longer able to keep my grip, I have a good cry. I cry at the thought of saying goodbye to my house, my room, my childhood. But then I start crying for other things. And my initial soft sobs turn to weeps and, finally, convulsions. I wonder about the future as I sit here, rocking and weeping, in this place of the past.
I notice a swept-up pile of old papers and debris in the corner of the room. Something pink catches my eye. Bending down to pick it up, I realize it's an unused, bubble-gum pink Barney Rubble eraser, the kind we used to put on top of our No. 2 pencils. It must be more than 25 years old, but looks brand-new. It's the type of thing I used to put in a special box, one filled with foreign coins, a few marbles, a baby tooth and a Ford-Dole campaign pin. Looking at the eraser, a perfect pink replica of stubby Barney Rubble, I find myself smiling as I hum the "Flintstones" theme song. "Flintstones, meet the Flintstones . . . Have a yabba-dabba-do time, a dabba-do time, we'll have a gay old time."
Okay, now I know I need to get a grip. I know I need to say goodbye, move on. Embrace it and let it go. But I'm letting go of more than this old house. Here I am at 37 and, for the first time, I feel I'm finally leaving the nest. For good.
Giving the eraser such a tight squeeze that it feels like Silly Putty inside my fist, I waver over whether to hurl it back onto the pile of trash. Instead, I put it in my pocket and move on. I imagine my girls will enjoy playing with it when I get home.