"I know this is going to be hard on your vulnerable female sensibilities," I tell my wife, "but you must be strong. You must resist being swept away by your supercharged emotions."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," she says, closing the flaps on another box of books. "Hand me the tape."
We're finally doing it: we're moving out of the house we've lived in for 30 years. We're moving into a town house, and I don't even know what a town house is.
But I do know it's going to be hard on my wife. She's a woman. And women, see, are a lot more sentimental than men. Always have been. They got all touchy-feely when they had to move out of their caves to follow the mastodon herd their husbands were chasing.
That's why I tell my wife she must be strong.
I'll give her this though: she's very good at covering up her anguish.
"Look at the day lilies growing out of St. Sherman's grave," I tell her, pointing out the window. "I'll bet they're sad to see us leave."
St. Sherman was our first family dog, so full of virtue we had him canonized. We got him in 1969, the week our son started kindergarten, and we buried him in the day lilies in 1986, the week our son graduated from college.
"Day lilies," my wife says, "are incapable of sadness. Day lilies are insentient. Help me get this stuff out of the freezer."
"And look," I say pointing out the window again. "There's one of Ned's ham bones. It's going to be attitudinally devastated here without us."
Ned was our second family dog. He died this spring. His aura remains, the furniture still fuzzy with dog hair, the yard still littered with ham bones.
"Ham bones don't get attitudinally devastated," she says, checking another item off her to-do list. "Ham bones are dead. Why don't you fill out this change-of-address card."
"My husbandly advice," I tell her, "is to keep busy. That'll get your mind off the pain of leaving behind all our wonderful memories."
"What I remember," she says, "is when the sewer pipe from the upstairs bathroom split and stinky stuff came through the kitchen wall. I'd rather forget."
She's so transparent. What she's doing, see, is trying to distract herself from the melancholy of finishing a major chapter in our book of life.
"That's it," I say. "Block it out. Compartmentalize. And whatever you do, don't think about the happy cries of growing children, the exuberant yips of brand new puppiesósounds that still echo off these hallowed walls."
"Good grief," she says, "You've looked at too many Norman Rockwell paintings. Suck it up. The movers are coming! The movers are coming! Do something useful."
The Truth, Mainly
That’s how she avoids dealing with stress: she does something useful.
So I take a valedictory tour of the house and yard.
I pat the ersatz fireplace I put in the living room in 1972, just in time to hang the children's stockings on Christmas Eve.
I fondle the kitchen cabinets my wife and I installed in 1971 after she made me drink three beers, then bet me I couldn't pry the original 1910 cabinets off the wall with the new crowbar she'd given me for Father's Day.
I choke up saying goodbye to the woodpile I'd stacked, to the driveway I'd widened and graveled, to the vegetable garden I'd enriched with three decades of compost.
"So long, old fence," I say to the cheap cottonwood one-by-fours we nailed up back in 1980. "It's been good to know you."
"Au revoir, oak and hackberry, sumac and lilac," I say, my voice a-quiver. "Adieu, adieu, cottontail and butterfly, squirrel and cardinal, lady bug and earthworm. I can no longer stay with you, stay with you."
Then I stagger back into the house, sniffling and looking for a Kleenex, while the moving guys survey the furniture and the boxes my wife has been filling with our stuff for the past three weeks.
As we back out of the driveway for the last time, I hear whimpering noises.
"I hear whimpering noises," I say. "The house doesn't want us to leave. The house is whimpering."
"I too hear whimpering noises," she says, "but they aren't coming from the house. They're coming from a poor old booger wallowing in his own sentimentality. Get a grip."
I try, but I can't find a handle.
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.