Editor's Note: Cabinet of Curiosities | July 2024 | Editor's Note | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

I was in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway when the realtor called. He told me that the buyer had just done her final walkthrough at the house and that the closing would move forward as scheduled. It had been nearly two years since my brother Paddy died, five since Mom passed. And finally, after a few snags—a mysterious, 20-year-old open building permit; title issues; a 15-year-old fence needing to be torn down because it was four inches higher than allowed by city code; buyers dropping out at the last minute—we were actually selling the Ancestral Mahoney Estate, pictured below right.

 

***

 

The house in Bayside has been in my family for 75 years. My grandmother Nancy, a young widow, bought the 3,500-square-foot dwelling in the 1950s when my Mom was still in grade school. (Aside from attending college in Rochester, Mom never lived anywhere else and she died in her bed in the house. The same for Paddy—he attended SUNY Maritime in the Bronx and then returned home to live with Mom, dying in the same bed four years after her.)

The house is the site of countless celebrations past: christenings, birthdays, confirmations, graduations, Fourth of July parties, Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas mornings, Easter egg hunts, and my mother's famous New Year's Day open house, which her children were compelled to attend—no matter how hungover we were.

The house contains the usual domestic sadness, mortifications, and disappointments as well: pets dying; my parents announcing their divorce; petulant adolescent behavior of the petty and criminal varieties; me, the night my mother died, riding the electric stair lift up and down the stairs for an hour, drinking vodka, and bawling my eyes out while the first responders looked politely away.

And the silliness and wonder that makes every home a cabinet of curiosities: Paddy, aged three, climbing onto the dining room table and swinging from the crystal chandelier, a most delighted monkey. Clancy, still a puppy, jumping onto the same table at Thanksgiving just before dinner and thrusting his snout in the mashed potatoes. (I've no doubt Clancy would have swung from the chandelier as well if equipped with opposable thumbs.) My father, having run out of lighter fluid, setting himself on fire trying to light the charcoal with gasoline and then sprinting toward the above-ground pool like a portly comet before vaulting over the side and saving himself third-degree burns. The day the pool "broke": the side wall suddenly giving way and my five-year-old sister Alicia holding on to the ladder for dear life as the water tried to drag her with it—into Mr. Gunzaki's yard, where Mr. Gunzaki, a sweet, old dude in socks and sandals trimming his hedges, watching 10,000 gallons of water rush past his ankles and into his basement.

All these milestones are on a timeline you don't even realize exists until you've reached the end and there's nowhere to look but backward.

 

***

 

With no particular purpose in mind, I stopped by the house on the way to the lawyer's office to have one last look around. It felt necessary, at least so I could pretend to be sentimental about it later, not the hard-hearted person who drives right past their childhood home on the way to selling it and never being able to set foot in it again. A sense of duty compelled me as well—someone in the family should say goodbye to the house

The house was still full of stuff. We were selling it "as is," which meant that we didn't have to fix the leaky roof or escort the squirrels out or get rid of the baby grand piano, leather recliners, the enormous mirror bolted to the wall of the dining room, or the bed that two family members died in. The kitchen drawers were full of silverware. The pantry shelves were stocked. What hadn't sold in the estate sale would become the property of—read: problem for—the new owner.

The reason that we were able to sell the house "as is": the new owner planned to knock it down and build new. Anything left was landfill fodder. Knowing that, I decided to grab a few last things. Here's a list of the items—chosen from many thousand possible objects—I went home with: Six picture frames with photos of relatives both deceased and living. An ebony letter opener with a clenched fist at one end, Black Power-style. A tea towel with a map of Ireland on it. Two bottles of Angostura aromatic bitters. Seven books from the Choose Your Adventure series, including my favorite, House of Danger. A 75-count box of long reach matches. A paint-spattered yardstick from the Chicago Lumber Company. A conch shell as big as a football. A pie-serving spatula. Two books from the Great Brain series of young adult novels. A can of haggis, slightly rusted. Two metal dog chain collars. A coffee cup with seven red ladybugs on it. A Franciscan earthenware plate covered in painted plums. A crystal from the chandelier.  

I think I should have taken the piano bench as well, but three things were unclear: where it would fit it in our small home, whether it would actually spark joy, and what Lee Anne would have to say about it. I left it behind. I probably should have grabbed it. Shit.

After loading my car, I stared back at the falling-down house—theoretically for the last time. There used to be two tall pine trees that stood like sentinels out front since I was child. One died over a decade ago, the other has hung on, spindly and sparse-limbed. It had definitely seen better days, and would soon be cut down. I walked over and gave it a hug. It was awkward. Then I drove to the closing.

Department of Corrections

Last month, in the Summer Art Preview, we printed information about the 2023 Powerhouse Theater summer season at Vassar College—not the current season. Our apologies for the error. An article on the 2024 Powerhouse season can be found at Chronogram.com/Powerhouse24. For more information and tickets to this year's season, visit Vassar.edu/powerhouse.

Brian K. Mahoney

Brian is the editorial director for the Chronogram Media family of publications. He lives in Kingston with his partner Lee Anne and the rapscallion mutt Clancy.
Comments (0)
Add a Comment
  • or

Support Chronogram