Saying Goodbye in Layers

Fort Drive 1
Leaving Manassas after 33 years takes some excavation.

I closed my freelance business, resigned from the city’s elections office and handed the “wand of leadership” of Write by the Rails to interim president Stacia D. Kelly.

With my husband starting his job immediately in North Carolina, the task of bringing our home to market fell to me. That meant hiring five contractors to repair and “freshen” a 54-year-old split-level house while I quickly sorted through three decades of accumulated stuff.

That marathon has taken every minute of the past seven weeks.

I’ve lived in jeans, t-shirts and a baseball cap. I met so many Realtors, appraisers and inspectors I had to start a notebook to keep track of them all. I moved the same piles and boxes so many times, I called a church friend, Lisa Wells, to rescue me from the “rearranging chairs on the Titanic” log jam.

I filled our double driveway twice with donation items to be hauled away – gladly saluting Curtis’s worn out gas grill as it rose on the automatic lift of a dump truck. My new best friends are a DeWalt drill and the trunk of my Saturn station wagon, which I have filled and refilled with loads for Community Thrift, Transitional Housing BARN and the recycling center as we countdown to packing day. I handed off 17 paint cans to a neighbor, Ray Beverage, who will turn it in to the City’s hazardous household waste collection Nov. 15.

While the daily parade of contractors for roof, chimney and brick work (Grappler Construction), interior painting (Edward Enterprises Custom Painting), asbestos tile removal (Envirotex), carpet laying (Sav-on Floors) and curb appeal (Yard-by-Yard Landscaping) did their thing, I vacuumed, scrubbed, Windexed and Pledged everything from ceiling to floor, from lamp globes to baseboard heating, from tile grout to sink pipes. Between rain showers I raked and mowed 26 bags of yard waste and put them at the curb for removal.

When all was ready, the Realtor, Zonia Garcia with Prudential PenFed sent a photographer, whose resulting photos and video tour are now part of the MLS listing on multiple sites. Here’s a link to just one:

To view them is to see a house erased of our existence. Gone are the strawberry rhubarb pies coming out of the oven and onto the cooling rack, or the children’s snow boots, mittens and hats dripping on the laundry room floor.

Silent are the picnic conversations on the prayer porch, or the printer in my home office, cranking out the articles, newsletters, press releases and client projects. Where is the intimacy of the bedrooms that cradled babies and sheltered dogs, spewed out teenagers late for school, and survived all the wave-tossed passages of two marriages: love, worry, comfort, loss? Only I can explain why our safe deposit box contains a small scrap of wallpaper, a memento of a place where we lived, invited God in, and made Him the center of our lives.

So when friends and colleagues offered to take me to lunch or set up a going away for me, I said no. I needed to do this in layers, to say goodbye here and there, in sizeable chunks. It gives me control; allows me to protect a loss I still find unfathomable. I know this house is not Martin Cross, but his spirit dwelt here, among these people, in this city. He left an impression as strong as the image on Civil War tintypes of boys who never returned. I can’t separate the two. I can only cling for a moment and then let go.

So forgive me for saying goodbye in layers…taking my last communion at Trinity on Burrito Sunday, enjoying my last workout with Nina Lomax today, spending my last weekend not in Manassas, but in Midland, Virginia, with my lifelong friend Kathleen McClelland.

I missed so many things…the Gold Award ceremony for Girl Scout Julia Burk….the Gold Cup reunion with my Leadership Prince William friends…the upcoming Manassas Ballet production of “Colin.”

I’m taking three things to North Carolina with me: an award I’ll receive on Saturday in Richmond from the Virginia Writers Club; a Kindle from my fellow writers in Write by the Rails (who keep eulogizing me on the Facebook group page like I died – I’ll show them), and a set of QMT wind chimes (thank you Debbie Jewell, C.C. Bartholomew, Kathy Bentz, Carlos Castro, Sharon Henry, Regina Jessop, Debbie Jones and Kendra Kielbasa of LPW Class of 2010!). The chimes will be cherished and hung on my porch in Pine Level, North Carolina, where I will listen to them as I launch my new career as an author – a career that starts November 1 with National Novel Writing Month.

The last layer, the move, is next week. And then I will leave you with my favorite Dag Hammarskjöld quote:

For all that has been — thanks. For all that will be — yes.

Saying ‘Yes’ to the Dress


Tuesday I took a break from prepping our house for sale to drive to Jeanette’s Bride N’ Boutique in Manassas.

I was meeting my daughter to help her pick out her wedding dress!

Leaving the painters, carpet layers, brick workers, landscapers and tree removers behind was a welcome escape. She was afraid I’d forget, but I arrived on time and in a dress, with makeup, hair curled, gift bags in hand…nothing like the worn jeans, t-shirt and baseball cap I’d been living in for days. This was her moment.

Her maid of honor was there, and helped her pull gowns to try on. A bridesmaid soon arrived, and all three of us formed a solid front of support and calm reassurance. She was nervous about what she would look like, almost dreading the start of the process. Like jumping off the high dive.

All of that fell away when she emerged from the dressing room, huge clips holding the first gown close to her body, stepping onto a little pedestal in front of mirrors. I don’t know what she felt, but I felt sheer joy. How beautiful God made my daughter! This is the baby we didn’t know we could have! Her birth father had been through chemotherapy early in our marriage. When she was born, one of my first visitors in Prince William Hospital was his oncologist. This was the gawky, leggy safety patrol and science fair winner, teased for some perceived imperfection or lack of social skills. This was the teenager with the tight red metallic jeans and tiny shirts, ear piercings and hair fiascos, letting more hang out than a mom was ready for. This was the Home Depot associate, a roll of tape on her arm, and awards hanging off her orange apron; the George Mason University graduate, wearing a green robe and accepting her well-earned biology degree.

And now, there she was, a Venus in white, with round curves, toned arms, a smooth, flawless back exposed by hair swept up and held to one side by flowery clip; her collarbone and posture, regal. A natural beauty that, it was soon evident, could carry any style of gown – clingy, flared, dropped at the waist. My daughter is a woman. I already knew that, but what a cool rite of passage, to witness the swan preening her white feathers in front of a three-fold mirror with showroom lighting. It’s a Tuesday, this is Manassas, my daughter is a goddess. I felt totally blessed.

By the third dress, she knew she had “The One”: a dress that would complement what her groom would be wearing and what she hoped to evoke in the style of her wedding. It was made for her.
We knew it, too, because we were no longer sitting like a panel of judges. The dress made all of us want to draw closer to her. It was a stunning piece of work. With the light hitting the beadwork and lace it looked as if the angels had sewed it – or at least those cute little Disney fairy tale mice and birds; it was so delicate and ethereal. She had transformed in it: The Bride.

The rest was all measurements and questions (heels or flats for the hemming?) and filling out forms. Soon she was back in her own street clothes. I handed gifts to her friends – votive “White Linen” candles – and for my daughter, a Pandora charm called “First Dance” – a bride in her wedding gown, dancing with her groom or father. I’d selected them at Allyssa Bryn Accessories in Historic Old Town Manassas, to commemorate the occasion.

"First Dance"

“First Dance”

By next year – February – my daughter’s dress will arrive at the shop for alterations and she’ll put it on for the first time. I’m so happy for her!

I left her and her friends to their lunch plans, and went back to our home, the white split-level, still in its beehive of activity. I’ll soon be in a new home, starting a new stage in my life.

My minister always quotes Henri-Frederic Amiel in her blessing – “Life is short and we never have enough time for the hearts of those who travel the way with us. O, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind.”

I Buried St. Joseph in My Yard Today

I spent nearly half my life in Manassas, and now I’m moving.

Enter St. Joseph.

Joseph, patron saint of hearth and home

Joseph, patron saint of hearth and home

I told a friend from church I was clearing out decades of clutter in the house, and going about, praying in each room so that the next family will be happy here and make great memories, like we have.

That’s when she gave me a colorful plastic St. Joseph – the patron saint of home and hearth – to bury in my yard. Not a little necklace medallion; a statue, big as my palm. She instructed me to bury it upside down, with his arms pointing toward the street.

Well, you know me. I had to look this one up on the Internet. Turns out, there is quite a tradition surrounding the burial of these domestic Joes. The custom varies widely, but agrees on two things; one, that he’s supposed to help you sell your house fast, and two, you have to bury him upside down “so he’ll try harder to right himself and get home.”

Some Internet sources advised burying him in the backyard; others, in the front. We decided to take a trowel out to the street and dig a hole close to the “Coming Soon!” realtor’s sale sign. Once he had dug a hole about a foot deep, my husband dropped St. Joseph in, upside down, his arms outstretched to the street, and covered him up with the same rich, orangish soil.

Tradition decrees we dig the statue up and take it with us to the new house in North Carolina. There, we should place the statue in a place of honor, to thank him.

Yet even my church friend acknowledged finding a St. Joseph still buried in her yard. She left him undisturbed. I want to leave St. Joseph here. I like knowing that he’ll protect the new family as they move in.


And that I do believe: That somewhere out there is the new family, waiting for us to leave so they can inhabit this house. They’re just waiting for St. Joseph to point the way.