On Breaking A Promise To A Grandchild
We recently sold the Southampton home we lived in for nearly 50 years. At we signed the closing documents, I wondered if our attorney was required to say “Anyone who objects to this sale speak now or forever hold your peace.” The someone who might object is our oldest grandson. When he was seven years old, it somehow occurred to him we might sell one of the three homes we then owned. Looking sternly at my wife and me he said “We can’t sell the Manhattan apartment; that’s where we have our Big Apple weekends. Florida is where we go for winter vacation. And Southampton! Selling the lake house is simply out of the question.” Now, over a quarter century later, we were selling the lake house, painfully aware commitments to a grandchild have no statute of limitations.
Our financial adviser had been encouraging us for years to sell the Southampton house, insisting “A lot of money sits where you spend just ten weeks a year.” With our children clipping articles from the AARP magazine and soliciting our advice on collecting Social Security, it occurred to my wife and me we had been slow in putting our own affairs in order. While selling the Southampton house was something to contemplate, doing so would thrust us into a clash between financial statements and a house that echoed with memories of childish laughter. To our adviser the property was an “asset;” to us it was the pond in which our children and their children learned to swim. In late-night talks, Muriel and I found ourselves wondering if a house could be both a deed transferred to strangers and a deck once laced with tiny wet footprints.
We began rummaging through boxes of fading photographs of celebrations held on that deck: birthdays, graduations, engagement parties, wedding anniversaries. As they grew older, our grandchildren and I ran the “Dan’s Paper Minithon.” We would exchange training diaries, discuss the dinner we would have the night before the run and the party we would have after. Each celebration made it more difficult to imagine family life without the house and the pond that glittered below it.
But a gradual shift in conversations with friends our age was becoming harder to ignore. They began speaking of outliving their financial reserves, of calls from a house watcher saying a pipe had burst. There was also a change in the way invitations to our children and grandchildren were being greeted. The “We’d love to’s” were now almost always followed by “but.” Memories were being pierced by the sharp edge of numbers sufficient to carry us through what seemed impossibly old age. We conceded it been a long time since we spent winter weekends huddled before the fireplace, balancing heaping platters from John Duck. There is no fireplace in our Florida house, but we walk ankle deep in the ocean in January. In February, we sold the lake house.
Unwilling to cut ties with the Hamptons, we are renting a summer place about three miles from our old house, driving along familiar streets, but never down the road to the pond. As my wife and I walk through Southampton we realize how many familiar places have gone, the old library, the original Town Hall, The Buttery, The Driver’s Seat, The Anchorage, Barrister’s, John Duck! Each is a reminder that while the town has retained much of its charm, it is not the place we moved to nearly a half-century ago. Yet, as I write these words, I realize I never saw Southampton as a place, but as golden droplets leaping into the sky as my children and their children splashed through the pond.
When we told our grandson we were selling the Southampton house, his eyes widened but he didn’t speak. After a few moments he said “I guess it’s time; but we lived in paradise for a while, didn’t we?”