For five years we’ve seen and heard them almost daily. Hansel is now 9, Gretel is 7, and Batman, who wasn’t yet born when they moved in, just turned 5. They have a fort on the property line, gather the eggs for us some days, and love Ruby and Garfield. We’ve had many good-byes this week. We’ve exchanged gifts and made many promises to visit, but the fact remains — they’re moving and after today, I won’t hear them playing anymore.
So I transplant young cabbages, being very careful with the delicate roots, listen to distant moving van sounds, and think on the farmlet. The change. A part of the farmlet is leaving. Can life here ever be as rich?
It’s late afternoon when Gretel and Batman come over to return one last egg carton, and have one last jump on the trampoline. “I’ll come back when I’m nine!” says Gretel to the Bearded One and me. “And I’m TEN!” Batman pounces on the number and smiles wide as he jumps with his sister.
“Noooo, I will always be older than you,” says Gretel.
“You can come back when you’re 100,” says the Bearded One to Batman.
“A HUNDRED!” Batman shouts with glee.
“If we live that long,” Gretel says.
“You’ll be 103,” says the Bearded One, but Gretel is wicked smart. “102!” she says.
“Oh, yeah,” says the Bearded One, as she bounces high above his head.
Time and space operate differently for the very young. They transplant easier. I am more traumatized by this move than either of these children. The parents have promised to bring the kids by occasionally, for eggs and trampoline time. Still, it’s their regular presence I’m already missing — the pleasant, entertaining kid sounds coming through the woods. They’re like grandkids.
“We better get home,” says Gretel, and just like that Batman obeys and the two children scramble to the stump stairs the Bearded One made for them. It’s time to say good-bye.
The Bearded One asks Gretel about the new house. They call it the Harbor House. Has she been there? What does she think of it?
At first she appears at a loss, and I’m not sure if she’s been there or not. What does she actually know about the new house?
The answer eludes her for the time it takes Batman to say good-bye to Ruby the dog. “Bye bye Woobie,” he says, and I’m so charmed and moved that all I can do is examine my dirty fingernails.
Gretel has thought of something. “The new house,” she says while looking distinctly baffled, “has a popcorn ceiling.”
What strange new world is this?
They race down the driveway and are gone. Less than an hour later, their last car leaves and we wave to the entire family from the deck.
And then it’s quiet. Their home is empty and is suddenly just a house. I can feel the hole.
“What makes a house a home?” I ask the Bearded One, who stands at the kitchen sink eating a muffin.
“It’s the ‘OME’,” he says, with his best British accent, then pauses for dramatic effect as he paraphrases the answer — “Oh…ME.”
“Yes,” I smile all the way to my roots, “You.”