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We have here no lasting city.

We recently moved my parents out of the big family home in south London--a sprawling, mock-Tudor edifice with an obligatory wall of ivy on the south-facing wall. The challenge was to boil down nearly five decades and four storeys worth of stuff into a much smaller cache that could be contained in a one-bedroom senior's apartment.

All four Goodden sons were launched into the world from that house. The first-born made it all the way down to Australia while the younger three all settled in town. But just because the apples didn't land very far from the tree (or would nuts be a more apt metaphor?), that doesn't mean we weren't emotionally wrenched out of shape by the process of emptying out the homestead.

In a wonderfully poignant act on the afternoon before moving day, my unusually taciturn dad emerged from the pantry with a tin of Brasso and a soft rag, and silently commenced polishing up the metal numbers on a wooden plaque to the right of his front door. He wasn't going to be able to sit on that porch this summer, basking in those numbers' reflected glow. That was something he did for the next people.

It was uncanny, almost dream -like, how long it took to sift through material so drenched in memory and meaning. My wife saw and heard two of my brothers happen upon the old battered shoe-shining kit for the first time in decades. Both released the same involuntary sigh of recognition and both had to lift the bashed tin lid and go rooting through, handling and sniffing congealed tins of Kiwi polish, waxy rags and stiffened, mangy brushes.

Then there was the cardboard shoebox full of school report cards for all four boys. What an ambition-deficient crew we were! To save time and prevent wrist-cramp in their teachers, the Board of Education should have had a rubber stamp made up to use each term for each child: "Goodden needs to try harder."

I spent an entire Saturday tumbling down one time-tunnel after another up in the attic. I couldn't tell you what I went up there for originally. My mission evaporated when I ascended the steep wooden stairs and inhaled the warm, cedar smell of that long, low room where I hosted a hundred sleep-over parties. And then I came upon box after box of ephemera relating to my so-called career. Newspaper and magazine articles I've written, posters and programmes for readings and plays, reviews of books and plays--it was all there, carefully frogged away, annotated and dated in my mother's script. What a river of words has kept me afloat these 30 some years.

Then I looked over to the corner where I was mooching around one night in my 18th November when I lifted up an old army blanket to reveal my parents' Christmas gift for me--an antique Remington Noiseless typewriter, circa 1920, with 52 black enamel keys encircled in gleaming chrome. Everywhere you looked--down through the keyboard, in through the half-moon hole in the top plate--you could see all the beautiful moving parts and the incredible series of mechanical reactions set off by pressing any key. It was love at first accidental sight.

Of all the gifts I've ever received, that was the most important. It symbolized my parents' blessing on my chosen career. "You want to be a writer," they said. "Here's the tool. Go ahead and be one." Three floors below that was the basement study where I'd pack myself away for days and weeks at a stretch, working out my destiny--in St. Augustine's phrase--as a "vendor of words" with a maximum speed of 20 words per minute.

This was the home I subconsciously assumed would somehow last forever. Theoretically, I've always paid lip service to the futility of laying up treasure on this earth, all the while compiling a library of music and books that far outstrips what anyone could ever "need" in that regard. I may be allowed to keep my tawdry stash for a while yet, but in watching my parents divest themselves of nearly all their earthly possessions, I've come to realize at a more visceral level than ever before that the prophets were right; that here we have no lasting city.

Herman Goodden writes from London Ontario.
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Title Annotation:Regular Columnists
Author:Goodden, Herman
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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