Saying farewell to The House

The House has been sold! I capitalize it, because this house merits special treatment.
On the day after Sunday, Dec. 6, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day), my mother’s five brothers went together to sign up for wartime service. Two chose Army. One selected what was then called “Army Air Corps.” The remaining pair joined the Merchant Marine.
Just the day before, we had all gathered for a Lodge luncheon honoring my grandfather. After news of the Japanese attack reached us, he stood up at the head table, pointed one-by-one to his sons, and said “You’ll all be going. And I hope you’ll all come back.” And they did! On return, they pooled their wartime pay to buy a big house for their big family.
Of 11 siblings (a 12th had died in the post-World Warr I flu pandemic), only four were already married by that time. To accommodate the seven others, plus their parents, the quintet bought a large, three-story yellow brick home with six bedrooms, paying the 1941 price of $4000. All of the family — including “extensions” — gathered together on Thanksgiving of that year for the first big celebration in The House. It has been occupied by family members ever since, the last one being my mother’s youngest brother. “Uncle Irv” never married, always living in The House himself, always offering it as free lodging for any relative — and there were many, from many far-flung locations — who came back to visit Pittsburgh, the city of family origin.
After Uncle Irv passed away (we’ve only recently marked his first yahrzeit), the question was: What to do with The House? The most sensible answer, because nobody in today’s family now needs or wants anything of that size, was to sell it. He had taken good care of the place, including installing a new roof (which alone had cost more than The House itself!), and some repairs would be needed before it could be put on the market. But those were minor factors compared to the major job: Can you imagine what managed to accumulate in a house of that size, over that many years, with the comings-and-goings of so many people? Three of the six bedrooms were full of the possessions of their most recent full-time occupants, and not too many years before, Uncle Irv — who was himself an independent businessman — had commandeered a room himself for a home office. And, of course, there were collections of household necessities plus numerous “tchotchkes,” items old and new, regularly used or just taking up space. Who would want the work of determining what should be saved for distribution to which family members…what should be sold…what should be given to charity…what should simply be disposed of?
My son and one of my first cousins took on this task together, and have finally completed it. After a year of their hard work, The House has been sold.
I can’t properly paint with words a full picture of the job they’ve done. But photos flew around as family members in six states outside of Pennsylvania made known their choices, and things were sent on their various ways: A beautiful old secretary-desk now “lives” in Arizona; the front door mezuzah has been rehung in Ohio; the five-branched candelabra that centered the dining room table of The House for so many years has found its new home on mine, here in Dallas. Many items remain in a storage locker near The House; as relatives return — although they must now stay elsewhere — they can make more of their own choices.
The current pandemic has rendered it impossible for me — and so many others — to be present next month at the unveiling of Uncle Irv’s stone. But all of us now cherish precious items that have the history we all share, ours to keep memories fresh forever. And he, the caretaker-businessman, can forever rest in peace: After 75 years, The House sold for more than 70 times its original purchase price!

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