A moving story

2013FebMar AMovingStory 01

// Photo by Sierra Breshears

I just finished moving into my new place, and I’m sorry to report that it has been hell.

Normally, moving isn’t such a big deal for me. In the past decade alone, I’ve done it half a dozen times. My children complain I do it out of habit, but such a case of peripateticism can only be genetic. My mother was textbook: By the time I was 10 we had moved five times. Then we went across the pond to England and started over. During the next five years, we lived in as many different houses.

So yeah, I’m an old hand at this moving thing. I memorize inventory lists for fun, and I can put together a six-drawer IKEA bureau faster than you can say “Swedish meatball.”

However, this last move would have put even Beelzebub in a sweat.

The problem is I have a lot of stuff. Like, one and a half 18-wheeler’s worth. Understandably, I tend to rate houses by the square footage of their shelving. Note that I didn’t say pick them; being a professional hasn’t made me any smarter. Witness the house I just moved into. It couldn’t be more appealing: a 1940s shake-roof cottage tucked into the side of a wooded hill, behind a garden gate through which you’d expect to see Bilbo Baggins and Bambi cavorting. There is charm and natural beauty and seclusion, and a koi pond with a fish that looks like Jabba the Hutt.

But there is no place to put anything!

It’s a crime to castigate such a plethora of windows, but there isn’t even wall space.

We are a month into it, and artwork is propped in waist-high layers along the floorboards. Towers of boxes continue to line the rooms, creating canyons one must navigate in order to move about the house. Book piles grow tall as trees.

For the first couple of weeks, I’d lie awake all night a-fretting. Where to hang the hundred-year-old trophy buffalo head or the portraits of my pilgrim forebears? Indeed, where to hang anything? It will come as no surprise, reader, when I tell you there is not even a semblance of a walk-in closet. And ours a three-female household.

Paramount, however, were the books. Through various means, I’ve acquired (oh, all right, amassed) a library of roughly 20 million volumes. And yes, they are all necessary. Typically a carpenter gets cracking as soon as the ink on the sales contract is dry. Friends who helped me pack up the library then come to help me unpack. It’s a cycle that is not without its pleasures. Usually a lot of wine gets drunk, and there is much appreciation for the volumes being handled, from Milton’s Poetical Works to The Complete Illustrated Kama Sutra.

But for the first time in eight moves, I haven’t even scheduled a carpenter. Something unexpected is happening this time with this house. Usually it’s: Everything must be in its place! Now I’m thinking: Hmmm. Let’s wait and see. There is less headlong infatuation, more caution — like the house and I are circling each other.

Another two weeks have passed. Now, instead of straining over where to put my zillion pairs of vintage shoes, I lie in bed and unravel the murmurs and croaks of the heating system. I walk around the rooms and see past the 1970s palette and clumsy Craftsman-style fittings,and I think about the skeleton of the house, and its heart, and where it stands in that verdant half-acre cosmos that it anchors.

Meanwhile, the books lie stacked on every surface and in every corner, on sofas and armchairs and on top of toilets and in closets.

They, too, are attending their placement with uncharacteristic patience.

2013FebMar AMovingStory 02Wendy Burden is a confirmed New Yorker who lives in Portland’s West Hills. She is the great-great-great-great granddaughter of railroad and shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. In Dead End Gene Pool, published in 2010 by Penguin Publishing, she invites readers to meet her tragically flawed family.