Sometimes life just sucks. This is one of those times. My mom called. We need to go through the upstairs of my grandmother's house and divide-up everything that's there among my myself, sister, and two cousins. One of my cousins is moving in to the upstairs in a few weeks to help take care of my 94 year old grandmother. My grandmother is no longer with-it. After my grandfather passed away four years ago she went into a decline precipitated by a series of small strokes. My grandparents were remarkable people. They traveled to every continent, acted as envoys to Kenya, fought in World War II, climbed trees to save them from being chopped down, and never stopped moving. They went up the Amazon in zodiacs while in their 80s, and married for 71 years. Up until the week my grandfather died, they would dismiss the nurse from their bedroom at least once a week. They have both been active in the community volunteering for many organizations and were well-honored for it. When my grandfather died his obituary made the front page of the local paper. I have never felt close to my father and the relationship with my mother is rather strained. They separated a number of times before and after I was born, there were moves, there was uncertainty, there was a lot of abuse and endless arguing. Through all that, the home of my happily married grandparents remained a stable unchanging oasis of ginger snaps and formal dinner parties. There is, however, more to it than that. My grandparents' house has been in the family for 200 years. The walls are covered with antique wallpapers serving as the background for portraits of ancestors long dead, rooms are filled with heirloom antiques, the bookcases crammed with books from the 1600s through to the present, there are eight or nine silver services and just as many china services. On the dining room wall is a sampler done by my great great great great grandmother and a photograph of my great great grandfather is accompanies by his civil war rifle standing in the corner. The ephemera of generations are littered about from trivial knickknacks to towering trees in the garden, to back hall dressers and closets packed with 19th century clothes. I have diaries from the Revolution and family Bibles over 300 years old. The house is a museum of my history before I was around to remember it. At night the house, with tall ceilings, ticking clocks, and portraits of scowling ancestors looming over the staircase, becomes more than a little ominous. As a child it frightened me. If any house should be haunted, I'm sure this one would be. That is until my grandmother once explained to me that everyone of those portraits was someone I was related to, usually directly, and if they were ghosts, then they surely wouldn't hurt me because they would doubtless love me as one of their grandchildren. After that, I didn't fear the darkness. If there were ghosts watching me behind all those dour faces, they were ghosts on my side and, in a strange way, I felt loved. This place was permanent, this house never changed, no turmoil ever happened here, and it would always be that way. Until yesterday. Yesterday marked the beginning of the end. The house would be dismantled, items distributed among the family, and to accomplish this, I would need to be an active participant. The downstairs wouldn't be touched, but as I saw it, just doing this much was unnerving in the extreme. My mother and uncle had mutually agreed to take the really nice items, leaving we four grandchildren with options for the heavier Victorian mahogany pieces. I was handed a sheet of stickers and could write my name on what I wanted. If more than one person wanted one thing, we would flip a coin. That, however, did not happen. None of us competed for anything. Indeed, we all were very reluctant to take anything because each of us, in our way, dreaded what we were doing. I felt like the scavengers pulling down Scrooge's bed curtains. I felt as if I was robbing a museum, I felt like I was disappointing all those ancestors who could see everything going on under their noses. I came away with two Imari chargers, a few porcelain knickknacks, two four-glass mercury pendulum brass carriage clocks, a cherry turned leg nightstand, two prints, and three paintings. Two of the paintings were done in American primitive style and painted by my great great grandmother. I have a hard time looking at them standing against the wall here in my living room without a tear coming to my eye. I also got a huge Eastlake dresser, an Eastlake mirror, my grandfather's tiki patio lamps, and I am now the proud owner of one of the largest and most important collections of steropticon slides in the country. It seems my great great and great great great grandparents LOVED their stereopticons and now I have those too including a very rare table top model in superb condition. I DON'T WANT ANY OF THESE THINGS. Much better they should stay where they were. I'm not ready to be their custodian, not ready for them to add to a greater whole as they did before. They're all out of place here in this 1970s ranch house where there is no history to complement them. This house is just a place to live. Someday perhaps, my uncle and then my cousin will move in to my grandparents' house, carrying on the legacy of generations and many of these things can be repatriated.... but I know that's just a pipedream. As much as I would like nothing to change, we can't be prisoners of the past; Miss Havishams waiting for days that will never come. My uncle and cousin may well move in, but it won't be the same. They will have their own households to setup and maintain, wives with their own decorating ideas, and a desire for modern amenities. Some things will stay with the house because we all agree they should. A few 17th century pieces have been handed-down directly and there they will stay unless the farm is sold and we all go our separate ways. This may happen anyway. Our little town has ceased to be secluded. Now we have commuters from New York and a population that has exploded from a few thousand to over 30,000 in less than 20 years. Farming has become unprofitable and impractical. Drivers in a hurry flip off my cousin on his tractor, people honk horns in the village, taxes have soared. The new arrivals are boorish and crass McMansion dwellers who view the town as a nothing more than an investment opportunity where they can raise their kids and leave as soon their nest empties. One by one, the old families who had intermarried for generations have left. There's little reason for young people to stay here any longer. Farmers sell off their land for millions and they take the money and run. We may well be next. Nearly all of my grandparents' ancestors arrived here in North America during the 17th century. They left their homes in Europe to travel here, certain that they would never see their families again. We have two chairs and two Bibles from that era. Warwick was not their first stop. For many generations they lived in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, each time leaving as they saw fit. My eighth great grandmother was the first permanent white settler in the county, my tenth great grandfather was the first white man born in Connecticut. It's difficult to imagine the hardships they went through, the lonliness, the sense of uncertainty that must have driven them. And I think to myself, if they can do it, then I'm pretty sure we can do it too. We're lucky. We have indoor plumbing, electricity, and instant communications. I never have to say goodbye to anyone permanently as they did. I don't have to walk or ride in a conestoga, don't have hostile natives to greet me. Yet all of that seems little comfort to me here and now.