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Siddhartha Mahanta
Siddhartha Mahanta is an editor at The Atlantic.

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye to the Old House

David Talukdar / Getty, Stuart Dee / Getty, Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Siddhartha Mahanta | Longreads | October 2018 | 12 minutes (3,041 words)


At 11:53 a.m. on March 31, 2015, I received a text from Dad. “I just dropped off the keys to the house…and said a prayer one last time on behalf of the family,” it read. The house in question was the first concrete thing he’d bought in America way back in 1979, a modest, nondescript one-story suburban starter home we’d moved out of some 26 years and three months earlier, in the winter of 1989. He’d hung onto it, tending to it, landlording it, in hopes of one day gifting it to either me, my sister, or brother. This would not come to pass.

When I saw his text, relief washed over me. After a tortured year of preparing to put it on the market he’d actually gone and finally put it on the damn market. Of course, it wasn’t just that one year of re-carpeting, repairing faucets, replacing bathroom tiles, fighting with the homeowners’ association over loose gutters and paint colors. It was years of Saturday afternoons spent fixing leaky pipes, broken tiles, fritzing-out air conditioners, or trying, failing, and calling in a contractor, who often seemed to be a brown guy named Jim Patel.

From around age 10 to 14, I accompanied him on these trips. Dad would wear his Saturday man’s-work-attire: white polo, dark-blue work shorts, long white athletic socks, lumpy, nondescript running shoes, ill-fitting generic white cap. “It’ll be very quick, baba,” he’d say somewhat mindlessly, hopping out of the Chrysler Plymouth, slamming the door behind him, plastic Home Depot bag swinging from this hand as he bounded across the crunchy lawn. He treated the old house like a child he’d had to leave behind, but had never forgotten.

What’s to say of the unremarkable thing itself? A small dining room was separated from the living room by a waist-high, white brick wall. Along one side of the living room stretched a long window looking out onto the backyard and patio. An exposed white brick fireplace. Columns buttressing an intimate dining room, giving it someone’s notion of a backwoods lodge. An L-shaped hallway leading to two bedrooms and a master bedroom; an attic, its air thick with the expulsion of discarded memories, a graveyard of knicknackery and emotional flotsam.

For the ten years we lived in it, the old house was where Dad brought his grieving, cataract-afflicted mother from India — for him, a place of pain, anger, and loss — to live out her remaining years, haunted by the losses of her husband and several sons. It was the site of many a dinner party of uncles and aunties and screaming, runny-nosed, onesie-clad toddlers, everyone in their own way marveling (some with more braggadocio than others) at their great fortune at landing in vast, income-taxless Texas with its booming energy economy and cheap housing and quality public schools, its friendly, Christian neighbors, its public pools and Tex-Mex.

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