It’s been an interesting couple of months. My in-laws, who owned a home in the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York, near the United States Military Academy, sold it after 51 years. This childhood home also happened to have a 5-room motel attached to it. Generations of family members have spent time here; all walks of life have stayed there and so many milestones were celebrated. My husband and his siblings grew up in the home that was on the property. The office for the motel, right inside the main home’s front door, was the center of activity. They grew up learning how to take reservations and the daily ins-and-outs of running a motel.
Even when everyone grew up and moved away, we still visited regularly and spent holidays with our kids sharing meals around the kitchen table. It seemed like these times could continue forever, but it’s a lot of work to run a motel. And no one in the family wanted to take it on when thoughts of retirement were first mentioned. We never thought they’d sell it, until one day a serious buyer came along. It became real.
While we knew, the day was coming, it always seemed several calendar pages away. So here we all gathered knowing it was time to pack up and say good-bye. How do you pack over five decades into boxes? We did our best over 8 weeks. We rallied around my in-laws as they began the transition from being busy motel owners, to retirement, from a life in New York to a life in California.
At first it seemed just like any typical move, until the packing set in. We never realized how strong the ties were to this patch of real estate, the rich history it contained and all the memories within its walls. When I first stopped in to help my mother-in-law pack up, it was clearly not going to be an easy task. Moving a 4-bedroom house into a California condo takes hard choices on what will not make it to life’s next stage.
Our first packing date I suggested we review which of her favorite owls, from her collection, she would take. I must admit, I am all business when it comes to packing. I also have the propensity to toss things out. My MIL, saves everything and has a story for each item. Where it came from and what it meant to her. My cracking the whip, with a battle cry to pack up and head west, was not appreciated.
It was time to honor them and spend time letting go. Each told a story, a beautiful connection to a family member or special friend. Some were still with us, but many were not. This is a process. We slowed down and made several piles: Keep, donate/toss and maybe. This made the decision less permanent and gave us the opportunity to discuss where these heirlooms came from. We handled every item with care. It was fun to revisit the significance each held.
The focus shifted from stressing over where these pieces would ultimately land. She was happy to give some treasures a new life with each of us, it was an easier good-bye. We also picked out owls from her 50-plus year collection and my son, who was moving into a new house, brought a truck over and picked up furniture. He was thrilled as many of the pieces he fondly remembered as a child, would now be displayed in his first home. My niece, re-homed the family piano, she had spent hours playing it, growing up. My in-laws were also thrilled these items were welcomed by their grandchildren. They had no idea how cherished and special these pieces were until they saw it in their grandchildren’s eye; acknowledging these were ties to their family history, and would be shared with generations to come.
Instead of just packing the house up, it became a grand send off for the family homestead. During our packing sessions, the house came alive again with visitors and former guests from out-of-state stopping by for one last time to say goodbye and wish everyone well. We spent weekends eating from take-out containers as we blew through more bubble-wrap than we thought possible. We all laughed, reminisced and it became the center of our lives each weekend. My husband and his sisters, one who flew in from California, slept in their old rooms and beds, it was a time to reconnect. The stories were plentiful and endless.
As the house was slowly emptied and the memories chosen to make the trip, were all packed up and ready to go, an emptiness hung in the air. We never realized how hard this would be. It became clear our work was done. It was time to pass the ownership to another family. It was after all a family business and another family from the area would be running it. It was time for this historic roadside motel to breath in some new life, as it exhaled the old.
While we were all exhausted and somewhat hesitant to let go, it had sunk in, our time for owning this piece of history had ended, and another chapter was starting. Change, whether we liked it or not, was in the air.
Moving, at any age is stressful. It is very hard to let go and say goodbye to a home that was always there as a lifelong connection. Of the 7 adults who gathered to pack each weekend and prepare for this move, we battled two bouts of the flu, 1 case of pneumonia, 3 cases of shingles and many tears. Transitions are hard. Based on the amount of illness we experienced trying to get this done, it’ evident this took a toll.
Tips for saying good-bye to a childhood home:
- Take pictures of your home and commemorate this time together as you pack up.
- Welcome the new owners.
- Take something from the home as a keepsake.
- Have a farewell party.
- Share stories and reminisce in each of the rooms.
- Make your new home a place you will love.
Make the process meaningful. Spending time like this together, allowed us to reconnect after many years and miles between us, it was fun to be under one roof, even if it was for a short time. I also got to see a side of my MIL that I normally don’t experience, we spend so much time rushed it was wonderful to join her in her trip back in time. We need to value our time with the generation that is going before us, they have a lot to bestow on us.
A Brief History of the roadside motel in America:
The motel, or “motor hotel” were found throughout the U.S. after WWII as the newly created highway system needed places for travelers to stay with easy access to the road. Motels and their popularity peaked in the 1960s. In the 1970s and 80s larger motel chains would dominate the market, but smaller family-owned motels with five rooms or less were still found along older highways.
In 2012, approximately 16,000 motels were operating in the U.S., a large decline from its heyday in 1964 when 61,000 were in operation. There is a cultural shift going on. A movement of travelers who enjoy the old-time mom and pop motel, along with its connection to American History, stay and write about these amazing structures, keeping them alive.
Take a step back in time and enjoy real hospitality on your next road trip. Here’s a website to help you search for independently owned hotels, motels and B&Bs throughout the U.S. Visit: http://www.momandpopmotels.com/