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"So, let's decide who gets the stuff," my sister said.

My parents moved to North Carolina last fall, to a new retirement village, in order to be closer to family and the specialists at Duke University Medical Center. My youngest sister and I had found them the perfect house. It was cute, cozy and small. There were no steps for them to worry about, and all the appliances were new. The retirement village had taken care of everything, it seemed.

But despite the fact that the kids had helped throw out tons of stuff before the move, my parents arrived with too much of their New Jersey and Vermont lives--about two rooms too much.

My father, my sister and I stood among piles of typical garage stuff. The village would be doing all the maintenance, so my father told us to take whatever we wanted. I had very mixed feelings about parting him from his beloved six-horsepower leaf blower, his best rolls of garden hose, his well-worn shovel. He had always thrived in his gardens, his backyard havens, and would talk for hours about the finer details of his equipment.

But now he said he was ready for retirement. So my sister and I went at it. We divided up rakes, ladders, gloves, hoes, mowers, saws, clippers, power cords, weed-whackers--even bags of tulips rescued from marauding suburban Jersey deer.

The first clue that Dad wanted to reclaim his turf (and life) came in January. "What's with all this snow?" he asked my answering machine. "Don't you have our good snow shovel?" And then came spring. "Johnny, we need the hose and my pair of gloves back. Who has the little ladder? Can we have that back now?"

My mother and father even started coming over, while my family was at work or school, to rummage through their stuff and take it back. Even though their new environment included full-service landscaping and housecleaning, my parents discovered they had a few more holes to dig, bird feeders to tend, rocks to move.

But of all the well-used items my parents brought with them, there was one thing we all coveted: the rocker in which we were each cradled, nursed, read and sung to as children. Repaired many times with screws and wood glue, this squeaky relic has become holy in our household. My mother has had it for decades, and wisely, in contrast to my father, she isn't going to let it go now.

"I rocked all of you kids in it," she says, "through earaches, bad dreams and fevers. It had this creaking sound that would send the babies to sleep. It still has that creak, on the right side in the back if you're on the right kind of rug. We never tried to get rid of that sound."

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