Monday, October 17, 2016

Why Abby Doesn't Live in the Suburbs - Life From an Old Porch

This found it's way into The Book of Barkley though I did edit some of it for the final.  But I had a saved Word document of the original chapter and am posting tonight for someone who views subdivisions much like I do.  For you K.

Moving truck information lay around me on the table.  I was transferring to another location, in another state, as our workplace downsized and my particular position was being eliminated. I could stay at the small physical location I was in, in a different job I knew I would not particularly enjoy.  Or I could transfer to another, bigger office where I could continue the same work, and have better promotion potential.

I had been thinking that buying such a big house had not been the best of ideas.  The housing market in our town had tanked badly, the biggest employer in town shutting down. Keeping this house as a rental was not a good idea.  It was too big for the average renter, and if the market continued downward, I’d soon be underwater, even with an $80,000 down payment.  It was time to cut my losses and look ahead to what I hoped would simply be a new adventure: Barkley.

Fortunately, there were several opening, in varying parts of the country. I accepted the one that would keep me in the Midwest, which I loved and in which I had made friends.  Leaving the house would be tough, the walls I’d textured and painted myself, the pictures of happier times with family, pictures of Barkley, jumping up to catch a ball, making me laugh, even on the most stressful of days. But I was finding out the fancy subdivision lifestyle was not for me, everyone seemingly trying to outdo one another in possessions that many could scarce afford. Never into fashion, I had Yoda pants but no Yoga pants, which all the women seemed to wear, and the first time I dropped the “bodily fluid clean up kit” on the ground out at the collective mailbox, I realized I’d likely not be asked to a block party.

Dad was proud when I bought this place, my first home all on my own.  But I won't miss it at all, that big, crowded subdivision house, with rooms with no personality, and a front facade as closed off as most people are to the world, and to one another. I bought it thinking, as many young professionals do, that this is how I'm supposed to live, I go to college, get a job, work a few years, have a family, buy a house bigger than I want and retire to a gold watch to stay home and watch game shows until the final answer is death.  Now I look at people living like that and can't help but think of horses, penned and standing, but asleep.

But back then, I thought it was what I wanted because everyone told me that is what I wanted.  So I stood in that brand new house the first week I owned it and felt like a stranger in a place where people's reaction to the customary was different than what I'd assumed.  For frankly, my house was a perfect carbon copy of every other house (no one dare incurring the wrath of the housing association by painting their front door Winchester Repeating Arms Red). People gushed about my 20 foot entryway (make sure you don't look at it in the light so you can't see how crappy the drywall work is), the fancy roof (done by the labor of those I'm certain, were not legal laborers) and the plastic, cheap fixtures that had all the personality of a Stepford wife.
So when I moved in, more from curiosity than welcoming, the neighbors wandered over to meet the new neighbor and, too brightly to be real, exclaimed over the beauty of the mundane, many likely going home to their flat empty spaces, shutting the blinds, fearful to the discovery of what lies behind the cheap construction that makes up a life.

Perhaps we all have different perceptions of what is beautiful, people lobbying the word about so loosely, beautiful carpeting, beautiful dog, what a beautiful election speech, so when truly face to face with the beauty that is form and truth, they cannot recognize it.

Before I moved though, I knew I should go visit my Dad out on the West Coast, to explain the change, making sure he understood that career-wise, it’s possibly a good thing, for myself, as well as him. My Stepmom whom he married after Mom died, a wonderful lady herself, was recently diagnosed with cancer that had gone to the lymph nodes and he had made mention of maybe living with me if she passed soon.  This house then, would not work, the bedrooms and full baths, all upstairs, stairs he could no longer navigate—having trouble with them a year ago, on his last visit. 

I’d hate to see him leave his home, our childhood home, with so many memories there. Walking into the house, I could see the marks of our lives there, framed pictures on the walls, things we crafted for our parents when we were kids. There is the ceramic squirrel I made in grade school with a teacher overseeing the firing, a small statue that looks more like zombie than squirrel, yet still to this day, sits on Dad's desk.  There is a tiny pitcher Big Bro made. Then there are other things, other memories, one of Dad's many hats perched next to a pair of boots, curtains my mom had sewn, their shadows lingering on the wall where the family found comfort and acceptance around the family dinner table. 

When our small family gathers, we share the memories without even speaking of them, as they are woven into the fabric of our lives. Those things we loved as children remain fixed forever in our memory, and will, until we cease to breathe. Wherever we are, wherever we live, our fondest memories haunt those places where we remember comfort given, the sound of laughter, those places that contain our happiest moments.

I wander around my house today, cataloging what needs to be sold or given to charity as I downsize and stage the house for sale. I see an old photo album.  It was one that was at my family’s home, one of Mom and Dad’s youthful days, which Mom had handed me before she died.

Children tend to think of their parents as always having been old, of not experiencing life, its heartaches and its joys.  Certainly I was no exception to that thinking growing up, at least until I found the photos. There was a framed photo of them there at home when they were first married: my parents seated on a prim and proper chair that looks about as comfortable as an old Lutheran church pew. Dad's hand was resting on her folded hands, not as an expression of ownership, but as confirmation of the love that shone from his eyes. There was a photo of their Silver anniversary, Mom looking tired but still beautiful. But the album of their youth was something I had never seen before that day.

In it were pictures of Dad's family, some of whom I had never seen. One was that of my grandfather, looking enough like my uncles that I knew instinctively who he was.  Dad never once spoke to me of his dad, who died long before I came along. Mom said not to ask about him, alluding to things we knew enough, even young, not to ask further about.  It's hard for me to imagine my loving, laughing dad, coming from a background that was anything but happy.  It was as if he was miscast for a time and knowingly accepted that role for reasons worth his enduring it, but not of sharing it.

Mom simply said that he, his siblings and mother, were dealt a harsh reality in that home and to leave it at that. Dad still has a picture of his mom on his dresser, a woman whose eyes had seen so much, a look I later recognized, yet she still looked proudly into the camera. Her jaw was set, her mouth a thin, tired line, features forged in the heat of soul or environment, eyes alive and determined in a face of fired clay. He did not mention her often, but the picture of her was carefully framed and dusted, where he could see it as he got up before dawn to dress and go to work to care for his family.

A picture, but few words. But decades after she was gone, unknowingly driving him past the place where she was accidentally struck and killed by a car while walking, he broke down and cried.  It was a sound I never expected to hear from him, an echo of heartbreak that sounded from that trammeling memory, never to be mentioned again. 

As I box things up, I come across that old photo album. I remember it as being in one of the deep drawers at home, something Mom gave me to preserve and protect when she was gone.  I peeked into it at the time and saw small squares and scraps of time, and a whole bunch of young people I did not know.  I looked at it for a bit, but then, with the casual disinterest that is youth, I put it away.  Now here it is, perhaps I’d best look through it, to see if it is something Dad would want to have back.

Barkley grabbed a kitchen towel off the counter like it was a baton in a race, and went shooting up the stairs, probably to see if he could find a pair of underwear to go with it.  The photo album would have to wait.

1 comment:

  1. I don't care for the Suburbs myself.
    Thanks for sharing.
    XO Astro and Linda


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