Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Behind Closed Doors

I remember when the house was not yet a home.

It was dirty and it smelled bad. It had horrifically ugly wallpaper and even uglier carpeting, though the pattern was hard to see through the years of grime that had accumulated. It looked like varying shades of brown, so we were all quite astonished to see vivid yellow and saucy lime green in the tracks left by the steam cleaner. The yellow and green plaid wallpaper made a little more sense after that discovery.

We would go to the house in the evenings after my Dad got off work, so they could clean it up and make it habitable. Apparently, several different species of animal had lived in the house along with the human occupants, though whom was more responsible for the level of filth is difficult to say. There was feces in abundance as well as animal skins, feathers and even a turtle shell, which looked very forlorn, all empty and upended in the corner.

The basement was dark and dank and downright terrifying. My sisters and I refused to venture down the narrow steps into that subterranean hell, mostly because the furnace looked like a big monster in the weak light, which cast multi-limbed shadows that reached out to us.

But something about that house spoke to my mother. She saw something besides filth and decay. She knew there was something beautiful beneath it. From the day she decided that THIS house was the one, she loved it with a deep and abiding fierceness. I don't think my Dad ever really understood or shared her attachment to the house, but he agreed to the purchase nonetheless. I'm sure he must have had grave misgivings about that.

At night while my parents cleaned, my sisters and I played in the room that was, for many years, our playroom. My mother erected a round, expanding playpen type thing that must have been a death trap and would almost certainly be outlawed today, to keep my baby sister from wandering off while they worked. When it grew dark, we got our sleeping bags and placed them within that deadly circle, with the baby in the middle. We drifted off listening to my mother and father laughing, talking and singing to the country music that played on the beat up transistor radio we brought with us.

"When we get behiiiiiiiiind clooooooosed doors. And you let your haaaaaaiiiiiir hang down..."

"Shhhhh! Gary, stop...the girls will hear!"

"No they won't...they're fast asleep..."

Giggles and a crash. Then some silence. I didn't understand the silence then. I do now. It makes me smile. But it makes my heart hurt too.

Forty years. Forty years it took for that place to live up to the potential my Mother saw there.

For many years, there was just no money. They had kids to feed, a mortgage to pay, doctor and dentist bills, cars to keep running and a monster furnace which had to be supplied with oil through the long and harsh Wisconsin winter, lest it demand that a hapless child be fed into it's gaping metal maw ((shudder)).

But she kept it as pretty as she could and always scrupulously clean. She put out lace doilies, she draped the threadbare furniture with pretty sheets, she disguised the balding carpets with runners and throws, and she hung her crosstitch on the walls.

She and the house waited.

And then, when the kids were gone, and with them some of the bills; when the responsibilities of parenthood ceased to be such a heavy burden, when her time was once again her own...then...then the house began to shine.

She scraped wallpaper and ripped out carpets. She stripped and sanded every inch of woodwork in that house. If you know anything about the Craftsman style, then you know that was a Herculean task. She plastered and painted and textured and rag rolled and stenciled and sewed. Of course my Dad helped her. But for him I don't think it was quite the labor of love that it was for her. It was just labor. A means to an end. For my Mom, I think it was almost like giving birth again; recreating life out of something dead and forgotten.

It was breathtaking when she finished with it. And every single inch of that house was full of her.

It was so strange when I walked into that house the first time after she died. She was gone. I could feel it. But still so very present. I couldn't make sense of it, not then, not now.

For forty years, that house has been my home. My going back to place. I fled to that house many times during my young adulthood. Fired, spurned by a lover, sad, out of sorts, broke, lonely....I headed back home to sleep in the same bed I'd always slept in. To quiet my soul and to feel safe.

And now it will be sold to the highest bidder. My entire childhood is up for sale.

I just don't know if I can take it. I know I have to accept it. It's part of life. And I have to move on. But my heart and my mind can't agree on how to handle it. 

I had a dream recently.

I was wandering through the house as it was when we first bought it; dirty, dark and somehow sinister, though I never thought of it that way when I was a kid...except for the basement. I kicked aside snake skins and turtle shells and feathers. I could hear country music playing faintly from somewhere in the house and also somebody weeping. I knew it was my mother and I began to search for her, wandering from room to room. In reality, there are only 7 rooms in the house, but in my dream, there was a vast and endless warren of rooms to search through. I began to panic, thinking I would never find her. I could feel it tighenting my throat and making my heart pound in my ears.

Finally I reached a door, behind which, I was certain, I would find my mother. It wouldn't open at first and I tugged and tugged, growing more and more frantic. Suddenly it wrenched open and there was my mother in her bedroom. There was no furniture other than the bed on which she sat. Her concentrator was on the floor beside the bed but the hose dangled from her lap. Her head was in her hands.


She raised her head and looked at me.

"What happened to my house?" she asked. There was bewilderment and deep sadness in her voice.

"I don't know. It was fine the last time I was here."

"It's not the same. This isn't how I left it. "

"I know, but we can fix it up again. I'll help you."

She shook her head

"No. It's too late. It's too late."

I bent to embrace her, but she evaporated before I could get my arms around her. The oxygen hose dropped to the floor and landed on my feet. I stood there in the empty room listening to faint country music. It wasn't until that moment that I could make out any words.

"When we get behiiiiiiiiiiind closed doors......"


Addendum: I managed to find a few pics. They are not very good, because I was too lazy to scan them and so I just took pictures of the pictures. There are better ones that she sent me as the transformation progressed, but all our pictures are currently in boxes stacked up in the dining room. But, nevertheless, you can see the beauty of the house and the painstaking care she put into it.

The dining room, easily the most beautiful room in the house. She stripped and restained every inch of woodwork in there. Prior to that it had a very dark patina, was cracked and flaking and somewhat sticky in places. So many Christmases and Thanksgivings and birthdays and family get togethers spent in this room, lingering around this table; talking and lauging. 

 Dining room decorated for Christmas. I remember arriving late at night one Christmas holiday, having driven 900 miles. We were dead on our feet, with tired and cranky children in tow. I walked into the dining room (had to walk through it to get to the living room and upstairs) which was decorated as seen below. She had candles burning and a soft glow suffused the room. Immediately, I felt at peace. Home. I was home.

The stairs to the second story. I don't think you can see it well here, but my Mom textured the walls all the way up the stairs as well as the entire upstairs hallway with very precise little swirls. It was ridiculously painstaking and time consuming. I would never have bothered with it. But she loved every minute.

Living room. Here you can see the gorgeous ceilings. They were once badly damaged by water, but thankfully, were able to be restored. They are original to the house, which was built in 1918, if I remember right. I could be thinking of my sisters house though. I need to look that up. You can also see the rag rolling treatment she did on the walls. She did THEE layers. Pink, blue and teal. It took her weeks. This was done in the 90's and was very trendy at the time. But she grew tired of it eventually and painted the walls a very pretty sage green. I was aghast. So much time and effort, only to paint over it?!? But she didn't mind. To her, the house was a living thing, growing and changing.

This isn't a picture of the house, exactly. But my mother refinished this dresser with a burled faux treatment pattern, which you can seem more clearly in the bottom picture. It shows how meticulous she was and how she never balked at spending any amount of time and effort  to get the exact result she wanted. I would have tired of it long before it was finished and given up. But not her. This piece will be coming home with me.

The End.

Thursday, March 07, 2013


I am planning a trip. Not a vacation or a getaway, sadly. I am going home to empty the contents of a house that has been my home for 40 years.

Even after I grew up and had children and did my best to make a home for my family in a bland little house in a state 900 miles away, the house where I grew up has always been home for me. And now it will be home for someone else. It seems impossible somehow. It makes me feel like I have lost my center, although to be honest, I have felt like that for some time now. Since October 12, 2010, to be precise. 

In the back bedroom, that was once blue and then pink and now a cool green, I slept on an antique bed next to my sister, who slept on it's twin. On those beds in that room, we whispered, talked, giggled and occasionally bickered away thirteen sister years. I brought my newborn baby back to that house and nursed him in that same bed. While he noshed contentedly at my breast, I looked up at the same ceiling that had been the silver screen for the fantastic tales I wrote in my head, starring me and Rick Springfield. Then Michael Jackson. Then Simon LeBon. An everchanging cast, but the same humble theatre year after year. 

I gazed at the wall where we had pasted a variety of posters and pages and dubbed it "The Hunk Wall". I noted the same cracks and bumps, the same light fixtures, the same closet door that would never stay all the way shut, and thought about how time can stand still in some ways, but also rush crazily past like Friday traffic on a sunny weekend. 

On another visit, when tucking both my little boys into those same twin beds, that thought struck me again.

The day my mother died, I tucked my now older, but certainly not grown up boys into those beds once again; a familiar ritual that should have been comforting. But this time, they were sad and nervous. Hours earlier, the grandmother who had been larger than life and seemed invinceable despite the oxygen and the ever present wracking cough, had expired mere feet from where they lay. And this time, instead of being comforted by the big old house, they feared it's secrets. Nobody had been home when she died. We don't know what happened. But it was clear a battle had been fought.

That unsettled them. It unsettled me. And then I realized that even in that house, in that room; host to my childhood fancies and teenaged dreams...time does not really stand still. It is not the stalwart and steadfast friend I had always believed it to be. It's constancy was nothing but a cruel illusion.

It was a harsh reality to face and I didn't really have the strength just then. Now I have no choice. The house is being sold, and it's time to accept that it will soon play host to someone else's dreams.

So I'm planning a trip. It's going to be a journey in more ways than one, and I can't say it's one I'm happy to be making. But that's the way life is. It moves on whether we are ready or not. And I am not. Not at all. I'm not ready not to have a place where I can go and absorb the memories and the essence of my mother. It sounds like a strange thing to say, but the house was her and she was the house. When it's gone, she will be gone. Which is silly. But telling myself it's silly doesn't make it any less true for me. Rationale and heartache don't always agree, I suppose.

I'm going to say goodbye to a house. I'm going to mourn a home.

And then I'm going to carry on, because it's the only thing to do.