Waiting

February 17, 2013 by

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If I didn’t know better, I’d say buying this house was just an excuse for Bruce to acquire another trailer. He’s obsessed with them. Is there such a thing as a hauling fetish?

“We have to be able to pull it with the Explorer,” he said.

“We have another truck you know?” I said.

“We have a flatbed work truck and a dump truck. You want to haul the stuff to the little house in Chincoteague with the dump truck?”

“Yes ,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Let’s take the dump truck and park it on the tiny lawn on Ocean Blvd.”

“See what I mean,” he said. “We need a smaller trailer, one we can park beside the house.”

I sighed. There was no sense arguing. He’d win anyway. So we built a trailer, painted it and waited for the state trooper to come approve it for tags. We loaded it and left at two-thirty on a Thursday morning, headed for Chincoteague, and a one o’clock closing appointment at the office of a lawyer on the island.

We pulled into McDonald’s parking lot at eight-thirty and went in for a cup of coffee and a long wait. Storm clouds gathered to the west and the air hung heavy. We took a corner booth and watched as a light mist turned into a solid downpour. I wondered if this was a sign. I’m always looking for metaphors, rain is a big one.

“It’s been raining like this for a week,” the man in gum boots sitting across from us said. “Mosquitoes worst I’ve ever seen.”

I was ready to run, taking my down payment, our brand new trailer filled with household items, and my dreams back home again. An epic flood and/or plague of mosquitoes was about to descend on my hopes and I didn’t seem to have sense enough to heed the warning.

“Stop worrying,” Bruce said, sighing. I looked at him. I hadn’t said a word. He patted my hand.

The phone rang at ten o’clock. It was Debbie, our real estate agent. Her son was being taken to the emergency room with shortness of breath and chest pains. Did we mind holding off on the final walk through of the house until she went to check on him? Oh dear, another sign.

I assured her that was not a problem, we didn’t have the appointment to close until one o’clock and I wasn’t worried about the walk through anyway. We had met Melva’s daughter and son-in-law on a previous visit and were certain they hadn’t stripped the house of copper pipes or aluminum siding. Debbie agreed to call as soon as she was certain her son was alright.

The phone rang at eleven-fifteen. It was Debbie. “He has pneumonia and they’ve given him some heavy doses of antibiotics. He’ll be fine. Can I meet you in ten minutes?”

We drove with windshield wipers sweeping water away at high speed and arrived at at the house at the appointed time. We pulled into Melva’s driveway. I stepped out of the truck and into soggy grass. Water seeped over the soles of my sneakers. We dashed through the door of the screen porch, and watched as rain poured off and through the green plastic awning above us. Leaks we hadn’t seen on sunny day visits dripped at our feet. Another sign, I thought.

Debbie unlocked the door to the house explaining that Melva’s daughter had been overwhelmed with packing and the ordeal of moving her things. They’d expected the house to stay on the market for awhile and thought they’d have time to go through the process slowly. Whatever was left in the house and sheds that we didn’t want, we could donate to the local Opportunity Shop or the Hospice Thrift Store.

The house was as if Melva had cleaned up after her breakfast and gone for a walk. Everything was clean and in its place, all the rooster dishes on plate hangers lined the kitchen walls. Cabinets held china, glassware, pots, pans, and even food and spices. Drawers contained silverware, cooking utensils, handmade hot pads, and birthday candles. Melva’s mop and broom hung in the closet along with the apron she wore to keep her dress clean. Fabric softener with the picture of a teddy bear on it, sat on top of the washer.

I wandered the house, picking up her things, wondering how she must have felt, leaving them all behind for the last time. Her bed was made with lavender scented sheets and a hand made quilt was pulled neatly under the pillows.

Her toothbrush and tube of toothpaste stood in the china holder at the sink in the bathroom; her shower cap hung on the back of the door. Up in the attic, her canning jars and pressure cookers waited for her to return from the farm stand with beans, or tomatoes, or cucumbers.

I felt like I was breaking Melva’s heart. Oh my, another sign.

Bruce inspected the front window and door locks, the screens on the porch, the attic for leaks and the bathroom for water pressure. All was in order.

The phone rang. “Hello,” Bruce said, then silence. Finally he said, “Sure, we’ll see you at three then.”

My face must have revealed my anxiousness. “It’s alright,” Bruce said to me. “Some of the closing papers haven’t arrived from the bank yet. He’s pushed closing ahead two hours.” Oh no, another sign.

After the inspection, Debbie suggested we go to one of the local restaurants for lunch and listed some gift and art shops we might be interested in visiting. She said we could unhook the trailer and leave it in the driveway. It was no problem.

We returned to McDonalds and ordered from the dollar menu, ate slowly, deciding what we would do with our time until three o’clock. The forecast hadn’t called for rain, only a twenty percent chance of showers. It fell steadily and in driving sheets at times. Bruce, always prepared, had packed tarps for the trailer and covered everything securely before we unhooked from the trailer. Neither of us packed our foul weather gear though, and agreed that thrift store rain coats were in order. We headed to the Opp shop. The coat rack sported two slickers just our size. Was this a good sign? I wondered.

We spent over an hour in the junk shop, browsing, trying to remember what Melva didn’t leave in the house that we might need. We came away with a coffee maker and two mugs. Melva had fancy tea cups and instant coffee.

At three-fifteen we hadn’t heard from the lawyer and I couldn’t stand the suspense anymore. “No word yet,” he said, sounding frustrated. “They emailed wanting to know if you had flood insurance. I’d sent them the policy five days ago, but I re-sent it,” he said. “I’m still waiting to hear from the bank’s closing officer so I can fill out the numbers and email them back to her. Settlement shouldn’t be this difficult.”

“Do you think it’ll still be today?” I asked. “We planned to stay the night at the house. We didn’t make other arrangements.” My heart sank, this was another sign.

“I’ll call the loan officer and let them know that. You call them too. They’ve had every document they need for almost a week. There’s no excuse for this.”

I telephoned our loan officer at the bank. She and I have been corresponding since the process began, and she’s been nothing but helpful. She felt my frustration and assured me that she would stay as late as she needed in the office to make sure that the closing officer had our papers to the lawyer before the end of the day. “You won’t have to drive five hours home tonight, if I have to drive the papers to you from here,” she said.

Bruce and I slogged out to the truck and drove to the beach at Assateague. We parked facing the ocean. I sat silently, watching the waves crash onto the shore under a now gray drizzle of rain. Everything looked deserted, no colorful umbrellas, no children running after beach balls. Even the gulls were hunkered down, looking bleak.

“Do you remember when we bought your Grandma’s house in ’86?” Bruce asked.

“Yeah,” I said, smiling.

“We suffered the same red tape and frustration. It took a week longer to close than we thought it would. Some HUD paper was lost, remember?”

I had to think way back. “Seems to me I do remember,” I said.

“It’ll work out. You worry too much. If we don’t get in tonight, we’ll stay at the Best Western, no big deal.”

I kept looking at my phone, at the time readout, willing the thing to ring. It was almost five o’clock. Didn’t lawyer’s offices close at five o’clock? We opened the cooler and shared a box of raspberries and a banana. I dug around in the glove box and found a plastic spoon. We shared a container of cottage cheese and blueberry yogurt. Bruce scraped the sides of the plastic yogurt box and looked in the cooler again. “Nothing else in here,” he said. “I could go for some seafood.”

“I’m not very hungry,” I pouted.

At five-fifteen I had given up hope and was ready to head to a hotel. We turned the truck around and started for Chincoteague. The phone rang. “I think we’re ready,” our lawyer’s voice said. “Come on to the office; we’ll start signing the papers.”

It took five minutes to get there. Our soggy shoes squeaked our arrival as we hung our slickers to drip from the coat rack in the corner. Mr. West, dressed in his tweed jacket welcomed us with a firm handshake and a smile, then pointed in the direction of the conference room. “I’ll be right with you,” he said. “Just have to make a few more copies.”

We sat down at the long conference table. The windows faced the bay. Ducks waddled through the yard, pecking at something in the grass. Bruce pointed to the sky. “Rain’s on its way out,” he said. “Sky’s getting lighter.” He comes from a farming family. He knows the weather.

Twenty minutes later, after signing what felt like hundreds of forms, Mr. West handed us the keys to our new house, to Melva’s home. We gathered our raincoats and draped them over our arms as we walked to the truck. The sun was shining over Chincoteague Bay. I took it as a sign.

The Inspection

February 10, 2013 by

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We offered a low bid for Melva’s house. She counter-offered, and the push and pull of home buying began. Finally, we signed a contract contingent upon the home inspection.

We wanted to be there for the walk through, and could only come to the island on the weekend. The inspector squeezed us in on a Sunday morning at the end of August. Our realtor called to let us know that Melva, her daughter, and son-in-law would also be at the house that day, packing.

I imagined Melva’s last weekend in her home of sixty-two years. I saw her walking from room to room, her fingertips sliding across the dark wood furniture she’d polished to a shine over her lifetime, picking up and sorting through her hinged-top sewing box filled with spools of thread, needles, sock darner, and seamstress scissors. I could see her apron-clad figure standing at the gas stove, turning crisp slices of bacon that morning before church. I watched her drink her final cup of coffee at the kitchen table and peer out into her backyard one more time while she washed the dishes.

When we walked into the house, Melva’s daughter, Lynn, and her husband were wrapping photo frames and a collection of fine china in newspaper. Melva was not there. Friends had picked her up for church.

“This is so hard,” Lynn said, shaking her head. “I never thought I’d be packing away my childhood.”

I thought of our place back home, my grandparent’s house, its corner kitchen cupboards built by my grandpa, the water dipper hanging above the sink, the aroma of grandma’s lilacs in spring, my view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the front window, all my memories. I couldn’t imagine letting go.

Lynn reminisced about the house, and growing up in the neighborhood, aunts, uncles, and cousins, school, church, and the ice cream parlor, all within walking distance. The ocean was only a bicycle ride away, and the island kids used to ride the Chincoteague ponies bareback.

“When Mom and Dad built this place, they had less than five thousand dollars, and decided they would build a fireplace later when they could afford it. It never happened. By the time Mom was forty and gave birth to me, her only child, a fireplace was no longer a priority.”

As we stood and talked, we watched the inspector go from room to room, heard him turn on faucets in the kitchen and bathroom, then pull the attic stairs down and climb up. After a bit, he came down again and exited the front door. The four of us watched him shrug into a disposable white coverall in preparation to slide under the house. We listened as he bumped around under the floor where we stood. Bruce and I paid him little attention as we stayed and talked with Lynn, gathering the history of Melva’s place.

“I’ve always wondered what the hardwood floors would look like under this carpet. I bet they’re stunning,” she said.

Bruce and I finally left Lynn and her husband to their packing and joined the inspector outside in the yard.

“What’s the verdict?” Bruce asked.

I held my breath. I had already fallen in love with Melva’s place. Lynn’s stories had cinched it.

“Nothing worse than what you see with most of these older houses. Contractors didn’t have a specific code for footings and beams under houses back then. There’s some sag under the house, but nothing that can’t be shored up. I’ve seen a lot worse. At least this one has cement footers. Some on the island have oyster shell mixed with mortar as their foundation. Those are the houses with a tilt.”

We’d seen some of those structures. They resembled drawings in a Dr. Seuss book.

“What else?” Bruce asked.

“A few plumbing issues, not enough pressure in the shower and a few leaks under the house. A little rot under there as well, but not too much, easily fixable. That front window needs replacing, but you knew that already. Roof looks like it’s good for another fifteen years or so. Some of your electrical outlets need upgrades. I’ll fill out a report and send it to you so you can get an estimate on the repair cost.”

I sagged with the news. My excitement turned to trepidation; and I began to doubt our decision. Houses involve upkeep and cost, a never ending place to pour money. Something was always breaking at home and trips to the hardware store were weekly events. I was quiet on the way home, estimating costs in my head, thinking about the coastal area, worrying about taxes, insurance, and not living close enough to keep an eye on the place.

While my doubt grew, Bruce’s excitement expanded. It works that way with us. He emailed the inspector’s report to a Chincoteague contractor for an estimate of repairs. Then Bruce began gathering construction and yard tools. He started talking about building a trailer to pull behind the pickup to carry what we needed for the weekend after closing.

Meanwhile, I stepped back, calculating potential costs and tuning to the weather channel to follow every forecast mentioning hurricanes and slow moving low fronts dumping rain. I worried about another flood like the one in 1962. We hadn’t checked the price of propane, or asked how much the electric bill was each month. Water had to be another cost, and what about trash collection?

I closed my eyes and wondered what my husband had gotten me into.

part 5:
https://trainswhistle.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/waiting/

Crunching Numbers

February 3, 2013 by

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I drove toward home extolling the virtues of Melva’s Place on Ocean Blvd. Perfect size house, wide street with space to park and store the boat trailer, two sheds, and large attic for storage, a house on the island that cost less than any house in our county at home. It was downright cheap in comparison.

Bruce sat quietly in the passenger seat, calculator in hand, punching numbers. “Interest rates are as low as they’re gonna go,” he said. “It’s probably the best time to buy.”

That sounded positive.

“We’ve spent over three thousand dollars in rental and hotel costs since we found the island. Multiply that by ten years. That’s wasted money.”

That sounded positive.

“Chincoteague is in a flood zone. No getting around that. The house is about two and a half feet off the ground. Anything south of Maddox is listed as three feet above sea level, anything north of Maddox is listed as six feet above. Ocean Blvd is just one street south. I’d say it’s probably between three and five feet above. The ’62 flood had six feet of water covering the island.”

That sounded negative.

“Could we move it to the lot, or raise it?”

“I don’t think you’d want to do that, costs too much. We looked at that when we were considering the house on Bunting Road. Remember, this house was built in 1950. It survived the flood of ’62. Gotta have flood insurance though, that’s probably a big cost to think about.”

Darn, another negative.

“Did I mention the workshop?” I asked smiling, “It has electricity and a cement floor, all those woodworking tools.”

“It’ll be the first part of the property under water in a flood too,” he said laughing at my feeble attempt to sway him. At least he was laughing.

We were almost home before Bruce said, “I think it might be a good investment. We could use it to stay in when we come to the island, and rent it out when we’re not there. When I talked to Debbie she said if we rent it to expect eight to ten weeks of rental at eight-fifty a week. That should be enough to pay part of the utilities and taxes. Not sure about cost of insurance.”

This sounded positive. I had gone from mere hoping to imagining pulling into the driveway and spending the night in Melva’s four poster bed.

“I didn’t go under the house, or look at the plumbing and wiring. We’re not even considering buying this property without an inspection. You know what we found under your Daddy’s house when we went to sell it.”

I did remember. Rot and a repair bill to the tune of over fifteen thousand dollars.

“Let’s make a ridiculously low offer and see what happens,” Bruce said.

part 4: https://trainswhistle.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/the-inspection/

Melva’s Place

January 27, 2013 by

O

“Most of the furniture conveys with the house,” Debbie said as we looked around.

The top of Melva’s polished oak kitchen table shone under a porcelain chandelier. Four matching pressed-back chairs were arranged neatly, waiting for a family dinner. A photograph of Melva’s grandchildren smiled at me from a frame on the wall, three boys. Melva liked red apples. Several framed prints displayed baskets of the fruit. Being this close to the seashore, I expected beach pictures. These apple scenes reminded me of home and our mountain orchards.

The living and dining rooms were more formal with a dark drop leaf table, chairs and matching hutch with Melva’s wedding china displayed. Through an arched doorway we found the wall we hoped would have a fireplace. The chimney outside gave us an expectation. We didn’t find one though. A large mirror hung where we expected to find a mantle. Melva’s couch was covered in a gold brocade, matching pillows hugged the sides of the sofa. Two chairs, a ‘his’ and ‘hers’ flanked the couch. Melva’s reclined and rocked.

I opened the closet by the front door. Photo albums lined the top shelf where I imagined hats would be. Ladies sweaters and jackets hung below, smelling of lavender and dusting powder, an aroma so familiar to me, I felt the comfort of my grandmother. I had an overwhelming urge to reach out and embrace Melva’s sweaters.

Her bedroom stopped me at the door. Before me I found the dark wood furniture I knew from childhood, the four-poster bed, vanity with mirror, chest of drawers and nightstand. Even the dresser scarves were familiar. I stood there, my hand to my chest, my mouth open.

“What’s wrong?” Bruce asked, walking up beside me.

“It’s Grandma’s bedroom,” I said.

“Huh?” he said, completely puzzled.

“It’s the same furniture my Grandma had when I was a little girl,” I said.

“I guess they would have been close to the same age,” Bruce said. “It must have been a popular style.”

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” I said.

“I know you don’t. That’s what worries me. Let’s go look at the bathroom.”

The tub and toilet were the heavy porcelain of 1950, and shiny white. The linen closet smelled of cedar, and each towel was folded just so and stacked one on another with washcloths along side.

The second bedroom displayed pictures of Melva’s daughter, son-in-law, and three grandsons. A homemade quilt warmed the double bed. The ginger jar bedside lamp was filled with seashells.

Bruce pulled the attic stairs down and we climbed up. Melva’s attic had dormer windows, unlike my Grandma’s, but the pull string to turn the overhead light on was the same. While Bruce inspected the walls, roof, duct work and furnace, I counted Melva’s canning jars, marveled over her Christmas decorations sparkling from an open cardboard box, and touched the delicate lace of a fancy dress hanging from the rafters. The dry cleaner’s plastic bag had fallen off one shoulder. I wondered where she had worn that dress, to her fiftieth wedding anniversary, to a garden party, to her daughter’s wedding?

“Looks good up here,” Bruce said from the stairs. “Come on down. I don’t want you falling through the hole in the ceiling not looking where you’re going.”

I followed him down the stairs and he folded them back up.

We thanked Debbie for showing us the place on such short notice. “We’ll be in touch,” I said.

Part 3: https://trainswhistle.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/crunching-numbers/

Impulse Shopping

January 21, 2013 by

melva's

As careful and hesitant as I am, I am disabled by an impulsive streak that flashes its lightning at interesting times. My long-term goals, although still there, fade in the brightness of what’s in front of me. Sparkle captures my eye and sends me wanting. My husband usually grounds me. He listens quietly, then brings me back to the reality at hand. He ticks off the hazards, extols the cost, and after a day or two of processing his words, the careful me returns. I go back to thrift store shopping, gardening, recycling, and saving. I can count the times on one hand he’s let me run the extent of my dream without interference. Those have worked out for me.

Bruce and I didn’t take a vacation last year. With my dad’s illness and death, we’d spent most of my vacation time going back and forth to Chesapeake to check on him, then to make funeral arrangements, and finally to settle his estate. I had gone full force for five months without stopping for breath. I’d yet to have a good solid cry. I was worn out.

“Let’s go to Chincoteague this weekend, just the two of us,” Bruce said the last week in July. The boys will be alright at home. We can take the bicycles, beach chairs, a cooler full of cold ones, and sit on the beach, do nothing but relax in our favorite place.

A year ago we bought a lot on Chincoteague at Big Glade Creek; and made plans to build a house in ten years when we retire. The view is as close to perfection as we have found. Ten years seems a lifetime away, and we continue to visit our little island. Each trip, whether staying in a hotel, cottage, or campground costs us rental bucks. Zoning laws will not allow us camp on our lot. We bought the property knowing that up front. Even so, Bruce threatens to pitch a tent, but I don’t want to antagonize the neighbors.

We arrived on the island a little after daylight on Friday morning and parked at Big Glade Creek. We watched the egrets and geese catching their breakfast. The breeze cooled my skin as I sat cross-legged in front of Bruce on our floating dock. I leaned back against his chest and he rested his chin on my head. “I could sit here forever,” he said.

“Me too,” I echoed.

We checked into the hotel at 3:00, stored our gear and unhooked the bicycles. We rode toward Assateague and then onto the hike/bike beach. We stayed, watching the waves break, until just before sunset. We shared the beach with only six other people, but if we looked straight ahead, it was just the two of us.

Sunday came too soon. It always does. I hate to leave Chincoteague more than I hate paying the one hundred thirty-nine dollars a night hotel cost, but with a five hour drive ahead of us, and work for me on Monday, we pulled out at 11:00. We usually head straight down Maddox Blvd to the causeway over Chincoteague Bay toward the mainland, but there was a small line of traffic up ahead and Bruce veered left onto Pension, then right onto Ocean Blvd. which would take us to Main.

That’s when I saw it, a small white, aluminum-sided house with a brick chimney, on a neat manicured lot. It reminded me of my grandparent’s house. The one we live in now. The bay window was somewhat obscured by an overgrown rhododendron bush, one of my grandmother’s favorite shrubs. The ‘for sale’ sign held a box of leaflets describing the property. “Look at that house,” I said, pointing. “Pull over.”

Bruce parked at the curb and I grabbed one of the leaflets. The house was built in 1950, the same year my grandparent’s home was built. This one had two bedrooms, just like theirs. We walked around the outside and found hydrangeas and crepe myrtles in bloom, ours at home are blooming now. A shop and shed sat on the back of the lot. I peered into the window. Woodworking tools were anchored to the workbench. My grandfather was a carpenter.

“I want to see the inside of the house,” I said.

Bruce looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “If we do, we’ll get back late,” he said, looking at his watch.

I could not explain the connection I felt to this house, but it was there. “Let’s just call,” I said. “At this short notice, they might not even be able to show it. If they can’t, then I’ll take it as a sign and we’ll go home.”

Bruce handed me his cell phone and I dialed Debbie, the realtor who had helped us find our lot last year. She answered on the first ring. “I’ll call Ocean East Realty and get the key,” she said. “I’ll meet you at the property in fifteen minutes.”

Debbie opened the back door and we stepped into “Melva’s kitchen”. The carved wooden sign on the wall proclaimed it to be. My grandmother lived in her kitchen. I remember the tastes and aromas of biscuits baking, strawberry jam and apple pies.

Debbie stepped aside for us. “It belonged to a couple who lived here for sixty-two years,” she said. “Islanders. They built the house just after they were married. Melva’s husband passed away a couple years ago. Melva lived here by herself until June. She’s moved to the mainland to live with her daughter now. They had a hard time putting the house on the market. It’s been Melva’s life.”

As I looked around, I could see that. I could feel it.

Part 2: https://trainswhistle.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/melvas-place/

The Ferris Wheel (Memoir)

January 4, 2013 by

Friday Fictioneers’ (http://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/) is hosted every week by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. It’s a pretty awesome idea that goes like this: A weekly photograph is posted and the writer is challenged to create a 100-word story or poem inspired by the photo. Post your work on your blog and link it to the Friday Fictioneers’ post where comments and feedback are shared. Give it a shot! This week’s photograph is by Lora Mitchell.

ferris wheel

Here’s my attempt this week:

The Ferris Wheel (Memoir)

I sat wedged between Mama and Ray. My feet dangled.

We’d come to Virginia Beach, like a family. It was nighttime, and the carnival lights had pulled me in. “Can we ride?”

Three tickets later, we soared in a salty wind. City lights were our magic carpet.

The carriage stopped at the very top. Ray leaned forward, tipping us, rocking us.

I inhaled, looking up to him, eyes wide.

Ray’s hand tightened on my shoulder. “Don’t be scared; I’ve got you.”

Off to our right, there was a whistle, then a loud boom, and a million sparkles lit up the night.

Dragon Lady

December 31, 2012 by

“Get out, go on now. You heard me. Leave.”

I’ve come into Betty’s room at the nursing home for my morning visit. She lays curled inward, knees to chin, arms, hands and fingers curled tight into a protective shield at her chest. She faces the wall.

“I came to check on you, to see if you need anything.”

Her voice comes out in a too sweet, sing-song imitation of my greeting, “I’ve come to check on you,” she mocks. “to see if you neeed anything. No, I don’t need anything. Just leave.”

It’s dark in the room with the curtains drawn. “At least let me open your drapes,” I say. “The sun’s shining outside. Maybe it’ll improve your mood.”

“Oh hell, do what you want to do, then get out,” she says, sighing loudly, frustrated with my need to help.

I sweep the fabric aside, and the sun streams into the room. “There, isn’t that more cheerful?”

“If you say so,” she harrumphs.

I smile, turn toward the door, and when I reach the threshold I call over my shoulder, “We’re ordering Chinese for lunch today.”

Her voice is almost inaudible. “From the Dragon Lady?”

“You’re the only Dragon Lady I know,” I say, laughing.

“Yeah, yeah, just shut up,” she throws back at me. “Order me some shrimp fried rice and an egg roll.”

“Extra soy sauce?”

“No, A1 Steak sauce,” she shoots back, turning her head to stick her tongue out at me.

I blow her a kiss from the doorway. “I’ll see you at noon,” I say. “Save me a seat.”

“Yeah, sure. You can take your place at the end of the line,” I hear her grump as I walk away.

O

Building

December 13, 2012 by

If it was up to me I’d cancel Christmas this year.  My dad died in May and it seems easier to just let the holiday pass without a glance.  I’m content to listen to silence rather than carols on the radio in the car on the way to work every morning. The beautiful Christmas cards I bought last January at seventy-five percent off are still in the box in the attic, and Grandma’s cookie recipes lay dormant in their file box.  December 25th is thirteen days away and the only shopping I’ve done is for my boys.  They gave me the list I asked for and I didn’t deviate from it, shopping online.  My children are older now, and they seem to understand my mood.

Christmas is less than two weeks away and my energy is funneled into the 1910 buggy shed attached to the house that originally belonged to my grandparents. We’ve gutted it and I’m building a room.  I’ve traded in my holiday sweaters for overalls and work gloves.  I sweep sawdust, prepare rough pine boards to be planed, hold the level, and read the rule. I’ve learned to show a hammer who’s boss, and I stand back to admire the recycled window that takes up almost an entire wall. I breathe in the scent of pine boards and feel the spirit of my grandpa around me. He was a carpenter.

On Christmas day, I’ll stop working in the backroom long enough  to prepare a Christmas meal of country ham, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, waldorf salad, and dinner rolls. Then, I’ll pull out Grandma’s rum cake recipe and prepare it just the way she did.  We’ll welcome our family, share a feast, open a few gifts, and enjoy a cup of egg nog and a piece of rum-soaked cake. We’ll miss my dad.

***

While I measured and helped cut boards tonight, my boys dragged the artificial Christmas tree down the attic stairs and rearranged the living room to make a space for it. They plugged in the lights and fluffed the branches, then decorated it with their individual glass ornaments, the ones I’ve ordered each year from a crafter who specializes in paper cuttings sandwiched between two round pieces of glass. The boys choose the highlight of their year for each of their ornaments. They keep these treasures in a box under their beds.  All the other ornaments are stored away in the recesses of the attic.

Ben and Ryan stuck their heads around the door to the backroom. I stood holding a beam in place as Bruce worked the hydraulic jack to raise the roof a few inches higher to level it.

“The tree’s kind of plain Mom,” Ryan said.

“Yeah, it could use some color,” Ben agreed.

I remembered a conversation I’d had with my dad years ago. He told me the story of when he was a little boy and my grandma didn’t have money enough to decorate the Christmas tree. She tied string to their Christmas cards and trimmed the tree with them. He said it was the prettiest Christmas tree he’d ever seen.

I shared the story with my boys. They turned and left the room.

I’ve done all the work I can do for the night. I’m ready to fall into bed. I dust off my jacket and walk back into the house. To my left is our Christmas tree adorned with the highlights of my boys lives and the Christmas cards we’ve received so far this year.

I have to agree with my dad. It is a beautiful tree.

 

O

‘Tis the Season

December 3, 2012 by

O

The thrift store seems more crowded than usual. I push the shopping cart toward house wares in the back. I need some vases for the nursing home. I can buy used ones for fifty-five cents. One of the local grocery stores has donated five cases of roses for our residents. It’s Christmas time and people want to do something nice for old people who don’t have family.

I turn down the children’s clothing aisle and five people have to move aside to let me by. Past that, shoppers line the perimeter of the space filled with larger items. An ugly chair upholstered in a black and brown patterned geometric fabric squats next to one of those wooden crate sofas, popular in the seventies. It has no cushions. A  pool table with a tear in its felt stands at a tilt, and a toddler’s red race car bed is missing its mattress. Three mismatched dining chairs, a kidney shape glass-topped coffee table, and a leaning brass floor lamp complete the sad ensemble.

A small bent man wearing white patent leather shoes, skinny jeans, a shiny silver belt, and a plaid button down dress shirt pulls the white tag off the naked sofa and turns toward the cashier, saying to himself, “I think I can find some cushions down the road.”

As I load the cart with glass bud vases, I hear three little girls vying for their mother’s attention with their questions:

“I like this one, can we get this one?”

“No Mommy, this one, it’s prettier.”

“I like the first one. It’s purple. I love purple. You love purple too Mommy, don’t you?”

“Quit arguing,” their mother says. “Or we won’t get any of them.”

The three little girls point out other things, asking if they can put this or that into the cart. If they can take things home to play with. “No.” Their mother says, her voice rising. “We’re not here to buy things for you.”

I find six green vases, three clear, one heart-shaped, and four white ones. I won’t pay over a dollar for any. The largest ones are ninety-five cents.  With the bottom of the cart covered, I turn toward the book shelves. I hit pay dirt finding two books on CD, James Patterson’s I Alex Cross, and Fanny Flagg’s Welcome to the World Baby Girl. They aren’t priced, so they cost only a dollar each.

Over in the holiday decorations, I can still hear the three little girls talking over top of one another, listing things they want for Christmas, asking their mother what she thinks Santa will bring.

The line to checkout stretches halfway down the aisle of women’s blouses.  The cashier calls for backup. A woman in a blue uniform comes from the ninety-five cent bin section, steps to the cash register opposite mine, and the line splits. When I reach my turn, I find myself across from the woman and her three little girls. They surround the cart as their mother places a box of purple Christmas ornaments, several pieces of clothing, a glass bowl, a basket, and some sort of game in a box on the counter.

“We can open it when we get home,” the smallest girl says to one of her sisters.

“God Dammit, I told you No three times already,” her mother yells. “It’s for your brother for Christmas.”

The little girls stop talking, all three look up to their mother. People around them stop talking. The store becomes still and quiet.

“That’ll be six twenty-four,” the cashier says.

The woman hands over the money, takes her bag, and the three little girls follow her out of the store.

The Backroom

November 29, 2012 by

O

My grandparents bought their house in 1957. It was small with one bedroom, one bath, a connected kitchen and dining area, and a living room. The dirt floor basement housed a wringer washing machine and galvanized wash tubs for rinsing clothes. A small enamel top table sat in front of the lone basement window for potting seeds in preparation for spring planting.  The house was a perfect size for a just retired carpenter/gardener and his wife.

Their cinderblock cottage butted up against a buggy shed that had been built in 1910. While the house roof sported asphalt shingles, the attached outbuilding boasted wide, rough hewn boards and beams, all covered in green painted tin. Grandpa could have parked the car there and cut an outside entrance into the living room, but Grandma had other plans. She talked him into a second bedroom.  They only needed one bedroom for themselves, but Grandma expected grandchildren to come visit.

I imagine her now, hands on hips, staring up into the rafters of that shed, saying, “Garth, I want an extra bedroom. You can make this into a cozy space. All you have to do is….”

And my Grandpa, carpenter’s pencil in hand, scratching measurements and drawing plans right there on the rough wood, filling in Grandma’s dream with his plans.

That was the room I stayed in when I was a little girl. It was referred to as  “the backroom”.  I fell asleep in a big, quilt-topped double bed to the sound of rain pattering on the tin above my head. A small pot-bellied woodstove popped and crackled next to the rocking chair where Grandma read me stories. That room smelled of lilac in summer and pine kindling in winter.

We bought the house in 1986, when my grandparents died.  Tonight, we gutted the backroom.  Between the termites and rot, we had to do something before it fell down around us.

I stand in that 1910 buggy shed looking up at the wide rough boards under the tin roof. I shiver in the cold. One wall is completely gone, three other walls and the roof complete a shell that was once my refuge. I stare at what’s left, and am surprised that I’m not sad. The primitive feel and color of the wood above me is warming. The possibility of new beginnings excites me.  I don’t want to cover those boards with tile or sheetrock or paneling.

“They’re all different kinds of wood,” Bruce points out. “White oak, red oak,  pine, and probably some walnut thrown in for good measure.”

“That’s OK,” I say. Looking up, marveling at the shades of brown, black, red and rust. I love it just the way it is. We’re not covering it up.”

“They’re rough and you know you’re going to lose a lot of heat through the roof,” he answers.

“I like the rough texture,” I counter. “It’s rustic, original. Besides, there used to be a woodstove here when I was little. Can’t we put one back?”

“I guess so,” Bruce says, “not too much trouble to run a pipe and patch around it.”

I help him hang plastic sheeting which will keep the wind and cold out when he pours the new cement floor. As I hand him the staple gun a small set of figures catches my eye on an old two by four.

“Did you write this?” I ask.

“No, not that set. I think your granddaddy must have put those figures there. Mine are on that board next to it.”

Sure enough there they are, two sets of numbers on boards side by side, two generations apart on a home that keeps evolving.