Remembering Dad on Memorial Day…

My dad was from Alabama. He loved the South. He longed to return there to live. My mom would not consider leaving her hometown in NJ to move south of the mason dixon line. She didn’t like dads poor relations living in tin-roofed houses that leaked in rain storms. Dad endured his exile, sometimes less gracefully than others.

He often bribed me with the promise to buy a horse if I persuaded mom to move. Frankly I think he would have moved without her, if I would have gone with him, but that is another story.

The bribe was enticing since I couldn’t own a horse in NJ because we lived on the wrong side of the street. At least that was what mom and dad told me. My girlfriend, who lived across the street, also couldn’t have a horse. I worried if I moved south with my dad, both sides of the street would be the wrong side.

We appeased dads homesickness by naming our family dog, an Irish Setter, Rebel. It seemed to do the trick. It also gave me unintended permission to develop my internal rebel self. I knew better than to present her to the family, but I have called on my rebel blood often in my adult life.

I was raised on grits, corn bread crumbled in butter milk and my dad’s stories of the magic of the south. The beauty of the land. The kindness of the people. When dad drank his vodka and tonic’s the South rose agin (Southern for again) to fight the Recent Unpleasantness (the Civil War). In his alcohol impaired rendition, the South won and confederate money became the nation’s currency.

When I met Tom, with his southern accent tamed by Yankee living for the past 30 years, I heard my dad. One day, early in our relationship, Tom said to me, “We’re in high cotton now!” I had not heard that expression for years. It made me feel strangely at home with him. The first time he fixed me grits with bacon grease I melted, and gained 2 pounds.

Tom’s Southern heritage makes him move slower-which sometimes makes me want to light a fire under his butt, speak slower, and hold his ground regardless of the current popular view. He calls this awhner (Southern for honor). I naturally resonate to this cadence.

So as we loaded the car to head south to visit his relations (Southern for family) my Southern blood began to bubble. I began to feel base. Sturdy. Thoughtfully certain. As we drove into Savannah, the moss skimming the top of the car, I am enchanted. As we crossed the bridge to the island I smelled the mud of the South and my body felt at home.

I wish he was still alive to tell him, “I get it!”

Love to Y’all

waxseal2

 

 

 

 

 

 

An unanswered question

This weeks assignment was to write about something unresolved in my life. It had to have urgency and tension.

Tom suggested I post something “light” this week as my last two posts have been “heavy”. I didn’t know if I agreed with him or not, but in the end decided to share my “dark” assignment because I worked so fucking hard on it. And I’m all worn out…

So here it is…the saga continues…

I recoil at the question that invades my day. I close my eyes willing it away, but it inevitably returns, like a puppy undeterred by my avoidance to get the attention it needs.  I have wrestled all my life with my need to belong to my family. The reality is that no matter what role I play to please, I just don’t fit. So if I don’t make the trek home when mom dies, I will be cast as the deserter. But going could be emotional suicide.

The last time I made the journey east across the Delaware was for the dual purposes of following my brother Rob’s edict to sell the family home and to visit mom in the assisted living facility he unilaterally decided to move her into. My plan was to meet with the realtor, visit mom, take her to lunch, drive her around the neighborhood she grew up in, then head west-putting a safe distance between me and my only sibling. I intended to slip in and out of NJ, under my brother’s radar, like a CIA Ninja.

The realtor was referred to me by Andy, my hairdresser and recently licensed real estate agent. He said he had asked for someone that would sell for a long distant client and wasn’t afraid of family ghosts. Debbie Leigh, about my age, with a slight NJ accent and a warm smile, took the job.

Debbie liked the house and was excited she was to sell it. She seemed unfazed as I filled in some of the family dynamics. As we sat in the living room, still full with the furniture of my childhood, Rob, unsuspectedly, blew in through the front door. His puffed up chest, reddened face and clipped speech stopped us in mid sentence. The air was sucked out of my lungs-like a baby in a wind storm. I smelled danger. I wondered how he knew we were there, at that specific time, on that particular weekend. What tracking devise did he have? My paranoia rose in direct proportions to his hostility.

He announced to the room that he had rented the house beginning next month…so selling it would not be an option. I was absolutely silent and my body was still. I learned at an early age that if he doesn’t see me, he will leave me alone. Debbie spoke through the tension, like an experienced family therapist, offering a dual plan of renting while showing the house.

Later, when Rob found me alone, searching for my misplaced sunglasses and car keys, he insisted I knew he had rented the house and went on to conclude I was trying to undermine his plans. I told him I didn’t know. This only infuriated him more. The poison in his voice turned my legs to jello and the saliva left my mouth.

I headed toward my car begging my legs to carry me. As I crossed the lawn I got a whiff of freshly cut grass despite the snow covered ground, an olfactory reminder of a childhood memory. Adolescent Rob shoving grass clippings into my elementary school shirt and pants. I remembered how he would wrestle me to the ground, pin my arms with his legs and sit heavily on my rib cage. I couldn’t breathe or move, then. I was determined to save myself now.

I reached the car. As I opened the car door I felt my right shoulder spasm. My body reminded me of the many times my arm was pulled back behind my back, yanking my hand to the opposite shoulder blade, until I fell to my knees. He wanted to hear me say, Uncle. I always did. I hated him for hurting me so badly. I hated myself for surrendering to the pain.

He didn’t start out mean, at least I don’t think he did. He just didn’t want a sibling. When mom was still in the hospital, after my birth, she called Rob. He was staying with her mother, our grandmother. Rob tearfully asked mom if she had had a baby. My new mom told her almost 4 year old, No. That response sealed my fate and secured her lack of protection of me. He hated me and distrusted her, and I never felt wanted by, or safe with, either of them. I was a kid on a hot tin roof.

I have little defense against his life long bullying, despite the years of therapy I have spent on it. I inevitably end up bloodied and self recriminating for putting myself in harms way, again. So I ask myself, what if I didn’t go to mom’s funeral? What if I stayed where I am safe, finally refusing to cross the state line? Mom and Rob have not been an integral part of my life for well over 30 years. I designed it that way and they didn’t seem to notice. So in an ‘everyday way’ I will not miss mom after she passes. I will not hear myself say, “Oh I should call and tell mom this,” or “ I’ll talk to mom, she’ll understand.”

But deep inside, behind my belly button where we were once joined,  there is a little girl who will still be looking for her mom. When mom dies so does my hope of finding her.

With Love,
waxseal2

 

 

 

Selling the family home…both of them…

I just started a writing class. I am so proud of myself, intimidated and excited. I would never have had the courage to take the class if not for this blog and your wonderful feedback. So thank you, you gave me the guts. 

So here’s the thing…each week I have at least one writing assignment due. Plus a lot of reading. The instructor takes this very seriously, we are going to learn… I wanted the easy version.

Anyway, my solution to not becoming too overwhelmed is to use my assignments as my blog posts. I hope that’s not cheating…I think that it is…but too bad. 

Our first assignment was to make a list, in 3 minutes, of 10 things we recently experienced. On my list # 4 was-went to NJ. There are so many versions of the same story, it is all determined by what we are  focused on. 

So here is another version of my trip to NJ…

 

I met her at the front door with a hand shake and mutual acknowledgement that after all our phone calls it was good to finally meet. I invited her in to see the house. As we stepped into the eat-in kitchen, familiar with mom’s meager attempt to update in the 70’s by covering the red linoleum floor with red indoor out door carpet, she admired it’s spaciousness. She agreed the plywood cabinets needed attention, but liked the amount of storage they provided. I pointed out the washing machine at the end of the counter, reminiscing my young self standing on top of it belting out Hello Dolly while impersonating Louis Armstrong. I even had a handkerchief I patted my not damp brow with. She thought it was an odd place for a washer.

She liked that there was a bath and a half, three bedrooms-my brothers room, with its telltale dark 1950‘s panelling, was used by the original owners as a den. She said she would have to check that the septic system was up to regulation to list the house as a three bedroom house. She also said, a couple of times, the house was deceivingly big on the inside. It looked smaller to her from the street. The deception that filled this house was not new to me.

I showed one other house to a realtor in 2008. It was the 1939 chestnut log cabin home I raised my children in, that my wasband and I built a1200 square foot addition to…ourselves, and that was the love of my life. I felt safe in that house. I described the IMG_2451feeling as “well held.” Selling it was harder than ending my marriage. At night when I can’t sleep I walk myself through the rooms of the cabin often starting in the kitchen meandering my way through each room. I usually fall asleep somewhere between the den and the master bedroom. I do this to comfort myself as well as to not allow myself to forget even one detail of my home.

Showing the cabin was made easier since a neighbor, who had been in the house plenty of times over the past 24 years, was my realtor. I didn’t need to show her around revisiting the painted over trains Landon and I stenciled on his bedroom wall before his sister was born, or the log in the living room with each of our initials carved into it’s surface or the basement where they learned to roller blade while Jena belted out Everybody…Everybody…Everybody…Wants to be a Cat, from the Disney movie Aristocrats.

I was spared salt in my wounds-then, but not this time. I had to show Debbie the linen closets in the bathroom and hallway. The coat closets by each door. The full size basement now empty but full with memories…particularly the now empty space where my brother built a raised, enclosed platform lined with mattresses we called the “sin bin”. He included colored lights that blinked in time with the music of Bread, Simon and Garfunkle, and Steppenwolf.  My first french kiss and full body contact with a neighborhood boy was in the sin bin. I have often since wondered what my parents were thinking when they allowed Rob to develop his carpentry skills in this way? Maybe they weren’t. They often didn’t. He did go on to make a beautiful maple end table in High School shop class. I guess he had to start somewhere.

I showed her the hardwood floors hidden beneath the matted celery green carpet  remembering that I faked falling asleep the day the carpet was installed so my parents would think I was ‘oh so cute’…desperate for their loving attention. Assuring them, as I often did, that every thing was okay. They didn’t have to fight, they didn’t have to drink, because the carpet was so soft their precious daughter could sleep on it.

I pointed out the built in bookshelves/cabinets in the combined living room dining room  that held the porcelain Irish Setter I bought my parents one Christmas. It cost $25.00 which was my allowance saved for five months. It looked just like our family dog that dad threw down the basement steps one night in a rage.

Debbie liked the house. She said it was perfect for a young family or someone down sizing from a Mc mansion. Apparently quite common these days. She loved the neighborhood, the potential of the house and the floor plan. She was excited to sell it. Seeing it through her new eyes, instead of my duplicitous nostalgia, I saw the house with a new life, new loves, and a new family. I understood, walking through the house that looked like always, yet felt so foreign, was my new normal.

Debbie hugged me as she left. I held on to her for a moment too long, she felt like an old friend at this point. The salt of my tears felt healing. I was let go of her and the house at the same time.

With Love,
waxseal2