Life changes for all of us. Today and for some time, I am sheltering in place with my dear sister-in-law, the partner of Isaac Thapedi who I wrote about a few weeks ago. Yes, we are on our way to Chicago, but will be staying here until the purchase of our home in Chicago is completed and we can move in.
But today I am thinking of the loss of John Lewis. Last evening we watched a film about his life GOOD TROUBLE. I recommend it to all of you. You will laugh, you will cry. You will be awed by his strength, his humanity and will deeply feel our country’s loss. His contributions to our country will be forever remembered. So if we have to sacrifice now and again by wearing a mask, we can do this. That’s what I often said to my maternity patients when they were in labor. They were in pain, but I did all I could to help them deal with the pain, and as a woman who had been gifted with three children, I knew the pain would end. And now some of the things we are going through like Covid and change in our lives each day–require the same principle–we can do this.
HOW ARE YOU COPING?
Maybe you have a coping mechanism to share–a phrase, a song, a photo. Please share. I am also working on my husband’s laptop and so my ability to write this post is hampered a bit. I won’t be able to add a photo. But I am thinking of all of you. Thanks for reading.
The sense of it, the experience of it started with “A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf. Parts of it read:
But they had found it in the drawing room. Not that one could ever see them. The window panes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass. If they moved in the drawing room, the apple only turned its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was opened, spread about the floor, hung upon
the walls, pendant from the ceiling—what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet; from the deepest well of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of sound. “Safe, safe, safe,” the pulse of the house beat softly.
A moment later the light had faded. Out in the garden then? But the trees spun darkness for a wandering beam of sun. The wind falls, the rain slides silver down the glass.
Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain the faces bent…
AND I FOUND MYSELF…going to that place whenever I read A Haunted House, or thought about those roses and apples. That was the first lighting of my vision.
FROM VIRGINIA WOOLF TO…
The second was so opposite in its source! Yet I cannot remember the exact magazine, but it was either Country Home or Better Homes and Gardens. For when you fall in love with your own rooms, with your roses and apples, the sunlight on your carpet, the soft beating of safety when the sun departs and the moon glows in your window—a-ha, there are others who feel the same way about their homes. And they were reading the same magazines.
And so, this woman had a house in California. I do wish I’d saved the photographs. But in a major living area with tables and candles, with chairs and tea cups, she could open large doors of glass and smell the roses growing just beyond, in jardinières or window boxes, I don’t remember. And she was gracious and giddy about the bees that hummed just there, beyond the openness of her home’s windows and doors.
And I thought that lovely. I thought that so like Virginia Woolf, the image of crossing from the wooden floor planks of a house into the stones of the garden—the roses and sunlight bending inward, the bees behaving, possibly humming with the music that wafted outwards from a radio, a stereo.
Did I have that vision in my mind when, my patient husband, my patient brother and the real estate agent, took me from one place to another. Until. Until—there it was.
The day was cloudy, and the rooms smaller, but there was a large glass window and a door that opened to the garden, to the roses I would plant, the bees that I would summon, and the sunshine of southern California. And Virginia Woolf, the woman in the magazine, they would have approved.
But the trees did spin darkness for a wandering beam of sun. Though “Safe, safe, safe,” the pulse of the house beat gladly. “The Treasure yours.” And again, the wind falls, the rain slides silver down the glass. Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall.
There were moon beams and sun beams to warm the floor, the home, this harbor, this home. There was laughter and weeping, kisses and warm embraces—and music, downstairs and flowing up the stairs, all throughout and lingering. What remains of us—only worn and warmed places and those spirits, and all those words, so many words that weave us together.
DEPARTURE, SWEET SORROW….
But now we depart California, bid this home goodbye, we eager to love another, a treasure of solid walls lightened by sunlight, brightened by roses, by flowers that bend to us in summer, and blessed by all those who have ever sheltered there and now will shelter us.
Leaving has its pain, but—as Joan Didion, who was born in California but now lives in New York City, wrote: A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest…remembers it most obsessively, loves it so radically that it remakes his image…
Goodbye California, I will miss you, always. Hello, Chicago. We return to the neighborhood where we were both born and raised. We will greet our son and future daughter-in-law who now live just a few Chicago blocks from us. And the photo above—this is my new garden, and there is that door that opens to it, that pulls the inside out and the sunshine in. And there is some sunny window where I will sit and write…
P.S. So now we wait for the machinations of business, for things like escrow. What a funny word! And for a while we will be staying in Nevada with family. I hope to keep posting every Sunday, as living is change and change can make for interesting writing. Be “safe, safe, safe”—– Beth
(This is an older piece, but the feelings are still on target)
Seeing a moving truck hurtling down a neighborhood street used to make me think of new adventures: new houses with new rooms to explore, new gardens to plant, new roots to set down. But after spending six months selling my home of 17 years and buying another, I now see things differently. The experience is not all pleasant. In fact it is downright wrenching.
Houses become part of the family. They hold you and keep you warm and let you hide from the problems of the world. Yes, they throw you curves once in a while when the basement takes in water or the garage door refuses to open. But mostly, a house can become another child, someone you care for day to day. I would often say aloud when driving out of the driveway for a vacation or a long weekend: “Goodbye House, be good.” As in, resist some spark of electricity or broken toilet, whatever.
Because we decided to sell our house ourselves and not hire a realtor, I learned much about myself, about the things in the house that were precious to me, and about how strangers react to those things. I learned that I’ll never be a realtor! One perspective client was eager to have her three dogs sleep in the blue and white nursery that it took me months to wallpaper and prepare for my son’s birth. Another complained because my very clean home had a window sill in the kitchen that needed some touch-up painting. (I told myself she was reacting to the “super clean” house she had walked through. She’d decided to find SOMETHING to complain about.) Another prospective buyer, on seeing a photo of my husband so handsome and smoking a pipe, start to laugh, “Who’s this? Hugh Hefner?” Ah well. I had to just keep smiling. I had to dissemble. I had to sell my house.
I also learned that I don’t ever want to be honored with a HOUSE WALK. I’ve had one every Sunday for the last two months. No fun–no fun at all to have people poking and peeking into your life.
And so as the days passed and the FOR SALE sign remained in the front yard and so did the routine of every weekend getting out the posters and sticking them in the ground at the corner of our block to entice drivers to stop by. And so, I was probably losing it. “Come on, House, ” I said aloud one morning. “I know it’s hard, but you have to let us go. You can’t fight us on this. The decision is made. I’ll miss you, I promise I will. But please give us a break.”
And so one family and then another made us an offer and after more phone calls and discussions, a contract was finally signed.
But elation was absent. I walked around my home, looking at my rooms, touching a curtain, straightening a bedspread, knowing it would be difficult to pack all our treasures. And our memories. After all, here we conceived two children. Here we read stories, tickled babies, kissed warm blonde heads. Here we gathered family, some of them now gone. Here, here, here–in this house where we have lived for so many years.
My friend Julie had moved a month before. “I had to leave the room during the closing,” she confessed. “I felt stupid crying about a house.”
And then one day everything got packed up. The moving van came. I again thought about those years of peaceful family living as I walked through one more time. I wished the same joy and peace for the new family. I wished that they would hear the mourning doves, smell the marigolds on the evening breeze, hear the neighbor’s dog back as a token of peace and security before drifting off to sleep.
Then we were in the car and going down the driveway for the last time. “Goodbye House, be good.”
Even a corner of a room can provide comfort and be just your place.
My two-year-old grandson held out his blanket to me: “Make me a hay barrel,” he said in a voice needing comfort. Unfamiliar with such a request, I hesitated. “A hay barrel,” he said again, attempting to wrap the thin fabric around his small hands. Gently I took his blanket, creating a cylinder form that he happily accepted, smiling at me and then burying his face in the familiar shape. I had helped him find his comfort, his place.
We all understand about security comforts like blankets and stuffed animals—some of us might even hold on to such objects, burying them in the back of drawers as we age—fearful that the loss of such a talisman will upset the level place in life that we have found.
But change is inevitable and after a while we might be forced to let go of these objects. Or other items that arouse memories of marriage, child rearing or even our own childhood home. It’s called downsizing; but if and when you are forced to do it, make sure you hold on to some of these comforts.
In the last two weeks, my husband and I have been living at my brother’s house while we wait for the moving van that will bring our “home” back to us. When we need something, we often have to ask: is it at the new house, which is basically empty, or did we leave it in our car, or at my brother’s home, or is it most likely still on the truck, making its way across the country?
We completed the final details of selling our house and buying this new one, in the car, carrying all the paperwork in a briefcase and relying on cell phones as we zipped along Route 40. Unsettling and confusing, to say the least. But we are making it happen and we know we will have the comfort of our own place in a space of just days. The calendar will be back on the fridge reminding us of dates (sorry—the cell phone calendar just doesn’t do it for me); I’ll know what drawer holds extra checks and what clothes are hanging in the closet. (Right now all I packed was jeans and shirts. Getting tired of jeans.) And I’ll be able to set up my computer with my favorite keyboard and write faster and more confidently than I am doing on this laptop. And I’ll be able to unpack and place those items which will forever provide me comfort and memories: photos albums, a wooden high chair that was mine and my brothers, a small child’s chair that was my children’s and lots of framed photographs. I downsized, but I didn’t toss away my memories.
Moving is stressful. My daughter gently teased me, suggesting that I get a new job now and have a baby—because those two things added to losing a loved one and moving are the most stressful things we do in our lives. Well, the job idea is a possibility, but way way in the future. And bottom line—my life is going just fine. I am fortunate beyond words. I have comfort in my family, even if two of my children are living far from me; I have comfort in the love of my husband. Bottom line, I have a place in the lives of these people I love that continues whether I know where my favorite book is or whether I have to put on jeans again today or not!!
And if I get down about this interim period in my life, I’ll think about a woman much younger than I that we see everyday as we get off the freeway. She has a sign that she is homeless. She has a box she holds out asking for money. She needs comfort, she needs a place—and something pushes her to this spot everyday, as her search goes on. I just pray that standing there has not become that place that she seeks.
We all need the comfort of a familiar place—a blanket shaped just right, a drawer where we have tucked that doll that meant so much to us when we were five. Or just a room that is filled with things we like to touch, smell or gaze at. For when we need comfort, it’s usually found in our small space, our place, our “hay barrel.”