Sitting in the tiny living room, a breeze through the open windows, very little furniture, clean
hardwood floors uncovered from the scattered throw rugs. Everything is exposed. Fresh energy rushing through from the outside air. A clean simple, silent feel to the house. Simple, yet complex. This is the house of my childhood, from age 10-20 years. Then for the next 40 years it was where I returned to visit the two constants—mum and dad. Dad’s been gone a good many years, and that left this little world at 404 Sun Valley Dr in Plum Boro, Pittsburgh PA, to my mother.
The silence, breeze, uncluttered feeling is fresh, but also unnatural. For fifty years she had fully occupied this place—knickknacks and notes and memories surrounded her. The walls plastered with photos of her grandchildren, loving cards from friends and relatives; she kept all those that loved her around this way. Now she often doesn’t know them, or knows the faces but has lost the details. She lives on, but different. In her hospital-like bed at Golden Living, she lies, or she sits in the wheelchair lined up with the others, heads bent forward in sleep or daydream. Arriving last night from Virginia, I walk right past her, don’t recognize her with the recent changes since the seizure and long month in the hospital. She smiles, she talks. Her mind can be clear as a bell. Then the next minute it is like a turning wheel that slows down and lands on one particular memory. Then the wheel turns again. That one is gone too.
And here I sit in her house, that was my house too, and memories flash.
Age 10—we move out to the “country”. We were one of the first of this now sprawling suburban development. Deer run through our backyard. I am so excited to have my own room (it’s the size of a large bathroom).
Age 11--My sister and I sit at the “bar” for dinner. I try to make a deal with her to take my meat and I’ll take her beets. We are busy with undercover negotiations.
Age 12—It is Easter, and I am at the awkward stage--chubby….no waist ….cat-eye glasses….what happened to my pretty blonde hair? I’m in a yellow dress, white ankle socks, patent leather shoes posing self-consciously in front of the house with my Easter basket, a yearly ritual. As is the Easter Basket Hunt where mum up a treasure hunt with clues in plastic eggs. My basket was in the trunk of our car, or maybe that year it was in the oven.
Age 13—Making red and blue frosting for a 4th of July cake. Heidi, mum and I decorate the cake to look like the American flag.
Age 14—trying a cigarette in the living room mirror (it is gone now and in its place an unpainted wall exposed). Dropping the ash to the carpet and panicking—a tiny hole burned in the carpet—she will notice—nothing escapes her attention. She is like a soldier, always at attention for what needs to be done, what could go wrong….and at the next moment—how can this be made fun? Let’s liven things up here!
Age 15-16-- summer in the backyard pool is my retreat. Lying on my back in the lawn chair monitoring my suntan, floating on my back in the pool and disappearing into the clouds above me. Sufficiently tanned, blonde again—thanks to the bottle—and ready to go out with my girlfriends…boys, music, and clothes talk.
Age 17—I retreat to my room and my music. Dancing in the 4 ft. space in front of my mirror. Sketching, reading, dreaming and planning my escape from those that don’t know me anymore.
Age 19—sneaking in at 4 am from a date with my fiancée—she is up even though I am so careful to not make noise. She has radar for this stuff. She tells me “If you are engaged, then things are a little different.” I know she is talking about what I am doing until 4 am.
Age 22—bring my hippie boyfriend home to visit, try to act straight. They don’t know if I am going to make it, or I’m going to drop off the edge of the world. But they try to allow me my life.
Age 27—come home with big changes—spiritual path (turban and white everywhere) and my husband. They love him and they accept the changes. She says, “We don’t know why you have to do what you do, but we’re happy that you are happy.” That is her theme, and he went along with it. This is what I appreciate most about them even now.
Age 41---Grandma and Grandpa meet their new grandson. The little house is joyous, fun, lively, and, as always—welcoming. The boy begins to love to come to Strawberry Gramma (because of the red hair!) and “Cool man” Pappy’s house.
I feel better writing this. It has been a lot of change for all of us. I know it has been for both me and my sister, and even more for Mum. As much as this is about me, it is about this house, and it is about her. The soul of this house came from her. I want to honor that. I am honoring and blessings this house and the experiences that were mine though this family, this house, and most especially though my mom.
May 1, 2010