Monday, August 28, 2006

Formal dress not required

I did my civic duty and tidied up the common driveway today, shoveling up a spilled bag of charcoal which someone had dropped the other day. I came in and promptly got out of my dirty, sweaty jeans and was about to turn the shower on when the smoke alarm started blaring away. Mega decibels and there I am naked and not knowing what to do next. I threw on all the dirty clothes while looking through papers to find the landlord's phone number. Rushed down the steps and placed the call.

Two handymen showed up in about five-ten minutes. These guys are cute. They've already patched my kitchen screen and given me a new mailbox. They're probably a little younger than me. I hope they don't think I'm finding excuses to have them over. Then again, what's the harm? We decided that it may have been some "dust" which triggered the bloody alarm. Not sure. Great. Next time I'll be sleeping and in my nightgown. Ray and George and I are certainly getting acquainted.

Do you think the household ghosts are having some fun at my expense? Maybe they're nudging me back into the world of men.

Where there's smoke, there's fire.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ghosts and posts

It's a dark and stormy night and a perfect time for some out-of-this-world news. I thought I'd post some intriguing notes about these past couple months. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Mr. Pipe may still be hanging around my daughter's house. I went to hang up Hannah's dress in her closet the other day and caught a faint whiff of ... pipe smoke. I actually spent the night at Jenn's. Unfortunately, Mrs. Kitchen did not surprise me with breakfast the next morning. But there are surprises galore regarding the ghosts in our closets.

I have been told by my researching daughter that the house I've chosen is actually the same space occupied by Mr. Pipe's and Mrs. Kitchen's son and his family in the 1920s. Mere coincidence or are Jenn and I really meant to discover the Richmonds and learn something about them? From them? What do they have to teach us?

Let me fill you in a bit more. Tree (of the amazing tattoo and psychic ability) told me that she was getting a sense of "multiples of twos" and my mom's presence when she thought about my moving on up to the Berkshires. In fact, she told me that she felt that the choice of the house was "already decided". Now this was before I had even selected or looked at the place I took. Somehow my mom was communicating the location to Tree. My mom died in 1985.

This is how the deal went down. I was on a long waiting list for this particular place and, therefore, didn't even think anymore about pursuing it when I drove up to Jenn's to look at properties. I didn't even call the realtor about it. By the end of a week's worth of house and apartment hunting (almost in a panic because I still had not found something), I got an unexpected call from the landlady telling me that this unit was suddenly open for me. It's an upper floor of a duplex and set right in the middle of a row of duplex apartments. "Multiples of two." It was built on the foundation of the old houses which were once situated on a Magnolia street or lane almost a century ago. Jenn has reminded me that magnolia is a symbol for perseverance.

Once I signed the lease, the fun began. Jenn went through the local archives and found out that my upper unit is, indeed, the exact place the Richmonds lived. They had four children and little Buddy was the boy who died at age four in 1930.

Jenn has already taken me to the cemetery to meet the Richmonds. We do seem to have this thing about cemeteries, don't we?

What were the odds, randomly, of my choosing my new house and actually making a connection to Jenn's friendly household spirits? Tree was right. This was not purely chance.

The house chose me.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Hay and Propane

I don't have to pinch myself to realize that I have made the move to small-town life. All I have to do is open the local yellow pages and see the above listings to know that it's a whole new ball game. There is still much to be done and I have read and re-read all your wonderful and practical comments on how to unpack and get on with my life.

These past two weeks have sped by even though I'm no longer in the fast lane of city living. The bedroom and living room and bathroom are mostly comfy and settled. The dining room and study hold many more boxes awaiting my attention because I've been helping out at Jenn's while she was away on a mission of her own this past week. We have had only a few brief moments together since I arrived but it's already starting, that mom-daughter dance. Jenn has reminded me of my table manners and our decorating differences more than once. For this I moved 300 miles.

Toss that hay and light that propane - city gal is a hankerin' for a hayride with that deputy sheriff. Actually, there seem to be a lot of stray men my age wandering around. I hope daughter doesn't think I'll need a chaperone. There's even a local bowling alley. Drats. I should have kept the bowling ball.

So now it begins. I'm somewhere between Sex and the City and the Golden Girls. I'll figure it out.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Law and order

I've been sleeping at the kids' because the bed is still not up. Sophie has given me her bed and is sharing space with her daddy while mommy is in a distant state making friends with Gloria Putnam Smith. (See Jenn's blog.)

I'm checking out my new neighborhood. I do the grandmother thing today and take the girls to a local playground which is just a few short blocks from my house. "My house". It's starting to settle in. Sophie swings on the monkey-bars and Hannah learns how to climb a net. I watch an older gent pushing his two grandsons on a tire swing. Hmm ... I smile and make small talk. Not bad. Babci's checking out the neighbors too. I figure it's safer in a playground than a parking lot.

The girls and I walk back to "my house" and I take them on to the porch and feed them chips and ice water and you would think I've given them a happy meal from McDonald's. They watch me open the most gorgeous sunflowers sent by a cyberspace buddy. Mucho thanks, Geogirl! The flowers now grace my living room. Hannah strokes my mom's large, multi-colored afghan and exclaims: "These colors are very pretty. I like this blanket." I am beaming. My mother, wherever she may be, is beaming too. I'm sure of it.

Grandparents are plentiful this week. David's parents are in town making their annual pilgrimage from Calgary. The girls are getting smothered with attention. I'm glad to share as I have lots to do in "my house". I take the girls downstairs and we wait for Bubba and Grandpop George to pull up; it's now their special time for lunch with the munchkins.

Just as their car arrives in the common driveway, another guy pulls up in back. He wanders into the duplex next to mine and comes out as I'm waving goodbye to the girls. I look at him and smile and he smiles and announces that he's a local sheriff. Was he serving a warrant to my next-door neighbors?! I ask him if the neighborhood is, like, user friendly? He assures me that it's really a good place and that I should just phone him up if I have any concerns. Phone him. Anytime. He then hands me a business card and in one breath lets me know that he's a) a bachelor b) 67 years old c) works in law and order d) goes out a lot but has an answering machine. He pulls out. I wave. I look at the business card: deputy sheriff, notary public, and auctioneer.

I'm in town less than a week and I've already met a guy who's good with handcuffs and respects antiques.

Things are looking up.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Simple pleasures

I'm sitting at Jenn's house borrowing David's laptop while the girls are watching Sesame Street. It's hard to believe that Bob and Gordon and Maria are all ready for AARP membership. I see that the past thirty years have taken their toll on the original cast but heck I'm older and a bit longer in the tooth too (if you count crowns). What a joy to have Hannah and Sophie propped on either side and watching a show that I watched with Jenn on my lap so long ago. Score one for the home team.

It's a good morning. I managed to step into the shower last night and wash the grime away. It was not just physical but also a psychological need for cleansing - washing away the mental dirt the movers left in their wake. I slept at the kids' last night as my bedroom is still not set up. In fact, it's in quite a chaotic state. David and I wanted these guys to unload my stuff as quickly as possible and get the heck out that horrid night. So the bed frame and hardware are lying on the floor next to the propped mattress and box springs keeping the strewn dresser drawers company. The drawers are a mess as most of the brackets have detached and need tending. A lot needs tending. But a lot got done yesterday.

I had to force myself to go back into the house. Strangest thing. I felt that these jerks had contaminated my new home.

Solution: see the place through a fresh innocence. I took Sophie for the afternoon and we explored the whacky world of Babci's boxes and furniture. When you're five years old, every stack of boxes is a castle tower and every room contains hiding places. We played hide and seek. She was easy to find by the giggles emanating from behind the mattress or the closet.

A real moving company would have carefully brought in each box and paid attention to the directions of where to go. Instead, I have a dining room almost filled to ceiling with most of my boxes. Luckily, one of the first I opened, after Sophie and I had our lemonade on my private porch and discussed how to arrange my future garden, was a box containing a bag of plastic horses and figures that Sophie's mom played with as a kid. Sophie took each out and was enthralled. She hugged the golden palomino and named her "Bella". I explained that the name meant beautiful. The moment was beautiful. Sophie was spreading her fairy dust throughout the house. Her giggles and delight and sweet, sweet voice started to lift my spirit and dispel the bad air left by the movers.

How do you move into a place quickly? I can't and for now I decided to create two small oases of comfort: my living room couches and the back porch. Jenn, bless her, found a delightful little vintage bistro set for the back porch along with new plants including a "hardy Mum". Appropriate, eh?

My eyes were still bloodshot but this hardy mum was digging her way through the boxes unearthing lots of treasures for Sophie. Next I found some old photos of my mother as a child of nine or ten, dressed in her first communion dress, long dark hair framing her pretty face. I showed Sophie the picture and we both agreed that she does look like Nanny Mary. Then I showed her Mary's mother and told her that this woman was her great-great-grandmother and that this was my Babci. I also told her that this lady had been orphaned when she was little, had older sisters to take care of her, and that she and my mom were so poor that they would play with dolls made out of rags and remnants.

Sophie took this all in and then we decided that each time we use something special from the past, we will try to remember the person who first had it. Sophie wants to be a veterinarian and a dressmaker when she grows up. So I opened an old box marked "Mom's sewing stuff" and there we were amidst my mom's past: her needles, threads and thimbles. I told Sophie that we could use Nanny's threads to sew new clothes for her dolls and we looked at all the lovely colors. One particular spool of blue caught my eye and I instantly saw my Mom in the dress which matched this thread. She came so alive to me in that moment.

I continued to open and move things around through the rest of the afternoon while Sophie contentedly played with her mom's horses and then fell asleep under my mom's crocheted afghan, snuggled on my sofa. What a picture. What a beautiful memory.

Welcome home.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Long day's journey into night

I didn't expect to be curled in a fetal position on my granddaughter's bed this morning ... this was to be the morning of new beginnings, early-morning coffee and maybe even the dreaded cinnamon bun with Jenn and David at the local coffee shop. Not.

My son couldn't be here but had some trepidations about "movers and scams". He was following a reliable gut instinct. I kind of pooh poohed his concerns but then encountered his worst fears - a shady company and a con game.

My trusting nature and lack of time to do the proper research for the moving company that was to handle all my modest earthly belongings did me in. They came, they saw, I was taken. Have you ever heard of waiting on an outside porch from 9:30pm until almost 4:00am for the movers to show up with their truck? It's hard to even write it about it yet. Jenn has and David, bless him, is a mensch. In my mind, he's Han Solo in Birkenstocks. The man is a dragonslayer.

I'm here, sleepless in Massachusetts (except for this morning's brief nap at 7am) and I just looked in the mirror to confirm that I'm still here and tried a smile ... a genuine "God it's great to be alive" smile just to erase the Bosch smiley scream that was forming during the wee hours of the morning. It was easier to smile with the sun shining and two little imps running around in princess dresses. Yes, that's the real world. Let them be innocent and naive for a bit longer. When it's time for them to know about the schemers and the liars, I'll be glad to teach them the lesson I learned last night.

Oh, Jenn was right too. I managed to lose my checkbook on the trip up.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sacred spaces

I went to the cemetery today on my way to work. I probably should have been in the apartment packing but I knew that I had an important appointment to keep ... with my family.

"The gang" as my Dad so fondly called them were waiting silently beneath a brilliant cloud-swept blue sky and neatly clipped grass. Two families, close in life, still close in death. My maternal and paternal grandparents' plots are only a couple hundred yards apart. They were immigrants who settled in Philadelphia and whose children fell in love. From family stories and old photos, I can tell that the merging of the clans was filled with fun and good humor. There were picnics and haystacks and live music. These people knew how to enjoy themselves even though they were living through some pretty rough times (Depression and WWII). Yes, there were family feuds and jealousies and some sad times too. But it all seemed to play out well in the end. Here there is such a feeling of peace.

I remember coming here as a kid with my Babci (mother's mom) so we could place a blanket on the grass and have a kind of picnic at my granddad's grave. There were old-fashioned water pumps throughout the cemetery and I was always sent with glass jars or buckets to pump the water and bring it back to sprinkle the many flowers my grandmom would plant and tend at her husband's place of rest. This was a part of the grieving process.

These simple immigrants did not forget their dead. The ritual of gardening brought healing. The graves were not seen as ominous but as welcomed spots of rest for the living. There were conversation and laughter and memories shared on a blanket over the place where a loved one lay.

Years later, the cemetery decided that it was too much of a bother to maintain the flowers on the graves. Signs went up and flowers were banned. By then my grandmother already had her place next to her husband. I was glad that she didn't live to see the stark landscape that replaced the flowers of the families who mourned. Bureaucracy is so sterile and clueless.

I just know that, as a child, I never felt more alive than when running with the water lapping out of my bucket and bringing it to my grandmother sitting and smiling on her blanket. It felt like such an important task to be entrusted with.

Those childhood memories came back with a rush as I knelt and touched the cool stones today and told my folks that I would be leaving the neighborhood. I blessed them all and asked them to keep an eye out for me in my new location.

Somehow, I think they heard me.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

With a little help from my friends

Enough is enough. I sent everyone home. You can tell that I worked poor Geogirl to exhaustion and my other friend, Joann, took to playing Jane of the Jungle with my potted plant. I knew then that both had over committed.

Geo and I had never met in person until this weekend when she showed up at my door and stayed over to give me a hand. An Internet friendship has grown even deeper as we got to know each other through funny stories and revelations while she climbed ladders and dismantled my hardware. Bless you, Geo. Joann and I have worked together for the past few years and she knew I needed help so she appeared just after Geo left. More time for personal stories and sharing while we wrapped and boxed the large paintings and prints which Geo had taken down from the walls.

Much has gotten done this weekend thanks to my friends. The pictures are bubble-wrapped and many of the dishes packed. I found things I didn't know I still had (my parents' bedroom mirror) and things I wish I hadn't (bowling ball from first boyfriend).

In one more week, I will have to get my act together and get it all out the door and myself up to the Berkshires. I am working full time through Friday. One more weekend for good friends to stop by and push me along. I could never do this alone.

Thanks, guys! You have a standing invitation to visit me in my new home.