The Old Homestead

My apartment building is separated by a tenant parking lot from the garage at the other end of the parking lot. It’s a small garage, one bay. There is no advertising or signage posted signifying that it is a business. Whomever is renting that space, however, works on antique and classic cars, and you often see one or more of them parked in front or beside it. Because it is a garage, there are often loud revs of an engine throughout the day, and it sounds like it’s coming from a vehicle having no muffler. Like living near a firehouse or an airport, you eventually get used to the occasional sound that breaks the silence.

For some reason, there has been a car they’ve been working on for the last week or so, and it must be a bugger to fix. Every day, at least twice a day, the quiet is broken by the multiple revs of the engine, a knocking sound as soon as they stop, some additional revs and again the knocking, then either the car stalls out or they turn off the engine. It is beyond loud and last long enough to be unable to ignore it. It’s really been bothering me the past few days, and it got me to thinking about how my ideal home would be set somewhere where it’s quiet, back away from the road and with no businesses directly nearby. I saw one recently, set back off the street, surrounded by trees on three sides and immediately thought to myself, “Yes, like that!” The house, however, had a very dark exterior, and on the gray and gloomy day that I drove by it, a little bit of imagination could make one wonder if the place was haunted.

Well, that got me thinking about the house I grew up in, which had a much brighter exterior. It was brick, the brick color a kind of light mustard sand look, a big window that was framed with shutters and a window box underneath. There is a fond memory of my mother choosing the shade she wanted on the shutters and window box to change it from a kind of olive green it was originally painted in, came back, because she chose the color elderberry. Oh, how many times, when she was giving new visitors directions to our house, she would say, ‘Look for the one with the purple shutters and window box!”

The house was brand new when it was purchased in 1966, a big investment back in those days of over $20,000. At the time, it had the most modern appliances available, and hardwood floors and even a driveway. It was the first time I’d ever seen a bathtub that didn’t have claw feet (and to be honest, I was a little afraid of it at first!). Then my mind took me on a virtual tour of the old homestead, with all of the improvements that had been made over the 30 years my parents owned it. Visually, I entered the front door (seldom used except by “special” visitors and to check for mail). Room by room, my mind visited each square foot of the place I called home. Some rooms had even served different purposes throughout those years – for example, my dad’s office in the lowest level became my bedroom when my grandmother moved in with us, and later became the first room my mom used when she started teaching ceramics. I can still vividly recall the dark paneling that covered our family room walls, with windows at ground level. I thought about each room first from a memorable place, and then went back and looked at it as an interior designer or new home seeker would see it. By today’s standards, it would qualify as a “starter home” for a first-time buyer, but it served our family of five for 30+ years. Today, I can see how small each of the three bedrooms actually was, how I might design the kitchen differently, etc. I can see how small the second bathroom my dad installed in a small room off the family room really was. Even when the driveway first had a carport installed and much later, was turned into an interior room, large and full of windows, where my mom’s growing ceramic business moved into. While, in the many years we lived there, we never had need to use the bomb shelter that was built into the lowest part of the house for what it was intended, it became a useful place for my mom to fire her ceramic pieces in the kiln.

My mind took a trip outside to the back of the house. At the end of our property, the ground had a bit of a slope, and was turned into what we called “Mom’s Rock Garden”. It stretched side-to-side of the property and covered the entire slope. There were some large rocks strategically placed throughout the area, and mostly mountain laurel grew and spread slowly throughout the dirt. To this day, it still surprises me that my mom actually enjoyed going out there to weed, which she did in sections, which means the by the time she got to the other end, the beginning needed weeding again. If you knew my mom, you’d understand why it would surprise me that she would want to go out and get her hands dirty like that…. but she did!

And the three lilac bushes that bordered the bottom side of the garden. One in white, one in lavender, one in dark purple. Oh, how I miss those – miss sticking my face up against them and inhaling deeply while the blossoms covered the stems. To this very day, and because of those bushes, my favorite scent is lilac…

Of course, dad’s shed was up against the back of the house, and we gave it its own address by adding 1/2 to our house number and having that address carved into a wooden sign that he hung on the door. My dad could fix and repair a lot of things, and he enjoyed the opportunity to tinker in his shop.

Once I’d covered all of the area, I imagined myself going back to my vehicle, climbing in and just sitting there looking at the front. I chose to ignore that the front wasn’t as pristine as when we lived there and that my mother’s holly bush, the only greenery besides the grass and the shrubbery planted against the house, was gone. That made me sad.

My mind then processed that, although this house will always represent “home” to me in my memories, it can never be home again. Whomever has lived in the house since my parents sold it has changed the vibes inside the walls of that house, and they can never be duplicated or replaced.

Finally getting that for the first time has brought me some peace in finally being okay with letting go. I don’t want to drive by it ever again out of a need to see it, to feel close to it somehow. I understand now that I may never be able to physically go home again, but I can feel what “home” was to me in my heart.

And no, I am not going to give the people revving engines a thank you for the insight!

Tent Dresses and Nancy Drew

For those if you not old enough to know or remember this, a tent dress is an A-line garment with the capital letter “A” shape being the narrowest at the neckline and the widest at the hem. It is shaped like a typical A-frame tent, hence the name. The tent dress was first made popular in the 1960s when women’s dresses became much less structured in style than the cinch-waist, much more tailored dresses of the 1950s.

What does that have to do with Nancy Drew books? I realize there is no real similarity, yet both items co-habitated for many years in my childhood bedroom closet.

My mother was never a ‘fashionista’, but she bought good clothing with classic lines that stood the test of time. She always took very good care of her clothing, so it stayed around. My mother was also a school teacher and started her children early on appreciating books. Birthdays and Christmas always included Nancy Drew (and the occasional Bobbsey Twin) books for me, and Hardy Boy books for my brothers. I credit her for developing my love of reading and Nancy Drew for developing my enjoyment of mystery stores, which remains my favorite genre.

My mother had a philosophy that, if you didn’t use something for six months, you probably could do without it. Old toys, games and books were passed on into the hands of children who would use them once we outgrew them. And thus, when I was just hitting my teens, those Nancy Drew books (I’d developed quite a collection) made it into the hands of younger children to enjoy. But, the tent dresses stayed tucked away in my the back of my closet. They’d gone “out of style” in less than 10 years, but my mother was certain that they would come back in style again. (Out of respect, I will say that her belief was correct, as they did make a very short reprieve in 2007.)

Meanwhile, only as an adult did I understand that, while she denied us the right to hoard things, she didn’t apply this rule to herself. There was sheet music that was tattered and yellowed with age kept tucked away; there were rows and rows of shelves my dad put up in our basement family room so she could store all of her books, there were big fat photo albums that held photos numbering in the thousands that she carefully put on those old sticky pages and stacked on a lower shelf of her bookshelf, and there were those tent dresses, covered in plastic bags from the dry cleaners and nestled in that corner of my closet.

When my dad finally retired and my parents made the decision to move to Florida, I was already grown and out of the house. Though I didn’t help with packing for their move, I suspect those dresses finally made their way to the Goodwill store, along with many other things from the household. After years of hand-me-down and ‘functional’ furniture, they were taking only their bed – which would be put in the second bedroom as an homage to Pennsylvania – and everything else would be new. Even the books, or most of them, didn’t make the cut when it came to packing to move.

By the time the short reprieve of the tent dress happened in 2007, my mother had passed away. I think, were she still living, she’d have been unhappy with making the choice to let them go. I never really understood her commitment to this style of dress, because she didn’t have a figure that needed to be hidden (mom was 5’0″ tall and, when she hit 120 on the scale, she dieted).

Or maybe I would have understood. Even though my reading has matured to a level that is beyond the storyline of Nancy Drew books, I still wish I had them. There purpose and significance in my life hold a full childhood of memories, and I know just looking at them all lined up would bring back those memories in more vivid detail. Perhaps there was a significance in my mom’s life that coincided with the trend of tent dresses, and that’s the reason she held on to them for so long?

I’ll never know and wish she were still here so I could ask her. Meanwhile, I still miss my Nancy Drew books…..