Not In Kansas Anymore...

Click your heels, and see if home is where you hang your hat, or somewhere else inside yourself as this simple, postmodern girl takes on L.A.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Aaaaaand just when I take a breath and think things are calming down a bit....

.....My dad emailed today and said they'd bought a new house for their retirement years. Not only THAT, but they were moving in a MONTH!! Now, I knew they'd wanted a house all on one level ( the family home is a split level) for when they were older, sooner than later. They'd spoken about this before, and the idea was that they wanted to stay in their own home as long as possible was they aged, and they reasoned it was wise, before they became more squeaky in the knees or god forbid, frail, they should have a home that was better designed for old people. Mind you, my dad JUST turned 65, regularly goes out with his re-enactment group and shoot cannons and hauls euqipment around; he still does all of the maintainence work on the house. My mom still gardens in the yard like a mad woman and cooks and cleans and shops and is all kinds of on-the-go. Thusly, I felt it was a bit premature, to worry about such things, but I also was glad that they were responsible and realistic enough to consider things such as that. ('ve often worried about The Years Ahead since I'm not there, and Brother, while certainly nearby, might possibly not be vigilant enough....)
Anyway, they've been fixing up and renovating The Homestead home for some time, and I suppose I thought, "Well, now they've gotten it how they wanted it and so they can back off and rest and enjoy it now." I was wrong!! Suddenly they bought a HOUSE, and this is the first I hear of it? They're moving next month?? How are they going to sell The Homestead in this market? ( Although, I imagine it's this market that made the house they're moving into-- a very nice neighborhood nearby-- quite affordable.)

After I got over the initial shock (and yes, irritation that they'd pull something like this without telling my brother OR me anything til it was practically said and done), I just became very sad. I know I'm already in this loss zone : the whole crushing heartbreak of MC, then my Uncle G died last week. I didn't really mention it, because.....well, we knew it was coming. Uncle G had esophageal cancer and had hospice in-house at his home in Wichita. My parents had gone out to visit him shortly before he passed, and it was apparent he wasn't going to last the summer. However, HE died months sooner than we had expected, and so that was a little kick to the gut. I loved my Uncle G. When I was little I had a big ol' crush on him! I thought he was the coolest, most handsome guy I'd ever seen. Next to my dad, of course. Anyway, he spoiled me with alot of attention before he got kids of his own. And his wife thought I was the sweetest child, she called me "The Pumpkin"-- even a couple of years ago when I'd sent a Christmas card! I didn't get to see Uncle G before he died, although I sent a card detailing how much I loved him and would always keep him in my heart. What else can you do? ( My dad, it should be noted, is a fucking wreck. This is his baby brother, and as I've mentioned before, he doesn't deal with emotional shit well. He and my mom went out for the funeral in Kansas, and according to my brother, he's been weird ever since. I guess that's to be expected, but I watch and wait and wonder about the weirdness that is yet to come. ). It's been kind of a rough June.

So I'm feeling vulnerable. But my brother called and was like, "We grew up in that house!" so he freaked for a minute, too. At least I'm not alone in that. But he's rolling with it better--which I pointed out was probably because he lives THERE and not more than a mile away! He can go by whenever he wants. Which makes a difference, believe it or not.....
To me, I guess, that house signifies home in some fashion or another, in a really primal way. And since I live all the way out here in LA and hate it, sometimes I'm just comforted by the fact that its there. Brother is there three or four times a week to eat dinner and do laundry, so it's not the same. He's not lived in an entirely other world for the past 6 1/2 years, feeling lonely and sad and homesick. I know this is MY issue; not feeling like I *have* a home, really--you know? If I liked living in LA or whatever, I'd feel a little better and maybe closer to my brother's orientation about the change. I've felt like some displaced person for years, even though LA is, technically, "home"- as in I live here and have a rooted life and attachments that would be hard to just up and leave behind. However, I go back to the Midwest and yes, it's "home" too--as in, it's where I came from, still carry the values of, and still find feelings of comfort, surity and safety there. But it isn't REALLY, anymore-- I've outgrown it and can't see myself back there long term ( something, BTW, that I told MC over and over again before I was there in May, and he agreed to, but when I saw how ....shackled he was to his obligations there, made me wonder how the hell he'd figured on leaving and therefore, how anything would ever work out between us. ). At any rate, going back and forth for visits and such practically give me The Bends, emotionally ( my friend Evie and I actually have a name for it: LA Re-entry Syndrome, symptoms of which include extreme relief to be out of a small cow-town and back into a "real city", homesickness for said cow-town and the people you love there, and panic and depression when you realize that the "real" city you're back in is actually a hellpit and yes, you really live here. It passes in a few days, but it's rough, let me tell you.).

What I'm saying is, I realize my freaked-outedness is coming from many other sources other than the usual ones, like nostalgia and long-term attachments to a place. Nonetheless, those are full in and of themselves, as well. I mean....

One might be surprised by that since I had a really, really craptacular childhood there, but I really am very sentimental about that house.....I've since been able to separate all the bad shit from the good things about my childhood and adolescence I'd like to keep, and so much of it is tied up in there. My ROOM, of all places, was one place I always felt safe in. When I was a teenager, I hid up there and listened to music and wrote and painted, and my parents, for all their failings, left me be and respected my privacy. I had so many important conversations with friends there, so many great formative moments listening to records that would really define my coming of age; I got ready for proms there, dreamt there, made plans for my future escape there.
In the rest of the house there is my brother's room, where I changed his diapers and put him to bed. We had a wood-burning stove in the family room I learned to make a fire in, and sat by when I got cold. All my memorable Christmases were in that house ( as much as I hate Christmas, my mother makes all the effort to do it up, let me tell you.).
I just took MC around that house when I was there in May, telling him all about my adventures as a kid, showing him the yard and all my little special spots for doing Things That Girls Do, like picking flowers and having my own plot in the family garden out back ( I grew carrots; they didn't come out well. My dad had lettuce, corn, bell peppers, tomatoes- a Midwest staple that quickly grows out of control to such an extent that by the end of summer, people are literally giving them away. There are handpainted signs on almost every major street announcing "TOMATOES! FREE!". And let me tell you, they are the best tomatoes in the world! Can't get them like that out here, that's for sure.). I showed him how the building itself had changed ( still has a few odd side doors and a stairwell we can't explain) and we pondered its life before it became a home ( we imagined maybe a boarding house?). I showed him where my mom planted irises before they put in a front patio set, and where there used to be a mullberry bush I'd eat from (and eventually grew to hate the taste of!). I talked about the persimmon trees that would pelt the ground with their sickenly sweet fruit in mulitudes, and how they used to hang over the driveway , before my dad mercifully cut them down. I showed him the hills we sledded on and the stump of the big maple tree that I cried about when it finally died and had to be removed 5 years ago. It is VERY poignant to me that I was showing this to my love to tell him all about where I came from, and what I didn't know at the time was, I was looking at it all for the last time.

It's just hard to imagine having holidays anywhere else; I always thought I'd announce my engagement there someday. But, I guess that's something I have to come to terms with. This new house is very nice from what I can tell, and I'm sure all their old crap will be there, and as Sassy said, "it will be all their old crap in new places, which will be weird", but perhaps I'll get used to it. I'm sure it will be lovely, and maybe, lovely things will also happen there as well. I suppose we'll see.

But I did write my dad back today, and while I graciously congratulated him on this new venture, I asked him a favor:

When I was growing up, both my parents worked and so I spent many days at my grandmother's house. She lived on in a house my grandfather built and my mother had grown up in, on a hill in a neighborhood about a mile away. When my MOTHER was a child, she was out goofing around one day with a packet of violet seeds, and somehow ( I don't remember the details) ended up kind of higgeldy-piggeldy planting them all over the front yard. Well, as fate would have it, my grandpa went out not too shortly thereafter to cut the grass, and in the process of doing so, the lawnmower threw the seeds everywhere. A few weeks later, my grandmother looked out there to discover violets scattered all over her yard and down the front of the hill. By the time I arrived on the scene, some 20 years later, her hill was covered with the little purple flowers.
Of course, I became obsessed with them, and picked a million and half, probably, before I was even 10. And when I was bored at my own house on the weekends, I'd go looking for them in our yard. (Violets aren't really scarce in that part of the country,-they grow wild- so there'd usually be a small handful or so. ) One afternoon, I found a jackpot all over the hill in our backyard, and picked and picked and picked till I had a large bouquet. When I brought them into my mom, she said, "You know, Jessica, that part of the yard isn't ours. It belongs to Mrs. B. I think the next time you wander that far, you should say hello and ask her if it's okay to pick her flowers." I think my mom was being a little overly concerned, since violets aren't something you really PLANT, per se, but in I also think perhaps she was worried that Mrs. B., a crochety widow who lived alone, would snap at me for no good reason, and it was best to appease her up front.
So, the next time I went back there and Mrs. B. was in her part of her yard, I did. She was a little brusque at first, but then warmed up. I think she kind of liked the idea of having a little girl around-- I don't know what happened to her kids, but for some reason, she chatted with me now and again and seemed to sort of take a liking to me.

Then one day, I was out there and my dad was too, for some reason. My dad mentioned to her how I really liked her hydragea bush ( I called it a "snowball tree"- the big blooms where pristine white and solid like snowballs). They spoke for a bit, and I don't really know what exchange took place, but when it was all said and done, my dad announced to me, "Mrs. B. said you could have a piece of her tree to plant as your own, to grow your own snowball tree. Isn't that nice? Go and thank her. " I did, and was really excited at the idea of growing my own little special flowers, just for me. She seemed very pleased that she could give me something.
We planted that little seedling-- and it was little!-- and it grew like crazy. From when I was about 8 til about 12, every year it just got bigger and bigger and made bigger and bigger blooms. There was one year when I was about in that age range where my little guy looked like it wasn't going to make it through the winter, but man, it held ON. Even the tree it was next to got cut down, and it just grew MORE. By the time I was about 17, it was way over my head. My brother and his friends used to pick the flowers off and throw them at each other like actually snowballs, and they'd burst, sending showers of the miniature flowers all over the ground like actual snowflakes ( this activity pissed me off, but the tree never suffered, and more flowers came back regardless.).

That tree is still in my parent's backyard today, 32 years later. I don't know what happened to Mrs. B; beyond the occasional hello, she sort of retired back to her house and I don't recall interacting with her much after that. She was probably almost 70 when I knew her so I know she's long gone. But the tree remains, and I'm forever grateful to my dad and her for allowing me to give that little experiment a go; I am very attached to that tree and proud of it, like a little girl would be, to this day. So, when my dad told me they planned to move, I insisted that the tree be dug up and taken with them, or at least another cutting to grow another. I can't come and get it and put in my own yard ( it wouldn't survive out here), or else I would, for certain. But I always imagined I would, when I had a yard of my own, to keep it going, and I want the chance to do that someday, still, when I finally do find that place of mine in the world that is "home" in the true sense and I have an actual, physical residence there.

He said he would. I hope he remembers ( because if he doesn't, I'm going to have to come back there with a shovel and explain things to the new owners. And if they don't seem reasonable, I'm going to have to sneak in at night with friends I've roped in, and I KNOW said friends will be totally pissed, and so will my dad, when I end up planting it in his NEW yard.). It's really important to me. We can't hold on to anything forever, which sounds cliche, but seems to be hitting home more and more to me these days and life is going by so fucking fast lately, but I want to believe we can move with it while still keeping things close that hold meaning and the memory of good times past as we leap into the unknown future. I think for me, it's important to be able to try to do that when things seem so wobbly and strange and uncertain, and I wonder about my life as I watch it morph and change-- beyond my control at times--and segueway into what this next stage of life is that is about to come.