Tuesday, November 30, 2010

it's just another day

So I'm sitting here at my computer like it's any other day, working on this post. It is not, however, any other day. The movers have just arrived, and they walk in and out of the house, laying down mats to protect the hardwood floors and bringing in big stacks of collapsed cardboard boxes that they will fill with all our earthly belongings. They have already complained to us about how narrow our street is and how much stuff we have to move, so I am on the defensive and feeling a little irritated with them. Probably better that I just stay in my room and type.

Lucie and Rufus left yesterday. Julie and Andrew took them to their apartment in Maryland, where they will stay until we are more or less settled in our new house. I cannot begin to tell you how much I miss them. As irritated as I was with Lucie a couple of weeks ago, I desperately want her with me now. But I know it is absolutely for the best that she and Rufus are not here right now, as the movers go in and out and all over the house.

As if moving halfway across the country is not stressful enough, we really don't know when this house will be emptied out or when everything will arrive at the new house. Our understanding had been that they would come today and box everything up, then load it on the truck tomorrow. However, the huge truck is here now. We had been told we couldn't stay here tonight, but now the movers tell us we can. I am doing my best to go with the flow, something you all probably know I am not very good at. But I know that the big machine has started up and it will just keep grinding away until Ben and I and Lucie and Rufus and all our belongings are safely at our new home. By this time next week, I tell myself, we'll be all settled in. And, you know, we will.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

over the river and through the woods

As I have mentioned before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. When I was a kid, we used to go to my Aunt Louise's house. It was a big deal. I knew that because we all got new outfits. My mother would bake pies - pumpkin and pecan - contributions that would travel well, as we had the farthest to go.

As we drove along country roads, we passed an old stand-alone silo with "Fresh Cows" painted down the side of it. (Always a mystery to us kids, and I am still not exactly sure what it means.) We passed the prison farm, where on summer days we would sometimes see the inmates playing baseball or sitting on the bleachers cheering each other on. We saw cars pulled off the side of the road, and sometimes, we would see the hunters who had left them there heading out into the fields and woods. We drove through tiny crossroad towns with names that we loved: Erhart and Mallet Creek and River Styx.

My dad avoided the highways, so it took us a little longer than it might have, but when we finally arrived, we headed straight for the warm, fragrant kitchen. Aunt Louise would open the oven door so that we could see the huge turkey that seemed to fill the whole oven, already golden and glistening. I was instantly hungry, even though it was hours until dinner time. I still don't think anything compares with the aroma of a turkey or a chicken roasting in the oven.

As much as I loved the holiday meal, it was being with my extended family that made it a truly special day for me. We weren't a very big family, really. My widowed grandmother (my grandfather had died when my dad was only a child) my two aunts and their families, and the five of us. My dad was quite a bit younger than his sisters, so our cousins were all older than us. I just adored my older cousins, and they loved me right back. I hung on every word they said, and when I was very young I literally hung on them.

There wasn't enough room at the big oval table in the family room for all of us, so of course we sat at the kids' table. The problem with that was my brothers and I were the youngest kids, so it was just the three of us. It wasn't much fun to sit only with each other, as we did every day. One of our kind-hearted cousins, Butch or Greg, would come and sit with us, however, and I immediately felt included again.

It was dark and cold outside when we finally left, and sometimes my brother Bill would fall asleep on the way home, his head resting heavily on my shoulder. Truth to tell, sometimes I fell asleep, too. It's kind of funny. We spent our Thanksgivings there for maybe five years in a row - I don't know why we stopped going, I do know my aunts never liked my mother - but those five or so days are some of the best memories I have of my childhood.

I don't think my own kids have ever liked Thanksgiving all that well, and I am sorry for that, but it doesn't change how I feel about it. Everyone is on their way home to me today, and I couldn't be happier. I am glad we will celebrate the holiday here one last time before we move. It feels right to me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

this could be the last time

I have been trying very hard not to think in terms of "this is the last time I will do x" but the situation presents itself with increasing frequency these days. I don't know why I'm trying not to think that way because, really, that's how it is. Yesterday I took the dogs to the groomer's for the last time, as you know, but I also got my own hair cut here for the last time. I guess that's what started me thinking along these lines.

Going in to work for the last time was difficult, and I really hated taking the shop keys off my key ring and leaving them on Judi's desk. It made me feel a little better that she hated it, too. I haven't been back to the shop yet for my "last time" - perhaps I will do that while Julie is home for Thanksgiving.

I have read my last Record-Courier, the truly awful local newspaper. For the last few weeks, it has been arriving too late for me to read as I eat my breakfast, so Ben cancelled it. No great loss, I assure you. Cancelling the Plain Dealer, however, will be more difficult for me. I have been reading that newspaper my whole life, and it is hard to imagine starting my day without it. Hope I like the Baltimore Sun.

I also realized yesterday that there are some "last times" that I will be happy to observe. This thought came to me as I was trying to carry the dog crate out the front door, and the storm door slammed shut on my heel, as it frequently does. It was not quite as painful as it is in the summer when I am wearing sandals, but since I always wear clogs in cooler weather, it still clipped my heel a good one. Won't miss that!

There are some last times that don't even bear thinking about, so I won't. Having dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant. Walking around the campus together. Saying good-bye to the friends I've made here. Driving away from our little house for the last time.

Okay, I don't know about you, but this is bringing me down, and that's not the purpose of this blog. Next post: things I am looking forward to. ;)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

checking one more task off my list

The doggies are going to the groomer's today, and, boy, do they need it. They have needed to go for a while, actually, but Lucie got a bad ear infection, and I have been treating her ears with yucky medicine for more than a week. The medicine looks like Elmer's glue, but it is slimy instead of sticky. Twice a day, I have to squirt the medicine in each of her ears, then massage the ear, making sure it makes the correct squishy sound as I do so. I find that if I put Lucie up on the kitchen counter, she doesn't have any traction and can't get away from me.

Her ears look so slimy and awful that I tried giving her a little spot bath last week, but the dog shampoo that I have didn't even touch the greasy mess. I am pretty sure that whatever the groomer uses will take care of it, though.

I don't know who hates the trip to the groomer's more - me or the doggies. When we get there, Rufus hides behind my legs, and Lucie, whom I am carrying, tries to crawl up my front and sit on my shoulder. I have to be careful to wear a top that covers my neck and throat so that she can't claw me (she has drawn blood in the past) and it has to be a fabric that she can't snag. Hoodies work well.

I hate leaving the dogs there. They are so pathetic and resigned - well, Lucie tends more towards frantic, I guess. But I am always so happy to receive the phone call that they are finished and I can pick them up. When I get there, they come prancing out of the back room, looking just great. The are usually wearing seasonal bandanas, which they don't like, and I don't either, actually. What I love is when Lucie has a little bow on either side of her head. She just couldn't be cuter. I bundle them into the car, and get them back home as quickly as I can. They want big drinks of water and an immediate trip out back when they get here.

Going to the groomer's is an exhausting experience for Lucie and Rufus, and, safely home, they really just want to snuggle up next to me on the couch and sleep for a few hours. Which, I must say, dovetails nicely with my plans.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

saying good-bye to all sorts of things

Y'all know I am not a great outdoorswoman, like Sarah Palin or something, but, I tell you, I could not stay in the house today. I kept finding reasons just to be outside. I blew the last of the maple leaves out of the back yard that fell from our sad, old maple tree. Ben and I did all we could for that tree, but it was dying long before we moved here. A previous owner had built a ring of stones around the tree and filled it in with about a foot of dirt. I find it quite attractive now, with the myrtle we planted there, but all that dirt packed down on its roots started killing that tree right away. Now it looks like all the other trees in the neighborhood - leafless. We won't be here to see it leaf out in the spring. Nor anything else, for that matter.

I knew I would miss many of the good people I have met here over the past ten years, but I didn't realize it would be so difficult to leave all our plantings behind, as well. I thought about that as I swept oak leaves off the front deck today - something I do every day this time of year. Just in the front yard, there are the holly bushes we planted several years ago on either side of the garage door, for example. For some years, we had filled the big tubs the previous owners left us with geraniums and trailing vines, but it seemed we could never water them enough, and we had to buy new plants every year. When we planted the tiny holly bushes, I didn't realize that one would grow so much faster than the other, and I have spent the intervening years trying to even them up. They look just about even now, and their bright red berries are a harbinger of the coming winter.

All the leaves have fallen off the redbud, but the seed pods are still holding tight to the branches. I remember when we bought that little tree at Walmart (when we still shopped there) and Tom pushed the sapling around in a shopping cart as we made our other purchases. It was no bigger round than my thumb, and less than four feet tall. Ben and I argued about where to plant it, of course (I always want to plant things too close) and I think it is in the perfect spot now, so I probably won that argument. We planted a redbud at our old house, as well, and when we drive by there, it takes up the entire front yard. This tree will never do that here (the yard is bigger) but it is probably ten feet tall now. As I stroked its rough bark the other day, I thought that I will never see the delicate pale flowers appear on its branches again.

I won't see the wysteria bloom again, either. Ben bought that plant for me maybe the first spring we were here as a Mother's Day present. He planted it at the foot of an old pink dogwood at the corner of the front yard. We thought the dogwood was dying, but that it would be a good thing for the wysteria to climb. The wysteria has, indeed, been very happy to wind itself around the old tree, and I think it has actually been good for the dogwood, as well. All the water and fertilizer we lavished on the wysteria helped the dogwood, too, and we had beautiful pink flowers on it each spring. The dogwood trunk is totally hollow, now, though, and I suspect the sturdy wysteria entwined around it is now helping to hold it erect. There was no killing frost this spring as in past years, so we had more beautiful hanging wysteria flowers than ever before. The vines were so heavy with blossoms, they bowed down to the ground. That is how I will remember it.

I can't forget the little yellow rose bush that never quite caught on beside the front steps. This was a particularly difficult year for it, as the contractor building the deck stepped on it repeatedly until I asked him quite politely not to do it anymore. The primroses will be a colorful surprise for the new homeowners next spring. I wouldn't have thought I would like their garish colors of magenta and yellow against the vivid green leaves, but, you know, I quite do. I remember the year Julie revived them from the dead with gentle care (and lots of water). The clematis Ben and I planted several years ago hasn't really had enough time to make much of an impression, but I think it will be beautiful with its large, plate-size white flowers.

All this is just the front yard, folks. Perhaps another day we'll take a walk around the back yard. It was a big, empty box when we first moved here - just like our new yard will be. I can't wait to see what we'll plant there. It will be different from here, of course, but that's okay. That's good, in fact. It's time for a change, and I'm ready to embrace it. But first I have to say good-bye.

Monday, November 8, 2010

turn, turn, turn

I don't know why, but we have never liked the people to whom we sold our houses. We were happy in our first little house - the one we brought our babies home from the hospital to - but we quickly outgrew it. We found some buyers for it fairly quickly, and that was a good thing, but they really raised my hackles. The man pretty much told us that he was hiding from the company in Chicago where he had formerly worked, as he was perpetrating insurance fraud. His wife seemed to me to be functionally illiterate, and certainly had never graduated from high school. She was coarse and furtive in her ignorance. But they loved that little house, and, in fact, he told us it was his "dream house." How nice to be able to achieve that.

We raised our kids in the house in Eastern Heights, but when they grew up and went away to college, I just didn't want to live in that empty house anymore. Again, we sold the house fairly quickly, to a young family with four small children. I couldn't imagine that many kids in the house, but I was just happy to sell it. Even though Ben never met them, he had reservations about the buyers from the beginning, especially the man. We're going to have trouble with him, Ben kept saying, and, you know, we did. He started sending us strange, rambling letters not long after we moved, demanding that we pay for extensive repairs he felt the house needed. When we ignored his letters, we received a summons to appear in small claims court. The jerk was taking us to court! He lost, of course, didn't get a penny from us, and had to pay court costs. I remember the magistrate asking him, did you look at the house before you bought it? Did you buy it online? It would have been funny if Ben hadn't had to take time off work or we hadn't had to drive back to Elyria for the day.

All this is prelude to saying that we met the buyers of our current house yesterday. We are so pleased with them. They are a young, engaged couple (got engaged two weeks ago, we learned when I asked them) and they just kept telling us how much they loved this house. We knew right away, they said. That did my heart good, as Ben and I, too, knew right away about this little house. We put in an offer the day we saw it. It's nothing fancy, mind you. Those of you who have seen it know that. But the house has been just right for us, and I think it has blossomed under our care. And now that we have met Ben and Kara, I am reassured and happy to turn our home over to them. It is just right for them, too, and they will take good care of it. Again, I don't know why, but that matters to me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

a ghost story for an autumn evening

Spoiler Alert: I read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters last night. Eventually, I will be reviewing it here. If you haven't read it yet and are thinking about reading it, you may want to skip this post. I am giving it all away.

I have always been a mystery reader. Like most kids of my generation, I raced through the Nancy Drew books and my brother's Hardy Boys mysteries. Probably unlike most other children, I went on to read my father's Fu Manchu books, which for some inexplicable reason were stored on a low shelf in my bedroom closet. Next was his big book of Sherlock Holmes, which was more to my liking, and I have been reading mysteries pretty much ever since. Murder mysteries, police procedurals, cozy mysteries, ghost stories - I like 'em all. I like mystery series a lot, too, if I manage to get in on the ground floor and read the series straight through.

The pleasure for me, and I suspect all mystery readers, is to figure out "who-dun-it" before the author reveals all at the end of the book. It's a delicate balance. If I figure it out too soon, I feel the author has not done a clever enough job. If I don't figure it out at all, I'm a bit frustrated. I like my mysteries to be pretty formulaic. A crime is committed. Leads are pursued by one sort of detective or another. The guilty party is discovered. I don't like ambiguous endings. And when the author resorts to a clever trick like the unreliable narrator, I find that particularly infuriating.

The first time I ran into that particular literary device was in Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, one of the first books I read by the renowned mystery writer - and also the last. As I read the book, I picked up the clues the author placed for me, like Hansel and Gretel following the bright pebbles back out of the forest after their first successful foray into the darkness. I was so engaged, so trusting. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the author, whom I trusted absolutely, had deliberately led me down the wrong path. It seemed so unfair. It seemed like cheating. I was done with Agatha Christie, and have tried to avoid stories told by unreliable narrators ever since.

So, to review: no ambiguous endings, no unreliable narrators, oh, and very important, no harm to animals, especially dogs. I don't care what kind of murder and mayhem may rain down on the humans in the story (I watch SVU and Bones, remember) but I cannot bear to read about or think about harm to innocent creatures. The book I read last night turned out to have all three. Who knew?

It started out well enough. Set in post-WWII Britain, the author's story of a great house and a great family in decline are familiar enough territory, but she does it well. She takes her time setting the stage, which I like. I became concerned, however, when the first ghostly "incident" involved the beloved family dog. This better not be headed where I think it is, I thought, but it was. I soldiered on, skipping several of the worst pages, and managed to put that behind me. I realized fairly quickly that my narrator was not to be trusted, so I was on the lookout there, but I honestly did think the author would tell all in the end. She did not.

Oh, she left enough clues so I could figure it out to my satisfaction, but I was disappointed that here, too, she took me over such well-travelled ground. Bad things happened to people when the narrator was asleep (think Morbius and his raging id in Forbidden Planet or the Johnny Depp/John Turturro character in Secret Window). Eventually, the narrator has his heart's desire - not the girl, but the mouldering great house he had violated as a child and never forgotten. I have to say, I was very satisfied with the way the author bracketed the rest of the book with scenes of the narrator wandering alone in the huge, old house.

To tell the truth, I realize that I enjoy thinking back on the book more than I enjoyed reading it. Perhaps that's not so bad, as it will surely stay with me longer that way. It would have been nice to have both, though.

Friday, November 5, 2010

wheeling and dealing in the real estate market

If the housing market is still tanking, it's not my fault. I feel that we have more than done our part to aid the economy. In the past couple of months we have: sold our house, sold my dad's house, and bought a new house. It's weird how things time out like that. I mean, of course, after selling our own house we damn well better buy a new house pretty quickly, but to have sold my dad's house as well in the same time period is a little, well, it's overwhelming.

The sale of my dad's house turned out to be the easiest in the end. It sat on the market for six months with lots of viewings, but only one offer, which was so low as to not be taken seriously. That was partly our fault, as we priced the house too high initially, but I feel our realtor has to take most of the blame. We had no idea what a little Cape Cod that had been neglected for 35 years might fetch in today's market. Neither, as it turned out, did he.

I started to panic as our own house sold and it became clear that I would be moving before the end of the year. How could I sell my dad's house from out of state? Then, one day at work, I heard a woman discussing how her mother's house had been auctioned off and they had donated all the furniture. That's it, I thought. We could either just donate the house - something my dad had already suggested - or auction it off. Accordingly, I contacted the realtor with those suggestions. He was appalled at the idea of donating the house. You'll only get a tax write-off then, he told me. But we can auction it off for you. Would you like to do that?

Would I like to do that? Yes! As soon as possible. And that was all it took. One of his co-workers who is also an auctioneer contacted me about a month ago and assured me the house would be sold by the end of October. He also told me he could probably get us the asking price. I was thrilled and gave him the go-ahead.

I walked through the house the day before the auction. It was cold and empty and dirty, and I hated the house that day as much as I ever had. What an unhappy home it had been for my parents and my brother. I silently wished the new owners well, and walked out the door for the last time. The house sold the next day for $2,000 less than our asking price, which, really, we probably would have negotiated away in a regular sale. Less than a week later, the money was deposited in my dad's account. What a load off my mind. I can only hope the rest of our transactions go as well. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

star gazing

I saw the Big Dipper this morning. In these last days before the time change, it is still quite dark outside when I shuffle out in my pajamas and sweatshirt to collect the daily newspapers. I saw dozens of stars, and the moon, as well, but right above our house I recognized the stars that make up the Big Dipper.

I stood there in the driveway for a while, gazing upward and remembering the first time my dad pointed out the constellations to me. Our family was visiting one of his fraternity brothers, and while the wives and the other kiddies stayed in the house on that warm summer night, I only wanted to be outside with my dad and his friend as they smoked their cigars and reminisced. We sat in lawn chairs in the back yard as the sky darkened and the stars appeared. It must have been darker there than I was used to because the sky was just full of stars. My dad pointed out the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper with the North Star at its tip.

I was fascinated. So much so that I went home and memorized a poem from a reading book my aunt had given me. She was an elementary school teacher at the time, and the book must have been from a series they were no longer using. I loved that book and read it from cover to cover many times. I knew right where to search for it in the attic today, and when I found it, the book mark I made probably fifty years ago was still marking this poem.

The Man in the Moon

The man in the moon as he sails the sky
is a very remarkable skipper,
but he made a mistake when he tried to take
a drink of milk from the Dipper.
He dipped right out of the Milky Way,
and slowly and carefully filled it.
The Big Bear growled, and the Little Bear howled,
and frightened him so that he spilled it!

And yes, I wrote most of that from memory. I am amazed at the things I can't remember from day to day, and equally amazed by what remains. I'm going to read my book now. Reading Today Series: Stories Old and New...