November 26, 2009
I've been back in Fairhope for just over a week and the dust of Hoboken is still on my shoes. My work is cut out for me, with the help of friends and family cleaning out the old family homestead and getting it rented or sold. I leave Tuesday morning and will probably return to Fairhope for the month of February. After a Thanksgiving holiday I'll have to hustle to get the last things done.
It isn't easy going back into a former life and facing the emotions of loss and regret. The house I grew up in has become, after our mother's death, a sore point for my brother, my sister, and I. There is the question hanging over us as to what we do with the property. We three have considerable difficulty looking at the historic house as a property instead of "home," with all its positive and negative connotations. The three children are at odds and it feels like the rift may not ever heal.
This has caused a stalemate at the house, which has been on the market since early February. Not that it isn't clearly a beauty of a home, but it was left abandoned and does not show well. I came here to take care of that and to come up with a plan to do right by the house itself. With the help of my brother and his wife, we have begun the painful process of setting the house to rights and working out a plan to move forward. Our sister lived in the house for several years, and announced without consulting us that she was selling it when she moved out, leaving considerable junk in every room and moving to Portland, Oregon. Walking into the place, deprived of the talk, laughter and love that had warmed it for so many years, my brother and I experience emotions that could only be described as equal parts of sorrow and anger. For my brother, who lives so near, this heart-tug has been almost unbearable.
I saw my job in coming here as taking charge of the project (being the middle child, always the negotiator) and keeping the lines of communication open between the brother and sister. This sounds fine and commendable, but there is the matter of my own response to the dear old house, the space that seems to put its arms around you when you step inside. So far four truckloads have been carried off to the dump and to local charities. The brother has taken charge of cutting through the jungle of overgrown weeds and plants put in place by our mother so many years ago. It's hard to think of that backyard without picturing her out there, digging, pulling up, and planting--her constant occupation and the source of comfort and pride for her lifetime. She collected driftwood and fashioned it into lamps and tables, hung some of it on walls "as is." It took on a significance for her that is not always easy to understand, but with her eye for the decorative, she was able to show the beauty of driftwood objects to all. Now the whole property is littered here and there with elegant pieces of driftwood. We have found a local artist who loves to work with driftwood and given him free rein to take what he wants. Mama would be pleased with that.
My sister was always a bookworm, preferring mysteries and the work of English writers like P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh. She took her best books, of course, but in bookcases there were still yellowing paperbacks of Dickens and Agatha Christie, and many many more. It was hard to heap them into the cartons to take them away, but, knowing that she left them we could assume she didn't want them any more, and certainly condition problems would have kept them from being attractive to anyone else.
With all the work we are doing it is impossible to exclude the element of emotion. I shall take this day of Thanksgiving off from thinking much about it, and just be thankful that I once had this house to live in, that I now have the life I do, and that we'll soon reach a solution for the house itself. It seems to be asking me to take care of it, and I know that, with the support I have, I'm up to the job.
That's all we all can be thankful for, at the heart of it--the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to accept the curves life gives us. Today I'll be able to recharge the batteries among friends and loved ones, and tomorrow I'll do what must be done about the house.