havens that got away
My grandmother did not reside within the battered silver teakettle I inherited from her. Of course not. I still have her hope chest; still have some of the linens she placed in there for her own use. I no longer have the glass cake stand she gave me. I still have her last book of crossword puzzles — can’t bear to begin any of them. I still have the Scrabble set I’ve had for 30+ years, although it’s not the set she and my child-self played upon.
My tangible artifacts of our time together are leaving my life. That doesn’t make her more dead. And yet…
Five days ago, a vibrant red teakettle caught my eye.
Yesterday, as I brought her/our teakettle out of the old place, to go to the new, I poured out its water. Mineral crystals gushed out too, surprising me. The spout is the only egress; the interior is dim, but pockmarked with who knows what. Do I want to keep drinking its water? No.
I threw it away. I thanked it for its “years of service” (my standard ritual). My breath caught in a sob. But I did it, and I walked away.
My grandmother’s backyard contained a 2-story apple tree. I didn’t much care for the apples, which were green, and hard, but the tree seemed like a distant relative who only spoke the language of the old country. During my childhood, it was hit by lightning, and eventually died. The yard missed it.
As my mother readied Gramma’s house for sale, after her death, it was discovered to have termites. An exterminator came out, did something or other. The foundation was settling. The plumbing on the third floor was not to code.
If I could have chosen My House, it wouldn’t have looked anything much like my grandparents’ house. I did love the third floor because it had nooks and crannies, and the mysterious attic. My grandparents kept their books on a shelf right by the stairs.
I liked the garage, filled with forgotten treasures and junk and everything in between.
I liked Grampa’s workshop.
I liked the wavy glass in the second floor bathroom, but I didn’t like the door that locked me in, one too many times.
I liked how ambiguous, nebulous, ultimately unknowable the house seemed. No matter how many times I visited and looked at things, rooms, I never felt like I’d seen everything. Even when I lived there. The house had secrets. Not human secrets; not our history lived there. Its own secrets.
I wouldn’t have chosen it, but I loved it. I miss it. And I would’ve lived there.
Blue Car functioned as a name, although it was really just a description. My mother received the car for her 25th birthday, instead of a wedding. She drove the car, with her sister and her sister’s kids, to California from Illinois. To New Mexico. It was still chugging along during my childhood, although one or more of my male cousins often worked on it, to keep it going.
As it got older and older, my mother only drove it for special occasions.
But it was promised to me: when I got old enough to legally drive it, the car would be given to me. I grew up dreaming of the day I would take off in it on adventures of my own.
The winter I was 14, Blue Car finally died. I think I mourned it passing out of our lives longer than my mother did.
A reading lamp illuminating the far end, my mother and I curled up on her couch, as she taught toddler-me to read with flash cards. The couch was very long and narrow. The arm rests were wooden, with three carved grooves; the feet were clawed wood. The upholstery was green flocked velvet on off-white canvas/linen.
I don’t know where, how, or when the couch entered my mother’s life. It was not comfortable to sit on. It was . . . kind of ugly, if I’m honest.
But on that couch, with those flash cards, I was the most important person in my mother’s life. The only time I remember that being true. And so, I loved the couch.
My mother promised me the couch for my own home, someday.
She still owned it when I moved into my apartment. But it was so long, so unwieldy, it would’ve taken a truck to move it, and I didn’t have a truck. So she held onto it, “in trust”. Once Spouse and I were married, we tried to figure out, multiple times, how to transport the couch to Indianapolis. There was never a good way.
Finally my mother lost patience. She warned me ahead of time (although it felt more like a threat/ultimatum), but then, she got rid of it.
I felt betrayed. I moped. I missed that couch something fierce.
The couch was hard and uncomfortable and took up a lot of space. It was . . . ugly. It wouldn’t have coordinated with any decorating I might have done. The style . . . hadn’t aged well. It was impossible to imagine moving it (and Spouse and I have moved multiple times during our marriage).
If I insist that I simply evaluate the couch as a couch, I did not like the couch. I would’ve never picked it out.
I could really go for a cup of tea right now, but I have no teakettle. For the first time since I’ve had my own household. For the first time in my adult life.
I could’ve bought the red teakettle Friday.
I need the space in my life. I need the absence.
I’ve never really stopped grieving over my grandmother’s death, so why am I sobbing now? The “lost” teakettle? the apple tree? the house?
Actually, I’m perplexed by the presence of the apple tree. Except maybe that, no one else seemed to be worried that it ailed after the lightning. And no one else grieved its death.
If Gramma had made pies from the apples, would things have been different? Would it have seemed like a member of the family to other people then? Probably not.
I don’t think I even talked to the tree; I wasn’t doing that yet. It was too tall to climb (and I was a tree-climber).
It was itself. That was enough. And despite their almost-inedibility, I liked the apples. I just liked them. They had full-bodied shapes, that felt interesting in your hand. Sometimes they had worms. They were nothing like supermarket apples.
Okay, so . . . the teakettle was commercially manufactured. The apple tree, although presumably cultivated, was an organism, so it had a mind of its own. And the house was a hybrid: my grandparents bought it already made, but my grandfather built the third floor.
Living things are constrained by their environments.
My mother could only want for me what she wanted for herself. But we’re not similar, so her wants didn’t satisfy me (once I paid attention to how I actually felt about those things). Her wants narrowed my possibilities, and not in a helpful way.
If I give up the last of what other people wanted for me — even when they had good intentions! — then I’m truly . . . on my own. My fate is my own to decide, to act upon, to manifest.
In the first three days here, I’ve met more (human) neighbors than I did in six years at the old place. I’m talking to everyone who crosses my path, if they’re amenable. I’m throwing out stuff that no longer worked. I’m rearranging the furniture we’ve kept. In my studio, I’m barely unpacking yet. I’m experimenting with configurations.
My life to date has always been ruled by Function Follows Form. But if I allow Form to Follow Function, by staying open, by playing & exploring, who knows what might happen? Which is exactly what I need. Not templates. Not expectations. Instead, an open road to get lost upon.