November 10, 2013 Comments Off on Interlude (cont’d): On Us
We live on a slumberous half-mile loop comprised mostly of one-acre tracts, technically outside of the smallish college town where Missus and I met and later married. There are no other children in our neighborhood and we don’t mind this. It gives the feeling of a near-rural life, quiet, with the convenience of being not far from town. Most of our neighbors are approaching their seventies or eighties. They bought and built here in the 70’s and 80’s when this was still considered the sticks. About a third of the homes in this area are nice, well-maintained, and show pride of ownership. About a third aren’t visible from the road. The rest are dilapidated eyesores. Our own place, while not much to behold from the street, looks largely young for its age even though the driveway needs repaving badly.
The house is a two level ranch, built in 1985. At two thousand square feet it was more house and space than we needed when we moved here. But the land was cheap, the price right, and it seemed too good a move to pass on. As intended, we’ve grown into the extra space and have even lived that homeowner’s rite known as The Addition.
I pulled weeds and mowed my across-the-street neighbor’s lawn a time or two when I was doing that on the side early in our marriage, before we bought here. Before kids. I see and talk to the neighbors on either side of us maybe once or twice a year, have heard from them of the regular movements of wild turkeys through the neighborhood in its early days, not really a neighborhood then – more a patchwork of for-sale land interrupted by the occasional driveway where a house was being built and the cedars needed clearing. A piece of land I can hit with a rock used to belong to the high school and the Ag Department raised cows on it. Now that land belongs to the First Baptist Church and hosts an impressive new building that I hear they are outgrowing.
We moved here two weeks to the day before Oldest was born. She is now nearly eleven: Tall, with straight, enviable brown hair and bright eyes that cut the intersection of cyan and robin’s egg. She is all Girl in the classic sense, sensible and sweet. I’ll wager, though, that no girl ever loved life the way she does, laughed so jubilantly, or took as much delight in the sacred, passive acts of being read to or bearing witness to a pleasing thunderstorm. In her I see attributes that never quite surfaced in me, the ones that I wished had. Her innate happiness, empathy and ethic for work and learning imply that she is more than destined to lead an admirable life. She has the ability to make Lucy laugh at will in a way that none of us can, which is at once frustrating and sweet.
Middle arrived nearly four years later, born seemingly under the sign of Inconspicuous. Now, at seven, she is years into a rapturous campaign of attitude and originality. She has her mother’s large brown eyes and dimples and an unfairly small, cute voice that will emit legendary epigrams at moments both reckoned and least expected. Her boundless imagination and advanced understanding of funny would indicate that she is destined either for a life of celebrity or incarceration. Supporting such a forecast is the lovable fact that she at times sees no distinct use for parents apart from snuggling and ruining her day. And yet there is an undercurrent of compassion and tenderness there strong enough to rival that of the saint of your choosing.
When Lucy came to us, concluding our firsthand work in the field of procreation, Missus became the fourth consecutive mother in her direct line to bear only female children. At this writing Lucy is eighteen months old and napping in her crib in the room above me. The same crib both her sisters grew out of. She will wave, clap, blow kisses, wheel her hands around in a wheels-on-the-bus motion, stand unaided for seconds at a time, threatens to walk. She wears braces on her feet, over her socks and beneath her shoes, and they will help her joints and muscles form good habits. She has had one heart repair with a prognosis for none more, and has not so much as spiked a fever since. She takes a pacifier. She has four teeth and knows that she likes macaroni and French fries. She is mastering the sippie cup. Likes juice. Not milk. She will sign for More with her hands, knows where her tummy is, and her hair, and she knows that a bunny hops and that owls go Hoo.
I have here on our property a handful of vantage points, places on this one acre where I will go and stand now-and-again to kind of lazily behold the home place that we’ve cobbled and cultivated here over these eleven years. When it’s dark I may walk out to the road and pace the length of our lot. I’m looking at the way porch lights illuminate the limestone front exterior through the tangled post oaks. At unlit windows where inside my children lay sleeping. I’m looking at the warm glow of our living room furnished by a small lone table lamp with a stained-glass shade which we never seem to switch off, beckoning me back inside.
Over on the far side of the enclosed back I may stand on one of the railroad ties we once used to fashion a raised garden bed, where Missus now babies her spring perennials and some herbs. There I can catch three tiers of the house and its most flattering profile. A long shed dormer now protrudes from the once vast and terrible front-facing expanse of blank brown shingle that used to so often draw my eye and ire, long and wide enough to land something on until recently — a not beautiful but agreeable change to the roof line. I’ll think about the massive, agonizing room-by-room remodels and the friends that made them possible, made themselves available to do the work, me at their elbows handing out beers.
Hues of orange, pink and purple will marble in the blue-grey ether and I’ll think of the massive hailstorm that battered the roof and the west side of the house to pulp years back, spurring us to restore the exterior in chapters. I remember that ugly clay-colored pressed wood siding. I look at the new rhombus-shaped window we dreamt up and cut into the stairway and the new clear bedroom window panes with white frames (not the old ugly bronze) that look astonishingly fine against the long, clean horizontal runs of the new siding that’s there, ripped narrowly down for that antique look, and then cut shot and sprayed to a crispy white. I’ll think of friends again, and mutter smiling curses to myself.
It’s as fine a place as any. There, our backyard, when the grass is green and lush and the mockingbirds abound and also the cardinals and jays and the mourning dove that come through in droves for the songbird food. When the kids are crawling in trees or swinging in the air and while the coals are heating to a glow I might get to staring here or there, thinking about projects planned and projects completed. Projects not yet planned. Future wages spent. Times like these I understand Jefferson’s depraved neurosis over the restoration and expansion of his estate and how he, a man of means, died a debtor for it. I know that before we’re through more ungodly gobs of time, thought and money will be poured into this our own sinful obsession. This small, slightly shabby place in the world, fussed cussed and toiled over in ways both prudent and unjustifiable like some poor man’s Monticello.
Missus lived in her share of homes growing up, moving whenever and wherever the Postal Service called. I myself could’ve once recounted the sum total of homes, rent houses, friend houses, trailer homes and apartment buildings I lived in as a boy but I can’t now. Not readily. And while neither of us ever wanted for love or food or anything such thing, I think we perhaps weakly justify our stubborn, house-proud propensities with a hope for what it is we’re giving our children: A good home to grow into. A good home to come home to. A nice place to come back to. A soft place to land and a warm thing to think about one far day away.
Of course, this doesn’t hold up. A child well loved is going to remember fondly their childhood no matter what manner of a roof keeps them dry. No matter how well-groomed the trees or what the flooring. And it could all be a pile of soot tomorrow. Or we could move. Still — neither here nor there – we are blessed to have been able to bring all three of our children home from hospital, past the same mailbox, up the same walk, over the same threshold and through the same doorway, each into the one home they’ve ever known. And this I know to be a thing that Missus and myself remain equally and singularly proud of. Whenever our thoughts may turn that way.