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Monday, August 02, 2010

This Old House

Madison joined my sisters and me yesterday on a trip back to our mom's home town for a family reunion. Having lost our mother when she was 36, it was a special treat to spend the day surrounded by that part of our past. Every time someone walked up and proclaimed that I look like my mother or have her mannerisms, it brought her to life and made her more real to me. When someone introduced us a Marcia's girls, a chill of pleasure ran over me like no material thing that I own or wish to own could mimic. We do belong to her....still. Not only do we belong to her but to all that came before her. We are so much more than just our immediate families or even the generation or two that precede us. The deeper that we dug through the piles of history and old photos at that reunion, the bigger that my world and who I am became.
After the reunion, we visited my grandparents' graves then headed to their home....the home that my mother grew up in as well as her father for part of his childhood. It was also the place that, as kids, my sisters and I spent many precious days of our childhood. I can remember feeling confused when I would hear my mother tell my dad that she wanted to go "home" for a visit. We were already home...why was she referring to our grandparents' home as her own. Until the day she died, she never stopped calling it home. As we walked through the front door of this home yesterday, the past came down upon my shoulders and sat more heavily than the humidity and heat that hugged our bodies and threatened to suffocate us, even as we struggled to breath in even one tiny scent of what the place once was. It was in shambles, with things left lying around as if the last person to live there had simple stepped out for a moment and lost track of time. Like a terminally ill person with too much to lose to simple give in to a disease, the house was hanging on to the memories, unwilling to fall down around them. The memories were there....they were more real then anything else, wrapping themselves around every material thing and filling every drawer and closet. Every room that I walked into held memories waiting to grab me, to cling onto someone who could bring them back to remember witness that they are real and still exist. As they touched me, I closed my eyes and allowed them to take me back. I smelled turkey cooking on Thanksgiving Day and saw my grandmother laughing in the kitchen with my mother and aunts. I smelled Paw Paw's Prince Albert tobacco and saw the coffee steaming from the saucer where he poured it to cool before sipping it. There was sweet, innocent laughter from three little girls who thought that there was no place on earth more special to visit or further from home than where they were. There was the sound of my uncle's guitar through his little amp as he sang "Puff the Magic Dragon" to us. I felt mama's warm hands on my skin as she mothered me and the softness of the blankets that warmed me as Lori, Vicki, and I slept on the living room floor, with the soft German sound of our Paw-Paw's voice in the kitchen spilling forth one story after another. There were the memories of Christmas trees and birthday cakes, stray cats and dirty bare feet, but most of all, the security of knowing that it would all still be there when we got up from our little pallet the next morning. We couldn't know that every time we carried memories home from there that we also left an exact copy behind...a copy that would be protected and cherished within the walls of our grandparents' home...our mother's "home". We were too young to understand that the home was already crowded with bits and pieces of my mother's life, as well as those before her. Nor could we understand that only through those that came before us did we even come to exist. As I walked out of that front door, maybe for the last time ever, I felt a force pulling me back. It was as if I had stepped back into my 10 year old body when I entered the house, and now it was fighting to keep me there as I attempted to re-enter the body that once again made me wife and mother. As we drove away, I realized that the memories that I'd left within the walls of that house and the perimeters of that place were the originals. I've carried copies of them with me all these years, yellowed and aged by time and life. It is only when I revisit them there that I can see them clearly, as they were when they were created. Inside me, the memories are hidden by who I have become...what others are able to see. There, they are exposed, reassuring me that the person that only I can still feel deep inside myself really did exist...and more importantly, still does.


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