Getting Back Home

It's been 12 years since I sold the original Range. I rented a tiny place with all the coziness of a dental lab but close to work, while I looked for a place my heart would be happy with, further away from work but closer to friends. I planned on a small house on acreage in the country - I ended up married to my best friend and living in a 105-year-old Bungalow in Chicago. The wiring was probably designed by Lucas, and the appliances are from the 1940s, but it's where I want to be, and there's room enough for both tiny RC helicopters and a lathe in the basement.  For Barkley, and later senior rescues Abby Lab and Lorelei Lab, either place is home, as long as I am there.

It is home as is where I grew up, that place where my brother and I ran and played in endless rains of summer, where in winter we built forts of white, and tumbled through the drifts like glacial stones.   In snow gear of jeweled hues, we played until we were forced to come in, harnessing the earth's energy, and keeping our childhood alive.
.I think of that home as I look to where I live now.  Years later, people still ask, "do you regret  selling your last house?"

No, you never regret doing something for love.

It was around 2007. Dad had a small stroke, and at the same time my Step Mom, whom he married after my Mom died young, received a cruel blow. You think you've prepared for what is already on your plate, then a doctor hesitates in the words and you feel that hard, hot ball of dread forming in your stomach, that feeling that fighter pilots and loved ones both understand, the sense that something is about to happen, and it's happening now.

It was not good news.  Already struggling with early-onset Alzheimer's, she was diagnosed with cancer, oral cancer, from many years of smoking in her youth. It had already spread. They removed part of her tongue and jaw, a terrible, disfiguring surgery.  Her life expectancy was less than a year.  Dad was lost, physically in need, and required some help to keep both of them out of nursing care. 

So I sold my two-story home, with all the steps and no full bath or bedrooms downstairs, which after a major manufacturer closing in my county, meant the sale price was beyond grim. I pretty much gave it away, losing about $60,000 in equity and I bought the Range.
It wasn't a bargain, the sellers were wanting to downsize in retirement but were not in any great need to sell. But it was what I needed for the situation and homes that met the criteria for their needs were few and far between in move-in condition and close to work.

It was a single story, not a step in or out of the place. It had a mother-in-law layout, where they'd have their own living area, entrance, and bath, for as long as they wished to stay. There was a retaining pond out back to fish in, geese, and ducks. Yet they could walk, if able, down the road to church or the store or coffee shop. There was a large flower garden for someone that loved to grow flowers. I fixed up the deck and bought a little barbecue as my Step Mom would always go for an almost mooing grilled hamburger with the trimmings, even on the days she felt pretty bad and otherwise, wouldn't eat.
It wasn't what I wanted. I wanted a small house and a big shop, a place off the grid.  But it was what Dad needed and after she was gone, he wouldn't have to worry about senior housing or being alone. They liked the place, and there was more than one evening outdoors, a fishing line for dad, a cold beer, and laughter even as we sometimes cried.
Then, with those prayers you don't think get answered, things change.

My Step Mom went into total remission, a miracle, the doc said, and Dad was back walking. It took work, a year of daily physical therapy but soon there with no signs he'd had a stroke at all. Then he told me what I almost expected.  Able to get around on his own, he wanted to live out their remaining days in his own house, back West, with her, and I totally understood.

He didn't need my help with physical care or physical therapy anymore and he wasn't going to be lonely with siblings and grandchildren closer out West. With her Alzheimer's getting worse she was more comfortable there in surroundings that she'd lived in 20 years with him.  He wanted to be home, their home, with her, for however long the remission lasted and then stay where those memories remained, there were he revered and loved and lost and grieved.
And so I wandered around that huge empty house that was unfamiliar, yet wasn't, the echo of their voices on the big deck I fixed up,  on the couch in the sunroom, no one else to share the place with except a few friends and the neighbors who lived much too close. The real estate market started to tank and I watched more and more houses in the neighborhood go into foreclosure. So I made the decision to sell it. It took a year and a half.  It was many months of cleaning and dog hair and hanging out with friends while the realtor showed it, free of a barking dog that did NOT like people looking at HIS couch.

But it kept me busy, making repairs, small improvements that would make it sell even if I'd not see the money I spent for them again. I remember an afternoon in the garage ripping out an old cabinet that served more to occupy space than any actual use. More time packing away more tools to put into the storage with the rest of my stuff, keeping just enough in the home to let it show nicely for the Realtors.
It was hard work yet rewarding work. A repaired and well-equipped home that's self-sufficient in times of problems is good. That house was just way too large for my taste, too much home, not enough character, too many neighbors, and not enough shop. It would have been perfect for my folks, but it was not perfect for me.

But I enjoyed the work, pulling cabinetry out of the wall, taking tools and making them do what I needed, the sweat on my forehead, reaching my mouth, tasting of who I am, someone who's worked hard for everything she's got. Someone who will raise some sweat to keep it. When I bought that place it needed a lot of work, bathroom fixtures, and an updated kitchen and I did most of the work myself. I worked late into the nights alone, too many nights, using leverage to swing the tools, but at times it seems like there are two of us, the tools and I, working side by side like familiar lovers who can guess each others moves, hearts speaking to one another in musical measures beyond the need for words.

Some of the work I was proud of, and some of it made me thankful for throw rugs and large pieces of art. But like farm living, it kept me centered, close to the ground, to the earth, and blood and fluid need in all things. It also honed my swearing in Norwegian, for which my grandfather Gullikson would be proud.
The tools I have are old and precious to me, some given by friends, some from home. Tools my Dad used to craft the fence around his own house, the detailed and geometrically perfect cabinets in his garage. Tools that have stood the test of time, held by three generations, tempered by fire and heat to be strong under stress, and having enough flexibility to get out of corners and swing freely as needs arise. Just as he raised us to do.

I learned about hard work early on, facing it like a battle to which you carry ancient wounds. You can't live on a farm or a ranch without learning of hard work. I spent ten years as a young bride living such a life. I know the signs of impending birth in a heifer. I know how to cut a single longhorn from fifty with nothing but an ATV and a dog, all while avoiding the pointy ends. I didn't compare nail polish colors with my girlfriends, for long fingernails sort of get in the way when you have to grease a cupped hand and naked arm with Betadine and lubricant to help a breached calf make its way into the world. I've fallen face first in stuff you don't want to know about and cried like a child to find a calf still and cold after I spent two days nursing her after her mama died.

 It wasn't Green Acres though I think we had their house. It had nothing to do with Norman Rockwell and everything to do with the hundred different ways a heart can freeze.

It was a valuable lesson in life. Hard work, hard decisions, made in evenings like that one years later as I worked away at the Range, listening to the sound echo in an empty house, learning about life and love with all the salt and truth one can expect from the swing of a hammer. It taught me more than how to lose your savings in real estate, it taught me about budgets and planning, woods and nail and drywall. It taught me about what I have the capability of, it taught me to dream the dreams of a child again.
I was very happy, however, when it sold, more so as increasing numbers of houses around me were going into foreclosure, prices falling. I did my best to make sure it was move-in ready for the young couple with children who bought it, leaving toilet paper and paper towels, bottled water, and some cleaning and garden supplies for them as I tackled the backyard.

In cleaning out the flowerbeds of dead winter shrubbery, I found some things, an old rusted lock, a penny, and some flowers and plants I didn't even know I had. I also found something when I pulled out a large flowering shrub, deciding after it grew into my gutters each and every year that mutually assured destruction was no longer the answer, a preemptive strike of chainsaw and Round Up was. When it was removed, there behind it was a small lattice. Apparently once, before Godazelia grew, there must have been tomatoes growing. That made me smile as in my childhood house, that of the sparkling sidewalks, the folks always had a tomato lattice.

What is it about certain things in life, the simplest of things, a flower, a smell, the feel of a piece of wood or tool in your hand that evokes a place, a voice, that makes you feel like a small child walking on a path of life that got suddenly big? And like a child, you deeply sense how it makes you feel, but the words you know to explain it are so very limited, so you just sit, look, and breathe it in.
So as I sat and held that decaying lattice in my hand, I had to stop and sort my words, as memories came unbidden, color, movement shape. My Mom bending over the garden, helping my Dad weed, a good woman over whom death has already cast its shadow as surely as the apple tree shading her that day. Standing there in that barren flowerbed, as I prepared to leave, I could smell her perfume on the air, and the remembrance of the fluid movements of her hands in the soil is as real to me as a tide. Steady, gentle, certain.

I think back to the days on the farm, to another house, and remember, not the hard times, but the good. I remember the last winter there, as I helped a neighbor pull a reluctant calf from his mother's womb. If I close my eyes I can relive that next moment, in which I ceased to breathe myself, as he did not. At that moment, all I could I hear was the tiniest sounds, the fairy feet of barn mice, the creek of a rafter. Then, in a rush of indignation, came the mighty and protesting bawl of that newly born bull calf, his cries from a birth-wet mouth awaking something in his weary mother who lay so still there under the dark moon, both of us totally spent from the effort. I still can picture his trusting eyes fixed on her as she rose up to sniff and take him in with that wonderful snuffling rush of newfound love.
Our memories are not the house we live in, they are inside of us, and all of them, the laughter and sharing of friends, all of the fun and adventures that will follow you.  Home is the pillow on which one lays their dreams, brought out with just a word, a steady, gentle, certain touch.

Tomorrow will be the drive into the city and depending on traffic, a long trip back home. When I get there, it will just be getting dark. I will replenish supplies, taking out an empty dog food sack to the trash. The driveway will lay in a placid, warm slumber, silent under my feet. I'll pull closed the back door, looking at land that holds neither corn nor cows, seeing the rise of another old house in the distance as I begin a clog-stomping run back onto the porch. The chilling night air whistles through my shirt, tickling my skin, scorching my bare cheeks and the back of my throat.

Inside the door, where the mailman pushed it on through, a letter from a foreign land, the handwriting looking almost like him, slender and strong and focused. I could almost smell the scent of gin and tonic as I tear open the envelope and drink in the words.
Then I will sit down and write, as I do daily, some words for myself, for there is no longer any family remaining to write to, a few that I share with the world here. I am happy you read, but it is not why I write; it's simply that quiet, alternating dark, and sunny place I can go after a day of strong bones and fragile loss. It's water to me, the screen a quiet pool, myself merely one of those little water bugs, that lie not quite on the surface, nor beneath it, but in that quiet line of demarcation that is neither water nor air, earth or heaven, exposing to the outside world only what is necessary to draw breath and hope.

Soon, there in that house I never intended to be, it is time for bed. There on the nightstand is a dried maple leaf, a candle, and a couple of photos, framed. I lay back across the edge of the bed, naming off each vertebrae; looking upward as my body stretches downward, long red hair trailing to the floor like a line of fire. I smile up, at stars that glitter like Mica through the window, at unheard poetry that hides in the dark side of the moon, the sun that warms another pillow far away, thankful for the journey here, however painful.

I may have my scars, but I have no regrets.