Monday, December 18, 2017

Love Letter to my House

      We are in the process of leaving behind a home we've lived in for 22 years, so far.  Only one baby was born here, but the other three barely remember our previous house.  They were something like 9, 6, 2 and not here yet when we moved to this 1898 Victorian.  It has five bedrooms, two baths, two stairways, and much more.  Most people walking through my house would probably think 'Charming but a bit lived-in perhaps?'  But I see below the surface level of newspapers and ankle boots and dog toys.  And as I look to moving from this house to something much smaller and a good 50 years newer, I want to document what I will miss about our Park Avenue house.  Leaving out the broad expanses of dog hair and dirty dishes that we all have, right?
     First, there is the address.  Wherever you go people take a second look when you say 'Park Avenue', I assume because of NYC and the songs.  Second is the boulevard down the center.  Who gets to live on a street with trees and flags down the center?  Not many!
     Then there are the friendly dog-walking neighbors at all time of day or night.  Reliably looking up at the architecture or porches of many more illustrious houses than my own. 

But my house, the things I want to document so I can look back some day, is in the details.  Details like the front door knob. 
Details like the trim around every window and doorway in this place (I think we have 25 windows).

Details like this broken finial (?) that I have refused to fix so it reminds me of my wonderful life, just like the movie. 
The fact the house had a lily carved in the newel post and we had a daughter named Lily probably has something to do with us taking this on and gutting it 20 years ago.

     Going back outside, there is the sidewalk that runs all the way around the house in a big oval that all the kids could ride their bikes or trikes or scooters around.  I didn't grow up with that, but it is a great thing for a family. Details like a porch swing and spindles and this bright red door that came to us this way.  Its always the perfect color once a year at Christmas-time.

Details like the windows, some of which I've written about before more eloquently in the past, but nothing is the same.  It is all unique.  That's how they did it in 1898. 

Some things I always wanted in a house include this pocket door that is still in great shape, never refinished, because it is usually hidden away.

My next house is so much smaller, I'm pretty sure it wont have a 'Christmas-tree room' like we have now.  Or two stairways, one with room for many more stockings than the 9 we have  hanging this year. 

Or this nook at the top of the stairs I've always been in love with because of its utter impracticality.

     love this picture because it represents our marriage so well.  Chuck built this pantry the first year we moved into the kitchen.  But one year for Christmas without me knowing it he added a light inside.  Something I'd waited a good 18 years for, lol.  The pantry was something we added, and are leaving behind for the next owners:
     Don't you look back and childhood photos of birthday cakes, and really, what is fun to see, is the counter behind everyone with the pencils and phone and the notepad to take messages on (no one ever used).  Or the crazy rec room carpet pattern on the floor.  It is the details that bring back childhood, and even though this house doesn't represent my own childhood, it represents my own children's childhood.  As my friends know, I'm not particularly sentimental.  About pets, or kids going to college, or empty nests.  But I am sentimental about leaving this house.  I feel good about it.  It is time.  But I do feel nostalgic for all the impromptu tumbling classes we had in the long front rooms, the coat closet at the back door I would literally throw my weight into to close with all those snowpants and snowboots and mittens.  Our chandelier that I once broke, using it as a life ring as I fell while cleaning it.  And paid a hefty penny to restore, or so it seemed at the time.  I've never made that mistake again (of cleaning it haha)...
     This is where Santa visited with a vengeance and backpacks were tossed and tossed, and tossed as they all arrived home from their respective schools to turn on Rugrats and drink their capri suns :)

So many moments here, and I'm just hoping I can remember as many as possible for safekeeping.  On to the next adventure (eventually).  We don't do anything quickly!
     Of all the houses we've had or will have, this is without a doubt the best one for Christmas-y feelings.  Last year for it!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Yearning for natural light

At the moment, I'm considering a job change.  One of the factors I have to make peace with is that instead of walking six blocks to work, many of the opportunities right now involve traveling.  Quite a bit of traveling over many miles in a car. 

Yesterday I had one interview and I drove about three hours through the country-side to meet with the interviewer, a midpoint between our hometowns.  I was prepared, but I accidentally left my list of questions at home.  Today I found them, along with many pieces of writing, some of which I just published.  A notebook tossed aside in my clothes-closet, until now.  And in this notebook is a very interesting piece to me, today. Transcribing here...

     She could feel it, a gentle breeze on her soul whenever she drove by a field.  A meadow.  Some trees on the edge, deep shade, a few bees, wildflowers: purple clover, yellow black-eyed susans, white (?) that spilled behind that rusty mailbox. Those soybeans are a brilliant lemon-yellow, then rusty copper, then soft brown.
     She sat in her cubicle with the stale air, no natural light, only light from artificial sources -- an overhead fluorescent bulb, under-storage bin desk light and a small lamp from home.  Endeavoring to recreate the feeling and mood of natural light.  Endeavoring to make the best of a ill-fitting, square-peg-round-hole thing.  Making the best of it is what she excels at.

OK, gets a little sarcastic from here, but interesting that my musings from maybe 18 months ago are answering a question I have today.  I don't recall writing it, but it is all about how I don't like working in a cubicle and wish I could get out in the natural light more.  Hmmm.... interesting. Universe? 

And I do love, love, love the road-side weeds.  I have often wanted to find out who is responsible for the natural plantings on the interstates in Illinois, in the gulley between the cars driving in opposite directions.  To thank them for not mowing but sowing. The natural wave of purple, and blends of gold and beige have seemed like a painting to me more than once.  I've never met another weed-lover but there must be one out there.  It actually endangers my driving abilities as I stare at the ever-changing, never the same combinations nature has planted.  Traveling might have its perks.

I wasn't brilliant enough to stop and take a picture yesterday, but this is the idea, courtesy of google images. Your weeds are my art...
Part 3 & 4 -- Completely judgment-free zones

Goodwill.  You don't have to dress up.  It is cathartic because like a garage sale you can spend very little or nothing and still feel entertained.  Unlike a garage sale, it is air-conditioned, has bathrooms and everything in one stop.

Goodwill is a good-familiar, and out of town today, guaranteed anonymous. No one knows I'm here.  No one is waiting on me in there to return a call, answer an email, or fix a problem.

I can move slowly or quickly.  I can feel my tension easing, like a good meditation.  Used books.  Forks.  Crazy outfits. Restful to me.  Today I find a book called "Seeds" by Thomas Merton.  Lots of sticky notes, tabs, highlighted passages. Someone has done all the work for me.  Inside front cover a jotted note to look at page 115.  Where I find "Our vocation....Work with God in creating our own lives, our own identity, our own destiny."  Not subtle, God.

Books. Bookstores. The beauty of.
No one tries to make eye contact in a bookstore.  People casually browse knowing the protocol.  Bookstores are not for chit chat.  Not for phone calls.  Not for laughter.  Bookstore-lovers follow these unwritten rules.  I am pleased.  I feel safe in bookstores.  No judgment. Obviously bookstores have a thousand facets to their wonderfulness, but for today, I'm just claiming the white-noise-like quality that soothes the brain.

And, they contain, b o o k s.  That is all.
Part 2 -- Walmart
As you pull it the parking lot it looks pretty much exactly like any other Walmart.  Except I'm not at home.  So I will not bump into anyone from high school or church or work or the neighborhood.  I can wander from 17cent spiral notebooks (too flimsy, I like hard backing) to $5 pajamas to $22 phone chargers that are out of stock.  I can browse every book in the book section.  I can buy deodorant and get back to my car without revealing anything. To anyone.

I am relieved to get outside my head for 35 minutes and to sit in the parking lot writing for five more.

Babies, young adults, flip flops, electric scooter, heavy white Velcro tennis shoes.  Fifteen SUV type vehicles of approximately similar shades of gray are in my site.  Am I the only person who doesn't own one?

An elderly man gets out of his shiny red junker, all four windows down, shirtless.  He grabs a  shirt from the back seat and finishes dressing.  Slowly, casually, like he's done this before.  He saunters inside looking suitable. A bright orange shirt with black writing on it.

Someone pulls over just to remove a flier for a local fundraiser from their windshield.  A retiree in a mint-green golf shorts and a Hawaiian shirt places his cart is the cart farm cautiously.

Lots of top knots of messy hair. It is 3pm on a Wednesday.  Why are they all here?  Why aren't they stuck in a windowless cubicle?

Places I go to get away from myself (A four-part series)

Part One -- Why?

Don't you ever get tired of yourself?  You want to take a vacation and leave 'her' behind for a bit?  A few hours, a few days.  It isn't like I wouldn't come back, I just want to get away from me.
I want to get away from over-thinking, under-thinking, and just-right thinking.  Away from the reflective substance on the lining of my brain that keeps the same thoughts bouncing around, back and forth over and over, like a pinball that hits a bonus ring.
Ping.  Ping.  Ping.    Ping ping ping pa-ping.

I want to get away from my own sighs, my breathing, my skin, my eyes,.  I want to see the world from a fresh new perspective of someone else's skin. It is the opposite of "Cheers".  I want to go where "not anybody knows my name."  Oblivion? No. Anonymity is a better word.  No one knows me.  I'm just me.  I can be anyone.

Sometimes I want to get away from my goals, my fatigue, my boring bad habits, my lack of resolve.  I spend a lot of time letting life happen.  Flow.  Chill.  No worries. No aim. No fire.  Too much fire.
I also get stressed out and overcome.  How can I be bored and overwhelmed in the same mind, body and soul? How do I get away from myself?

A bustle of blog posts

Folks I just ran across the notebook I had written several blogposts in.  I'm going to recreate them here so there will be a flurry of posts after, 8 months of silence?  I'm also working on a new post from an object purchased at an estate sale two weeks ago.  I've discovered I do like history when it is alive in my living room!


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Gola's Picture of Love

First you need to know two things about me.  I have a husband obsessed with estate sales and auctions.  It started a year ago and has gradually gone from a pleasant discovery to attending 3-4 times a week. He calls it "Treasure Hunting". And second, I'm a private investigator on the side (Really. Not Really). For myself and any curiosity I might have.  I creep on facebooks and study obituaries and like to track things down, facts.  The internet makes it quite do-able.

Last Saturday Chuck was doing his usual thing.  He likes to arrive late in the sale on the last day and take away some real steals.  He got two crates of "good stuff" for next to nothing.  Our routine is when he gets home he starts handing me items he thinks could be "jewels" which is our code for 'we can retire tomorrow'.  We have had a few good finds, and even in that same weekend we found a pencil for a dollar that ended up being worth $70.  Not retirement-worthy but a good return-on-investment.

I sorted through the promising tea cups and vintage card game and came to the painting that I want to talk about today. 
I immediately got the feeling it was an original watercolor which is unusual. And it looked old.  The back side of the picture was cut open but you could tell the paper had yellowed and cracked and the wire was original.  

I took the painting out of the frame to get a closer look at the signature.  We both liked it a lot, but it had some water damage and seemed quite fragile. Paintings, even originals, rarely seem to go above $200-$300 for unknown painters and the water damage pretty much negates that.  But still, I love a mystery and a challenge.  I was having a really long pajama day and a good online search sounded fun.

I started looking up the artists name.  The signature was hard to make out but a note taped to the back said Oakland City, IN in 1932.  Wow, I don't usually have these kinds of clues when I start my PI work.  The note was clearly not that old, and I found out later had been written on the back side of a scrap of 2002 IRS form.  The tension builds.
I searched artist listings and sites, still hoping this was worth a lot of money of course.  I eventually emailed someone at a site called "Indiana Art online" but he had never heard of this painter. There are so many things that make a search like this unlikely, mainly that the city it was marked with might have nothing at all to do with the painter. 

After a couple hours I gave up, but something drew me back, most likely the desire to continue to stay in my pajamas for a good cause.  I had canceled my subscription but then accidentally renewed it, so it occurred to me to go on there.  I hit multiple dead ends ("Your search found 45,890 matches") But then I put in Gola (just the artist's first name) and Oakland City, IN and somehow, bing, it came up with something.  I can't tell you how much fun that is.  My own kind of treasure.  Now I possibly had his full name and date of birth.

There was an Indiana census record that showed me in 1930 he (I wasn't sure before that if the artist was male or female) was 15, had 2 brothers.  If this was the artist of my painting he was only 17 or 18 at the time he painted it.  My daughter is an artist herself and told me it looked like a novice had painted it (Chuck and I don't care, we just liked the fall colors).  So thrilling. Next, I opened his enlistment record from 1941, so at age 27 he enlists in the army.  It says in those records he is single has two years of college, is a commercial artist.  Suddenly my interest has become a surety that I was truly on the right track.  Commercial artist!

I next see his death record in the 90's.  So I'm not going to find Gola, but I had started out assuming this was a seasoned artist who painted in 1932, so I'm not too surprised. I run across city directories and Social Security records so I can see he got married (there might be kids!), was a "Card Writer" and eventually owned a home where his parents and siblings all moved into. 

But then the story took a twist.  I read an entry that said he was a Cartographer in WWII under General Patton, and mapped out the D-Day invasion.  History, sitting here in my lap, on my recliner, in my pajamas.  OK, part of me still thought "Wow maybe this little painting is worth something" but mostly I was just excited to learn about the artist and marvel at how history had ended up in my living room.

With a correctly spelled full name I have lots more googling I can do and the first hits lead me to the names of his two daughters.  Young enough to have facebook, one of them has an unusual spelling for a first name and a few minutes later I had found who I believed to be Gola's  two daughters and messaged them both on Facebook.  I didn't hear anything for a few hours and I was impatient so I located someone in the next generation and heard back immediately, that yes, this was her grandfather.  Yes, he had been an artist.  

Within a short time her mother was messaging me about this.  And she told me that just that morning she had consoled a friend who lost a parent a year ago that day.  That even though her father was gone 25 years, every now and then someone would bring him up, or tell her a joke, or share something that made her smile.  She then got home to find the message from me, about her father. From her father.

The granddaughter has a PhD-- in Art History-- and hadn't seen any paintings from her grandfather.  I learned Gola's daughter was having surgery in a just a few days and this really gave her something to look forward to.  None of the family had seen Gola's paintings he did at a young age, because he was told he wasn't that good, and moved on to commercial art.

We haven't been able to figure out how it ended up at an estate sale in Peoria, IL, but it was a fun journey making these discoveries.  The painting is in the mail. I can only imagine what it would be like to get something that your father painted, something you'd never seen.  My own father has been gone 34 years this month. It feels like some amazing timing, God's timing, and it was a privilege to be a part of this story this week.

And today in worship my pastor used a phrase I jotted down, "A picture of love."  and I thought, that's it, that's my title.  Gola's young self sent a picture of love out into the universe and 85 years later it ends up back with own his family.