A year ago, the original Range was sold. I have not bought another place. I've a place a few hours away from this city for the long weekends I can get away. I don't own it, but it's as much home as any place I've ever known, with a workshop, a basement and a backyard for Barkley. I've a small condo 5 minutes from the freeway to my office, that despite good art and expensive furniture, has all the coziness of a dental lab. Yet, it is home as well. Barkley has no preference but that he be with me.
I sit there tonight, another day to work before I can load up the truck and head out of Dodge. As I ran an errand in the historic part of town, the sidewalk glinted with little bits of Mica. Not the prophet Micah who told us our human task is to do justly, but the geological kind. As a kid, the sidewalk would glitter like broken glass upon the tide flats from the small glints of Mica within it. My brother said it was made of broken star ships, and I believed him. For though there are limits as to what as children we may accept, there is no limit to what we can believe, nourished as we are by the embrace of the incredible that is found right beneath our feet.
Into the warm days of fall that is childhood's longest hour, in those weeks of summer vacation, we'd notice such things. We weren't content just to ride our bikes on these glittering trails of star-stuff, we'd get big pieces of chalk and draw on them, hop scotch, tic tac toe, our names. We'd play well into the dark, coming in only when we were hungry, the front doors unlocked to our comings and goings.
Now my driveway is just cement, as inert and cold as any object that no longer breathes. I notice that too. But a year later, people ask, "do you regret selling your place?"
I have to say no, though I don't explain why. But then again, I never explained why I bought it in the first place. You see, I bought it for my Dad.
It was the mid 2000's. Dad had a small stroke, when at the same time my Step Mom, whom he married after my Mom died young, received a cruel blow. 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, her life expectancy was only months. Dad was lost, physically in need and needing some help to keep both of them out of nursing care. My brothers had their own health issues. I was the one that could take care of him.
So I sold my two story home, with all the steps and no full bath or bedrooms downstairs, which after a Ford plant closure in my county, meant the sale price was beyond grim. I pretty much gave it away, and I bought the Range.
It wasn't a bargain, the sellers were wanting to downsize in retirement, but not in any great need to sell. But it was what I needed for the situation and homes that met the criteria for us were few and far between in move in condition. It was single story, not a step in or out of the place. It had a mother in law lay out, where they'd have their own living area, entrance and bath should they wish. There was pond out back to fish in, geese, ducks, yet they could walk, if able, down the road to church or the store. There was a large flower garden for someone that loved to grow flowers. I fixed up the deck and bought a little barbecue as Harriet 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 small house and big shop, a place way 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.
Harriet went into total remission, a miracle the doc said, and Harry was back walking. It took work, I took three months off from work and there was daily physical therapy but soon there with no signs he'd had a stroke at all. 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 any more and he wasn't going to be lonely. He wanted to be 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 that house that was unfamiliar, yet wasn't, the echo of their voices on the big deck I fixed up, no one else to share the place with except a few of the blog gang and the neighbors who lived much too close. The market started to tank, and I watched more and more houses in the neighborhood go into foreclosure. So 3 years ago, I made the decision to sell it. It took two years. Two years of cleaning and dog hair and sleeping on friends sofas and futons in their living room 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 a 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 nice 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, not enough shop. I would have been perfect for my Dad, 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, some of it made made 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 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 Betadyne 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 of 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.
But last March it sold, the new owners wanting to take possession as soon as possible. They were the nicest young couple, with a growing family, still laughing as to how their little girl had found the deer head mount I'd put in the closet so not to offend the liberal buyers (I was desperate to sell it at that point). "Look Mom, it's a deer like Dad's!!" So I tried to clean it as well as I could for them, inside and out, polishing, waxing, leaving a supply of paper towels, and toilet paper; new containers of cleaning products, light bulbs for some of the funky specialty fixtures and some bottled water in the fridge. In the garage, I left a ladder they'd need to get up on the steep roof, a new weed whacker, and the manuals for all the appliances I left behind to lure a "first home" owner.
In cleaning out the yard, 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, 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, and 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, 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 breath myself, as he did not. In 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 new found 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, both in my daily life, and you all here, all of the fun and adventures that will follow me. I'm in no hurry to buy another home, happy to rent while I look for just the right spot of land, paying cash as I've had my last mortgage. It might take a year, it might take several. Until then, my home is the pillow on which I lay my dreams, brought out with just a word, a steady, gentle, certain touch.
Before I crawl into my little bed tonight, I take out an empty dog food sack to the trash. The driveway lays in a placid, grey coma, chilling under my feet, but it leads to a road that will lead to my heart. I pull closed the gate, looking at land that holds neither corn or cows, seeing the rise of yet another new house off in the distance as I begin a clog stomping run back onto the porch. The chill night air whistles through my shirt, tickling skin, scorching my bare cheeks and the back of my throat. There on the nightstand is a dried maple leaf, a candle, a couple of photos, framed. I smile up, at stars that glitter like Mica, at unheard poetry that hides in the dark side of the moon, shining on another home far away, thankful for the journey, however painful.
I may have my scars, but I have no regrets.