lucky

When I finished my master’s, I ordered two extra copies of my thesis: one for myself, and one for my mother.  It was a hot August day in 2007 when I drove to Long Island, copy of my thesis packed in a bag in my back seat, to give to her. My thesis was 119 pages of creative nonfiction, written about my father, and my family. No sooner than I had unpacked my car and given it to her, she sat down in one of the adirondack chairs in the back yard to start reading it. It was one of the most tense moments of my life.

My thesis advisor, Jenny Spinner, had tirelessly worked with me to craft my story, helping me nip and tuck the excess wording, carefully choose what I was putting down on paper. Countless revisions and meetings in Starbucks and e-mails had all led up to this – a finished piece that I had to find the courage to share. Jenny had written an article that she gave to us in her class about the art of telling. While I had read her article over and over, and agonized over what I chose to write, I still wasn’t sure what reaction I would get.

My mother loved my thesis and was devastated by it at the same time. I remember her joking that I only write about my father, and asking if she had to be dead before I wrote about her. And I joked back that it makes good material and dad can’t get mad and yell at me about what I write.

Last weekend the man and I were on Long Island for his cousin’s communion. As always, we stayed with my mother, and on Sunday I was doing gardening with her.  It was a gorgeous day – cool but comfortable.  Across the yard, I was picking up sticks or weeds, I can’t remember now, and my mom went to put a spade into the garden to dig out some Siberian Iris for me to take home. I turned around to ask her about something she said, and as she put her foot on the spade to try to break up the roots, she fell.

Life went into slow motion. The roots were tough, and the spade didn’t go in as she thought it would, it shifted her weight and she fell. As her body torqued to the left, I saw her legs crumple under her, and her head smash with a loud crack into the corner of the garage.

I let out a blood curdling scream of “Mommy!” and ran to her. She didn’t respond right away, and then she put her hand to her head slowly, shakily.  I thought that my life was over. That she had fractured her skull, that I wouldn’t be able to get her up, that I wouldn’t remember the direct number to the town fire department. I hadn’t dialed that number since my father died 15 years earlier.

When she lowered her hand, there was no blood. There was no cut. She kept saying, “I’m fine but I just need to get up. You have to help me get up, my knees…” And she was right. She was okay. Horribly bruised, a little scraped, but okay. I was terrified. Since I lost my father at 15, I have had a sense of dread hanging over me that something horrible would happen to my mother. And living 131 miles away does not ease the fear. What if she gets into a car accident? What if she falls off the ladder while cleaning her gutters and no one hears her scream or sees her fall? What if someone breaks into the house? I talk to her on the phone nearly every day, sometimes several times a day, and whenever she doesn’t pick up the phone and then doesn’t call me back for a while, I panic.

Her head had smashed into the vinyl molding of the side door to the garage – it is still dented. Two more inches, and it would have been the brick that her head made contact with. Last weekend made me realize more fiercely than ever how very lucky that I am. Lucky to have a mother that does so much for me, lucky that she is my friend, and lucky that she is still with me. In that terrifying moment last weekend, I thought my world was going to be shattered. I am lucky.

I’m not with her today, and for that I feel tremendous guilt. The card I sent didn’t get to her yet, and is probably lost in the mail. But we talked on the phone, and next weekend I will go visit her. So the best that I can do today is put this tribute out into the world. I know she’ll read it some day.

Mom, I love you. You make my world continue spinning. I can’t imagine not having you, not being able to call you, not being able to hug you, not being able to visit you at the house I grew up in that you made so happy and safe. Happy Mother’s Day.

don’t open until 2004…

In some ways we were lucky that the previous owner decided to leave so many things in the house.  Among the dilapidated couches that we ended up throwing out and the pet stained carpets that had outworn their welcome, they also left an upright piano which I love and cherish.  And they also left some furniture in one of the bedrooms.  As we were moving the furniture outside to rehab it, one of our friends found a standard size envelope, addressed to one of the people who had lived in our house before us.

Inside was a letter, written by one of the girls who had lived there, from 2001, her freshman year in high school.  Seven pages long, written on notebook paper in green gel pen in bubbly print. It opens “Dear My Senior Self”. Whether it was a school assignment, a friendship pact to write the letters together, or a personal adventure, I’ll never know.   It was postmarked June 11, 2004.

She asks about certain people she went to school with – whether they’re still friends, whether she still keeps in touch with teachers, who she ended up dating and kissing or whether she ever “did it” with a certain person.  She wonders how the whole “eating disorder thing is going” and whether she ever made 120 pounds or wore a bikini and met hot guys at the shore. She even asks herself if she did anything during band camp.

She goes on to talk about classes she liked, teachers she hated, and lists the phone numbers of people she MUST keep in touch with. I wonder if she ever did. If she opened this letter in her senior year, or perhaps in college, and laughed at her childish spelling and handwriting, wondered why she was so curious about her sex-life-to-be. I wonder if she ever did make size 5 or 120 pounds, and if she did make out with the cute guy on the color guard team. But I’ll never know.

me, circa 2003What I do know, is I remember myself at that age. So innocent, so optimistic, a large group of friends that I thought would be around forever.  I still know their phone numbers, without having written a letter to myself, and despite the fact that I haven’t dialed some of them in 10 years or more. I thought that in high school my awkwardness would somehow dissolve, that I’d have my first kiss, and that I would be going to an ivy league school.

I wish I had written a letter like this to myself. Maybe it would have captured some of my own innocence and dreams that I had for my future. Sometimes it seems that when my father died my freshman year, I lost something of my youth. I lost some of those dreams, or they were just forgotten, never cataloged in a journal on a personal checklist of goals.

I wonder why the girl left the letter behind. Maybe she put it on top of the bureau and forgot about it, or maybe after reading it she didn’t have the heart to throw it out but didn’t want to remember it either. What I do know, is that I now write letters to friends that I haven’t spoken to since I was a teenager, and may never find or speak to again. I reminisce on what we did when we were teenagers, wonder what they’re doing, and tell them why I miss them.

And I fold them up, put them in envelopes, and store them away in a box. Maybe some day I’ll sit and read them.

wildflower honey

In 1999, my mother and I went to visit my uncle in West Philadelphia.  He had a gorgeous, three story twin with all the original hardwood, floors, windows, and all the tiny architectural details that I now drool over. On the second floor of his home, he had a formal sitting parlor.  It was painted a beautiful, lush yellow with windows that looked out on the tops of the cherry blossom trees.  Ever since then, I wanted a yellow room. And it was a place to sit and think, to read, to simply stare off into space if you wanted to. Growing up, my bedroom had provided that comfort for me. Sunlight, warmth, photos, safety. My parents house was always a place I knew I belonged.

bland...

When we bought our house, we decided the smallest of the four bedrooms would become a writing room for me. It was one of the first projects I tackled in the house.  We knew the house needed work – or love – when we bought it. I somehow figured that because I had watched my father restore woodwork that I could figure it out on my own. So I wasn’t shy jumping into it.  My husband and I had hastily tackled the dining room already, and that had gone pretty smoothly, albeit messy. (I’ll save that project for another day.)

Considering the condition of the rest of the house, my small sanctuary to be was not in bad shape.  Once the carpet was removed, we revealed wood floors that, while in desperate need of refinishing, were solid. Being on the back corner of the house, the room gets some fabulous light throughout the day, something that I crave. The color it was painted was a soft yellow that over the years had become stained and dirty. And the ceiling wasn’t much better. The textured plaster was riddled with spider webs, smoke stains, and dust. Let’s not even talk about what was living behind the radiator.

dust... yummy!

And let’s not talk about what they did to the doors either.  That problem has yet to be fixed.

stubborn doors.. painting courtesy of previous owners

With palm sander in hand, I jumped in.  My parents had done a lot of heat stripping to the house I grew up in, but being of the “less than graceful” persuasion myself, i wasn’t willing to try it.  But I also didn’t anticipate the amount of sanding that I would have to do.  As I began sanding the door frame, the paint began peeling off. The same happened on the baseboards. And so the project began, and rapidly grew. After a solid 2-3 days of taking the surfaces down to bare wood, the transformation really began. And I heard my father’s voice as I worked. His voice had been present when my husband and I tackled the dining room.  Then, I could hear him criticizing that we weren’t taping the woodwork right, or that I was applying to much putty to the sunken areas in the window wells. Now, when I began to rush, I would hear a soft German “uch”, like a tsk, telling me to slow down, that the paint was going to drip, that I had to be more careful. And I would sigh, smile, and slow down.

After all the painting, the true joy began.  The bookshelves were assembled (purchased courtesy of my mother), and as I began placing my own personal library on the shelves lining the wall, I realized that I finally had a space.  That safe space that I missed. I loved our old apartment, and my husband and I had personalized it as much as we could. But a space in a house is different. You own that space. A space where there was sunlight streaming in the windows. A space where I could sit and be surrounded by things that I loved – books, prints, old notebooks, photographs.

organization helper

And of course, a space that the cats adored.

it's really Luna's office

So now, when you walk up the stairs, and get to the second floor, there is a warm, inviting room. A space I created.

a peak from the stairwell

The color is Wildflower Honey by Behr. A couple of people have said it’s over the top, and before all the furniture began going into the room, I agreed. But at an estate sale, we found a beautiful shabby chic mirror that inspired the direction the room would take – a collection of present and past.  Two small prints, found at an antique store, hang to the left of the mirror. The one is a photograph that could pass for one of my grandmother, or as I always called her, Oma.

As my husband likes to call it, an “I love me” wall, with my Master’s diploma, my independent study certificate of merit, my Writing Studies 2008 Writer Award and baccalaureate honor medals and pins, and my International Baccalaureate plaque with my high school tassel.

yes. i will brag. i love me.

A bureau from my childhood bedroom serves as extra book space, and finally a room where my Bob Masse signed Tori Amos poster can hang.

A space of my own. How very sweet.

wildflower honey sweetness