coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Down the Chute

In 1949, my parents moved into a house in Northern Indiana with my two older sisters. Mom and Dad were raised during the Great Depression, but reached adulthood during World War II. They grew up hard and they grew up fast. That pretty much explains THEIR generation!

Our house was a teeny, one story, two bedroom, house. A breezeway connected the house to a one car garage. I was born in 1951. When my brother Freddy came along in 1955 the breezeway was converted to a third bedroom for the three girls. There was no dining room, all action took place in the kitchen. The living room was not sacrosanct, the house being too small for a show room. Showy front rooms were for rich people who somehow managed to produce well-mannered children! How did they do that, by the way? We lived loud and large in our living room, with the large wooden TV cabinet serving as focal point. 

Our street was located in a newly constructed housing development filled with identical “starter” homes. Scads of similar neighborhoods were quickly built after WWII to accommodate returning veterans and their families. Everyone on the block was like us; traditional families headed by hard drinking, blue-collar workingmen with religious homemaker wives and lots of sugar charged children, all approximately the same ages. 

The 1950's were a great time to be a child.
Since houses were too small for adventure, our mothers made us play outside. A lot. We ran hog wild when we were home from school. No one worried about pedophiles or creepy predators. Our mothers did not shuttle us to extracurricular activities, our "schedules" were wide open. We came and went as we pleased, and the world was our playground.

I am not one of those people who thinks "the old ways" are a superior child raising strategy to today's helicopter parenting, it was just historically different. Benign neglect in our formative years may explain my generation's subsequent hijinks. Our war traumatized parents were so busy drinking, smoking, and trying to approximate normal that they hardly noticed us baby boomers were sentient beings. Little did they know we were plotting to take over the world.

I cannot remember any of the families on the block having more than one car. If the mother needed the car she drove the father back and forth to work, otherwise she stayed home. Protestant kids walked to the nearest school. The Catholic kids took a city bus back and forth en masse. I remember it cost a dime each way.

Our house was heated by a large coal burning furnace located in the basement. It was a big, potbellied, fire-breathing monstrosity. I was convinced it was the Devil. Once a year the coal man would come to the house and drop enough coal down the “chute” into the basement coal bin to get us through the winter. Now THAT was a lively racket! It was exciting for us children when the coal man came. The whole process was loud, dirty, and disruptive of normal routine - all excellent things to a child.

Families did not need a second car because industry came to us. We had an egg man who brought us eggs, a milk man who left dairy products outside the front door, and a bread delivery man. The Fuller Brush man supplied us with interesting things like carbolic salve, my mother’s go-to healing potion. The insurance man came to the house to update policies, and the Avon Lady was often calling with her cute little lipstick samples. I REALLY wanted those but Mom wouldn't share. Once a year a traveling photographer arrived to take family photos in our house. 

We had a mailman and a paperboy. Except for the Avon Lady, all these salespeople were men. The mailman walked from porch to porch carrying a big brown satchel filled with mail. He usually had the same route for years, so families knew their mailman by name. In those days before credit cards, the paperboy stopped by his customer's houses weekly to collect cash payments. It always embarrassed me to answer the knock and find the paper boy staring at me from the other side of the door. Aack, a young boy at the door wanting money! I wouldn’t speak to him and he certainly didn't speak to me. I would yell “Ma, the paper boy is here!” and then leave him standing outside while I made a quick getaway. 

Kid World was a separate society. Adults were weird, except for grandparents who took us to the Dairy Queen for a phosphate or a Dilly Bar. Grandparents were okay. They knew we were sentient and they thought we were cute. 

This house still exists, though quite a bit worse for wear. I often wonder if there is any trace to be found of the original occupants?

What was the first house you can remember living in?

My first home, circa 1958

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Being Home

We have been living in this house for a little over two years, and in Central Florida for 2 1/2. I love being close enough to my daughter and her family to babysit and go to school functions for the grandchildren. I like living someplace where it never snows and palm trees grow. I am also fascinated by alligators. My life is full to bursting and I am happy with this big change. 

However, I won't lie. In the past 3 years I retired, gave up my work persona, moved from the liberal north to the conservative south, and left our old home with acreage, dark forests, and beloved perennial gardens. In Florida we became strangers in a strange land. We adjusted to a different climate, learned about different flora and fauna, and started living in a freakin' neighborhood in a subdivision, dontcha know! 

Happy or not, I had a hard time adjusting to all these changes. Change can be traumatic. T and I had too many big life changes in a relatively short amount of time. He can roll with the punches, but it takes me a while to recover AND I want to hit back. It was probably not the best way to manage the first months of retirement. Still, it has been worth the struggle.

I expected it to be hard. I have been through big changes before. The knowledge of what to expect helped me prepare for and cope with this move. From experience I knew the unfamiliar would eventually become familiar if I just waited long enough. I did. It has. 

Like almost everyone else in the U.S.A., I descend from pioneers and immigrants. I recently read that trauma has a generational impact on families. The desire to move far away and start over is probably encoded in my DNA. I crave change even as I fear it. I have moved (or changed jobs) many times, always excited and happy to be starting over. This, in spite of the fact that I always know it won't be easy and will probably push me over the edge.

I grew up in Northern Indiana. My family moved to the Pacific Northwest when I was in middle school, and then we moved back to Northern Indiana three years later. I took off for San Francisco at 18, when that was the thing to do. With a few notable stops and starts in between, T and I, with toddler M in tow, eventually ended up in The Finger Lakes Region of New York State. We settled in, building an adult life and raising our daughter. I am not sure how well we managed the adult thing, but we did manage to raise our daughter. Then we retired and like all good New Yorkers we moved to Florida. I am not convinced this is our last move together.

I just tried to count up all the homes I have lived in during my life. I am only referring to the places I actually moved all my belongings into. I came up with 26. I might try writing about some of these homes. It would be fun, with plenty of social and cultural history.

This is a big country, and the last thing you would call it is homogeneous. It is a country of diverse regionalism. I find regionalism interesting, even though it is complex, often unwelcoming, and sometimes dangerous. I like to imagine having had the experience of living from sea to shining sea gives me an edge of sorts. I want to explore that edge without falling off the end of the world.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Maiden, Mother, and Crone

I recently read a review for The Lightning Tree, a book by Emily Woof. The last sentence of the review said "...she succeeds in conveying the 'infinity of moments' that make up a lifetime."

Well, THAT scared the ever lovin' crap outta of me! I know it was meant to do otherwise. I realize the reviewer was reaching towards his/her best truth. In fact, it was a good sentence. However, I wonder if the concept of "a lifetime" is flexible, depending on your age?

I am going to tell you my theory on all this and (be forewarned) I will generalize like crazy. None of it will be new or insightful. Like on Battlestar Galactica, this has all happened before and it will happen again. Here goes.

When you are young a lifetime seems mostly ahead of you. The idea of building a life is formidable, but also exciting. I like to think time is meant to be filled with joy and wonder. The young still seem to know that. Youth is about hope, anticipation, and energy.
You learn about yourself and so much more. If the young tend to romanticize the future, it is their right. Youth is a dangerous, wonderful, adventurous stage.

Middle age is when you might consider your accomplishments and bask in your strength, or vice versa. You've probably had your ass kicked a time or two. In middle age people are a bit more savvy. A lifetime is no longer an idea, it has become a concrete reality. Middle age is when you finally figure out the mechanics, the process of living a life. At this point a person is usually sustained by responsibilities, duties, and love. Middle aged people are busy, busy, busy. It can be a stable, fulfilling time in a life. 

Older people know they are living on borrowed time. They realize there is an end to all this. If you are lucky enough to retire you eventually find yourself freed from routine distractions. Old age can be messy, fraught with physical limitations, health issues, money worries, and unresolved fears. Oh yeah, and sometimes you leak. However, your time is your own.

I am not really "old" yet, but I am no longer middle aged by any stretch of the imagination. As I age, I begin to think old age
has more in common with youth than with middle age because time has that lovely transcendent quality I was too busy to notice in middle age. Now I have time, once again, to experience the moment with eyes wide open.
Old age is a glorious and terrifying time of life. It depends on the person to balance that conflict. It is a struggle, I'll tell you that.

So when I read a sentence like "...she succeeds in conveying 'the infinity of moments' that make up a lifetime" I am not thinking, "Oh isn't that a beautiful thought?" Nor am I thinking "Hmmm, I'll have to remember that one when I have a few moments to reflect."  I am thinking "Holy Shit! A lifetime has a lot of moments to live through, but they are definitely not infinite."  

Yep, winter is coming.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Like a Hurricane

I slept through Hurricane Hermine last night. I guess it has been downgraded to a tropical storm now, but it is still a monster storm front on the move. Orange County was never in danger of a direct hit, like up in the Panhandle. I keep checking the blogs of some folks who live up there to see what they have to say, but no updates yet. I imagine they lost power. I sure hope power outages are the least they have to deal with this morning.

Although it was listed as one of the 51 counties on emergency alert, we were at the extreme lower edge of Hermine's path. The worst we had to fear were tag along tornadoes, high winds, and rain.  Growing up in Indiana, I am used to tornado warnings; however, I knew what to do up North. I am not sure what one can do to protect themselves down here where people do not have basements. Any helpful comments would be appreciated for future reference. 

We did get 4 1/4 inches of rain in our pool over night. The pool water is now a sickly green and Cuban tree frogs are croaking outside the screened in area, determined to find a way in so they can inhabit this new, pond-like pool. There is still more rain to come throughout the day. T will wait until it is all over before shocking the pool back into submission.

Speaking of Cuban tree frogs, they are the absolute worst. One made its way into the attic last night. As we were going to bed it fell from the ceiling vent at T's feet. They are so creepy. T went to get something to deal with it, but when he got back he couldn't find it anywhere. It is still in this house somewhere. We have covered the drains, etc. You REALLY do not want those suckers (literally and figuratively) to get into your plumbing. They can do real damage. 

Ick. I HATE knowing that it is inside my house right now. 

A Cuban Tree Frog
Don't let the surreal cuteness fool you, these are vile creatures,
an invasive species that will damage your plumbing AND they
are killing off all the nice, polite native frogs.