My husband and I have the house to ourselves today ... the house that was his childhood home and that will become his sister's home at the end of the month. It it very warm outside and so we are inside where the air conditioning leads us to believe that it is a beautiful, June day outside .. not the 92 degrees with high humidity that it really is.
I am lying on the couch reading .. a book I had to go buy since I forgot to pack the one I was reading at home and feel totally lost if I travel without a book. On every trip, there's always one thing each of us forgets. This time, Ed forgot his toothbrush and toothpaste. My "forgetfulness" was less critical.
As I look at the living room around me and the little changes that have already been made since his parents died in March, the 46 years I have known this house as "Mom and Dad's" run through my mind like I am watching a movie. The flood of memories reminds me of how quickly life changes. While 46 years doesn't seem quick prospectively .. it certainly does in retrospect. Today, the furniture, drapes, carpeting and knickknacks that fill the living room are all different than they were 46 years ago. The mint green carpeting matches the mint green drapes and is picked up in the mint green stripes of the couch and chair fabric. The carpeting 46 years ago was beige ... and I vividly remember dropping a cigarette ash and burning a hole in that carpet on one of my first visits here .... amazing that I was allowed into the family after that. I also remember being too "green" myself to admit doing it. I furtively tried to clean it up and never mentioned it during that weekend visit. My mother-in-law, bless her soul, never mentioned it either. I haven't thought about that event in years and wonder now if my father-in-law, who was also a smoker, took the fall for me. That wouldn't surprise me.
There is a large decorative vase of flowers where the dining room table used to be. The table sat in a small "nook" off the living room and on the Sundays we came to visit (first from Virginia when we lived there and, later, from Minnesota where we settled to raise our family) Mom would invite Grandma and Pappy over to share a delicious meal (no one makes gravy like Mom did) and we would all crowd around that table and enjoy "family."
The dining room table is no longer in the living room nook because it now resides in the "new" dining room, a room that was my sister-in-law's bedroom when she was growing up. As was fairly common in the 50s and 60s, my in-laws converted the bedroom into a more utilitarian space for all to enjoy once their 3 kids were grown and gone. How different things are now with the boomerang generation of kids. Bedrooms remain bedrooms "just in case."
Today, in this house, we no longer have to leave the kitchen and walk through the living room in order to reach the bathroom and bedrooms. We now "cut through" the "new" dining room, a verbal symbolism since there was an archway cut into the kitchen wall. How very convenient; just cut a hole in the wall and life becomes easier. I'm happy that the "cutting through" of the wall didn't cut away all of the memories little girls had of that bedroom ... both the little girl who grew up in that bedroom and my little girls.
When they were younger, our daughters used to come from Minnesota to visit their grandparents here in Pittsburgh and they stayed in that "bedroom cum dining room" on those visits. My oldest daughter still refers to the "new" dining room as "her bedroom." Thank goodness childhood memories can't be retrofitted as easily as a room can.
Many of the neighbors and relatives who visited this home when I first met this family are long gone. Grandma and Pappy used to come for Sunday dinner. They made me feel so welcome and loved, as if we had known each other forever. Grandma would talk often about people I didn't know; relatives I had not yet met I supposed. I would later learn they were characters who populated her favorite soap opera. She would be relaying the latest day's episode to her daughter, my mother-in-law. Grandma talked about them as if they were all real to her, as, indeed, they were, since they were her "everyday companions." Her husband, Pappy, was very hard of hearing, and would sit on the couch with a sweet smile on his face, not contributing much to the conversation, but always looking as if he were enjoying himself. We later learned that, periodically, his deafness would miraculously disappear. Those would be the times when he was interested in what was being talked about in the room. The deafness would suspiciously reappear when Grandma would advise him to "put on your sweater .. you're cold" or "don't eat that .. it doesn't agree with you." Those two dear people have been gone for many, many years, but, as I look around this living room, I can still see both of them sitting here as if they had just come to visit.
Life goes so fast. We learn that only after someone we love has been taken from us. This trip is resurrecting many wonderful memories for me .. and ringing a small alarm to remind me to soak in all that is around me.
We will leave here on Friday and head to my husband's 50th class reunion. I went to school in a different state, so I won't know many people. But I plan to really "look" at these people who will occupy a small space in my life this coming weekend, but who had a major place in my husband's life 50+ years ago. I know Ed and I will probably compare notes later and comment on how much older than we they all looked .. is that not the standard reaction when we see people from our past? Especially our high school past? But I hope we also talk about the role they all played in my husband's life. Each one of them contributed something to his formation. They all are owed a silent thank you from me for helping make him the man he is. I hope I remember to say that to a few of them if I get the chance.
Enjoy your day and soak in your surroundings.