Mid-summer snapshots from home

We spend every day of the week working to get Cane’s house ready for sale: scrubbing, sanding, painting, polishing, digging, planting, spreading, trimming, hauling, carrying, loving the life we’ve had and the one we have and the one we’re building all day long until we’re so spent we can’t love that way any more.

For breakfast I take my favorite stoneware bowl into the backyard and fill the bottom of it with blueberries. The ones dessicated in the heat dome still cling to their bushes, but all around them are dusk-blue bulbs of sweet bombs that will explode when I bite them. Every single time I taste them I am grateful for the owners before us who planted them, for gifts from people I’ve never known.

Neighborhood boys spend hours in the street, shooting baskets, propelling scooters, laughing and shouting and sometimes crying (the littlest one, mostly). The neighbor across the street puts out a “children playing” sign, though none of the children playing are hers, and I love that as much as their shy smiles when I wave as I drive by to go work on the other house.

The lavender I planted two summers ago has quadrupled in size, and all day every day the bees work it like a factory. The trumpet vine’s blousy instruments blare bright red, a siren song for the neighborhood hummingbirds. The patio is a full, busy place and I try, repeatedly, to capture the wonder of it with my camera, but I fail every time. I’ll have to be satisfied with snapshots of memory.

Friday afternoon I reward myself for painting the tediously twirled iron porch railings by filling the planter boxes Cane built a few days earlier. We choose a stippled coleus, dusty Daisy Millers, red begonias, potato vines, and Sweet Alyssum so sweet it feels a little wrong to stuff them in around the edges of those edgier plants but I do.

Our neighbors two doors down have been fixing up their house all through the pandemic: new windows, new siding, new plants, new paint. They are a young family, and it made me happy to watch their progress until I saw a For Sale sign go up this week. I thought of the boys who will no longer play in our street, and then of our own labor on Cane’s house. “Why do we wait until we’re getting rid of a house to do all the things to it that would help us enjoy it more while we have it?” I ask. “Next summer,” he answers, “let’s pretend we’re moving and do all the things we put off doing.”

We paint all the floors and have to stay off of them for three days. There’s plenty to do in the yard, but I have to keep hydrated to keep migraine at bay and now there’s no bathroom I can access to relieve my bladder gone weak from childbearing and aging. We drive to an antique mall and use theirs, then walk through as if we’re there to shop, in our paint-spattered clothes and dusty shoes. We spy a quilt we weren’t looking for that will look perfect in the bedroom we’re staging. It’s new, but made from vintage fabric, with hand-stitching. It feels like a metaphor for us and we buy it, happy at the idea of incorporating it into our home later, and I feel less guilty about coming there only to use the bathroom and pleased at the gift of serendipity my bladder has given us.

We go to the neighbor’s open house and realize they’ve flipped it, that their labor was never about making their home nice for themselves. Not really. Everything old has been stripped away, replaced by vinyl floors, white cabinets, new appliances, subway tile, white paint in every room. We see the ghosts of features that still live in our house, built the same year as theirs. From the backyard, we see our bedroom window across the fence tops. Later, I stand in the bedroom window and for the first time in three years really see their backyard, the side of their garage. Later, I appreciate even more than I usually do the things that make our house home: the old oak floors, the worn brick fireplace, the floor tiles from different eras, the blue I painted the laundry room walls, the kitchen cabinets installed before I was born, with their large doors that extend to the ceiling. We talk about how it makes us love our home more, somehow, having seen that other one that’s supposed to be what everyone wants now.

We drive to my childhood refuge, Bellingham, where my grandparents lived and I spent summer weeks when weeks felt more like months than days. My last grandmother died just over three years ago, and I haven’t seen her beloved house since it was sold to a young family who’d been renting a house in her neighborhood because it was the only one they wanted to live in until a house came on the market that they could buy. I wonder how it will feel, to see it and know I can’t go in, but then there we are and I see the front door wide open, a pair of chairs on the front porch, and a badminton net in the front yard, and I remember how happy it made my grandmother when families with “young people” moved to her block. I remember my grandparents sitting in folding chairs on that porch more than 40 years ago, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper and waving to me as I rode laps around the blocks on my bike, and in that moment on the street, knowing all I could take away with me now was a photo, all felt as right in the world as it once did when I pedaled around the corner and saw them sitting there, a touchstone I could return to again and again, even as my bike ventured further and further away from their home.

13 thoughts on “Mid-summer snapshots from home

  1. Kate says:

    I love your writing. Always. I love this especially because you sound good and busy and content and ready to savor the little/big things like kids playing and tackling projects and appreciating things and moments and trying to capture (and sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing) the magic of it. And that was a really run-on way of saying – it’s a gift to see the magic in someone else’s day. Reminds me of my own. Thank you. I wish you many more busy, content, taking pleasure kind of days.

    • Rita says:

      Thanks, Kate. I have been good and busy and mostly content. (I miss my girl, and we were supposed to be together this week, and…I miss my girl.) I think I started writing these snapshots as a way to help myself see and appreciate the magic of being at home. I’m glad you have days with magic in them, too. 🙂

      • Kate says:

        I’m glad you shared them. I meant to write “Reminds me to find magic of my own”. I’m sorry you didn’t get to be with your girl when you planned. I can only imagine how hard that must be.

        • Rita says:

          I suppose at some point I might write about how it is to have my baby bird so far from the nest. Don’t think I can yet. It’s only hard at moments–but those moments ache deeply. We talk a lot, which helps. The time zone difference really adds to the sense of distance, though.

  2. Cynthia says:

    Lovely. It is so nice to enhance my Sunday morning(s) again with your writing… You may not be able to capture the wonder of your patio with your camera, but you are great at capturing it with your words! Thank you.

  3. TD says:

    I felt as if I was sitting right next to you, Rita. Beautiful way to record the moments of your week.which are now shared memories with your life partner husband. The quilt will provide your home together with warmth. Ending the story of driving by your late grandma’s home was the greatest gift of all memories.

    Oddly enough this past week I spent some time finding frames to place very old black and white professional photos of my mom and the man she married when I was six. Going through the photographs and instant Polaroid of my grandmother, great Aunt and great grandmother found a special place. One Polaroid snap shot is of my mother looking into the opening box of a purple velvet two piece swimsuit that my grandmother brought for me. The expression on my mother’s face was of disapproval of appropriate clothing for her 12 year old daughter. Priceless moment captured. I loved the purple velvet and wore it with joy! Placing these photos in view adding to memories of love is feeling good with creating HOME.

    I am sorry that you weren’t able to visit in person with your daughter. The missing of a love one hurts sometimes because the love is felt so deep.

    Your post today was a bright spot in my Sunday!

    • Rita says:

      I am so digging the idea of a purple velvet two-piece! What an amazing thing for a grandmother to give a 12-year-old. She must have really seen and known you. All 12-year-old girls should have such a person in their lives.
      One of the projects I have in mind for the fall is finally doing something with all the old family photos that have landed with me. My house is small, so I don’t have much display space, but I would love to have them somewhere that they can be better preserved and enjoyed. I’m glad you’re finding ways to make your place feel like home. Be home.

      Sending you wishes for a good week–

  4. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    Ditto what Katie said…I love your writing,

    This made me miss my own grandmother, but not in a sad way. You captured my feelings when I drove past my grandmother’s old house on visits back to Ohio. Wishing to go inside, knowing I can’t.

    I loved how you mentioned improving our homes when moving instead of enjoying them. YES. It wasn’t until the pandemic and being stuck inside my house that I realized how much I truly loved our home.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…From Where I’m SittingMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      When I first drove into town, I felt really sad–I was missing so many people. But then I got together with my cousins, and by the time I drove past my grandma’s house I just felt grateful. I did want to go inside, though! The glimpse of the outside was enough, though. I was watching an HGTV show last night (a former NKOTB guy renovates old farmhouses–who knew?!?), and a person said something about how, with old houses, we are really just stewards of it for a time, and then it passes to someone else to take care of. I really like that way of looking at it. I’m liking looking at my house this way. We’ve been talking a lot about what we might do to improve it for both ourselves and whoever gets to love it after us. We want it to be loved, and I think the best way to make that happen is to love it ourselves.

  5. Ally Bean says:

    I know how bittersweet it can be to see a house that used to mean so much to you, but now belongs to another family. It’s weirdly encouraging and nostalgic, and gives me pause as I wonder and remember.. I agree, and we’ve been trying to do this, that we need to fix up our house for us while we live here instead of going all in later to make the house perfect for someone else. Why do we think like that? Yet we do.

    • Rita says:

      Well, the main reason we haven’t done more fixing up for ourselves is money. We can do it when we’re leaving because we know there will be money coming in to cover the cost (and we tell ourselves that doing so will fetch a higher price, which has proven to be true). Still, it’s got us thinking a little more deeply about why we put things off. It’s not just money. Given where we are in life (not as many years left as spent), we’re open to thinking differently. Other motives than profit are equally valid.

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