Monday, December 13, 2010

Home Is Where The Heart Is

I grew up in a large (8 children) and vibrant (Definition:  throbbing 
Synonyms:  aquiver, consonant, oscillating, palpitating, pulsating, pulsing, quaking, quivering, resonant, resounding, reverberant, ringing, sonorant, sonorous, trembling )   family.

My father was in the Army. My mother did what women of her era did, she devoted her life to protecting us from the big bad world while refraining from killing us herself.

Because my father was in the Army my earliest years were spent in various military housing with a lot of other families with part time fathers and too many kids. Harried mother’s allowed plenty of freedom because anybody else’s mother would take you to task in a heartbeat. Add that to the realization that your behavior would be reflected in the speed with which your parent rose through the ranks and you ended up with some pretty good “Dick and Jane” style children. I loved this time of my life. The built in playmates, the chance to re-invent your self every few years when your father was reassigned and the intense nuclear family connection brought on by your inability to keep other family members or friends in your life for long added up to a great lifestyle for someone with my slightly skewed view of the world.  Even when our family got too large and we had to rent a house off post, my life didn’t change that much. We lived near a penitentiary so we were still surrounded by families with too many children, missing fathers and harried mothers. The only difference between us and the residents of Leavenworth’s inmate’s families was that all of them knew when their dads would come home.

My parents only owned one house while I lived with them. It was in a decent suburb of Washington DC, Annandale Virginia, with a huge yard on a dead end street. This was where I had my first encounter with people not of my lifestyle. I had a boy in my 4th grade class with hair to his shoulders. TO HIS SHOULDERS. Un-freaking-believable!  My sister and her friend smoked grass and snuck out at night leaving me tossing and turning and worrying until they came giggling back through the window. There was not the same sense of community as in the tightly knit military neighborhoods I was used too. Add to that the fact that it was 1968 and the entire country was in turmoil and you have a recipe for disenchantment. I would spend the next 22 years trying to feel at home somewhere again.

I loved my father’s next posting, Brussels Belgium. We rented two houses while we were there. They were odd little houses, being foreign (to me) with tiny rooms and dormer windows and a lawn so small we could cut it with a mower we plugged into the wall. I fell in love with a boy, married him, and promptly moved into Belgian military housing. Two years and two apartments later we moved to the States.

We stayed first with my parents while he found a job and we found an apartment. 6 months later we were back at the folks for a month. His pay was erratic as a mechanic and we were still just kids, 20 and 23 years old, with limited experience on managing money. For the last two years we had the exact same dollar amount a month and paid no rent or utilities. We did better the second time around. Another apartment lasted 2 1/2 years. I liked living there even if I couldn’t do anything to make it more homey. There were many young mothers with too many kids and absent fathers. Even if I didn’t feel at home I felt comfortable. This is what I thought adult life was supposed to be like. I had had no other example.

We moved from there to a ‘condo”. AKA, a townhouse with a teeny patio that was private and a communal yard. We lasted there 7+ years. Our family expanded rapidly but so did those of the people around us. We became a fixture. The crazy blind lady with too many kids and the little foreign guy that could fix anything. Someone told me they thought we looked like Mia Farrow and Woody Allen. I loved the comparison, my husband not so much. We fed the neighborhood kids and let them sleep on our floor and watched them in the evenings when they played. We took children to the emergency room when they were hurt, to school when they missed the bus, to the park when they were neglected. To everyone under 17 we were surrogate parents, to the rest a convenience. I loved and hated that place equally. The entire time I lived there I thought at least I can go some where else. The decision was taken out of our hands. A tornado took off our roof and swept away our clothing and bedding and security. We had been evicted by the big cheese in charge. It was time to move on.

We moved from there to a duplex. This was almost a house, much nicer than anywhere I had lived before. By this time though my husband was ill and no longer working so when we had the opportunity to move out and live cheaper we took it.  Next up, my grandmother’s (now owned by my parent’s) house for 11 months, until my husband passed.  We sold almost everything, packed up the rest and moved to Delaware.  All I can say about that is that it is proof that no one suffering from the loss of a loved one should be allowed to make any decisions of any kind whatsoever! From Delaware we high tailed it back to Georgia and a new apartment in an old complex after just ten months

I started going to college after we returned. I was learning how to do something that would support my family. I was also learning how to be alone, how to be an individual. I was discovering things about me I didn’t know, and most of them I liked. The rent was raised after one year and I started looking for someplace I could afford until I finished school. By this time my kids had attended four schools in four years, beating even most military kid’s records and were sick and tired of being pulled from pillar to post. While none of us were crazy about staying where we were we weren’t to keen on moving yet again either. We might have a crazy lady living downstairs and had my son mugged by the pool, but at least this was somewhere with an address they could remember and friends they went to school with.

Through sheer luck and knowing the right people at the right time I was able to think about buying a house. Owning a home, the American dream, certainly was in my case. I was 37, had moved 18 times in my life, I had lived in three countries extensively and three states for long periods of time. I had lived in both American and Belgian military housing, apartments, rented houses, condos and duplexes. I didn’t throw moving boxes out, I stored them. I had never bought a can of pain that wasn’t flat white or planted flower beds. I didn’t buy window treatments when I would have to change them in a week or a month or a year. We hadn’t owned any pets or hosted a cookout, built tree houses or played on jungle gyms in the back yard… the normal things in most people’s lives were unknown to me. I had tried desperately not to get my hopes up but when word came through my agent that I could get the house, that I would be able to stay somewhere as long as I chose and make it mine, I went into the bathroom, locked the door, sat in the tub and cried for an hour.

After the closing we loaded up the munchkins and set out for the house. It was empty and the electric wouldn’t be turned on until the next day. It was old and falling apart but as we walked in, treading gingerly so as not to disturb our no longer downstairs neighbor it became the lovliest, the most comfortable, the  most perfect place on earth. We looked at each other and I whooped, I whooped again, I whooped a third time and the gang all chorused in. No downstairs neighbors? They jumped up and down and yelled and ran up and down the basement stairs. They wrestled and rustled and ran from echo-ey room to echo-ey room. We pulled in our pillows and blankets from the car and made a giant giggling pile of love on the floor, my family and I, and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. I had finally come home.