In the wake of our father’s death, it’s time to clean out his house in preparation for selling it. It’s the house where my brother and I grew up, not changed much since our parents bought it in 1950. Since neither of us wants to move back to San Jose, the place we have always known as home has to go. On top of losing Dad, this hurts, too.
As it became clear that Dad was not going to live in that house anymore, I brought home keepsakes, knick-knacks, books and usable items, such as oatmeal, crochet hooks, and cookie cutters. I bubble-wrapped my grandmother’s blue tea set that my mother always said would be mine someday. It’s bittersweet.
Over the 23 years I have lived in Oregon, I have made many trips back to San Jose, sleeping in my old bedroom, waking up to the chirping of squirrels on the fence. During my father’s injuries and illnesses, I spent long periods of time there, right up to when he died. Now sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, I think I’m still there. I bang into walls searching for the bathroom before I realize I’m in South Beach now. THIS is my home.
Last weekend, while I was working here in Oregon, my brother and his family did the big clean-out, filling a giant dumpster and packing up things to keep or give away. There’s a memory in every item, but we can’t keep much. We have enough of our own stuff. We have to move on.
Mom and Dad bought the house the year after they were married. Located in a west-side housing tract where half the houses hadn’t been built yet, it contained the family’s history: our baby crib, Dad’s fishing poles, Mom’s needlework, the table on which we ate, and the flowered lamp in the living room that was on when my angry father would greet me in the wee hours after dates and parties, asking, “Do you know what time it is?”
There’s the floor heater that collected our errant marbles and jacks, the fold-down ironing board, the pink tile counter where Mom hammered walnuts into bits for cookies and brownies. There’s the circular clothesline that my grandfather built, the patio our father built, and the orange tree that was only a foot tall when I gave it to Dad one Father’s Day. Now it’s massive and full of fruit.
The house is old. It needs extensive repairs. It’s quite possible the new owners will tear it down and start over as others in that neighborhood have done, replacing the vintage three-bedroom one-bath homes with mini-mansions valued at well over a million dollars. That’s what happened to the house on the next block that my late husband Fred and I were renting when we got married. The new owners changed it so dramatically the only thing I recognize is the address.
Our parents’ story in their house is finished. My brother and I have our own homes and our own stories. The house may be filled with renters, or it may be torn down. Maybe it will be lovingly renovated and the garden brought back to its former glory. I hope a young family can use it as a blank canvas to paint the story of their lives for the next 70 years or longer. It’s a good place.
How about you? Is your childhood home long gone or do you still spend time there? What would you keep if you could walk through and take just a few things? I welcome your comments.
I had so much fun flying to and from San Jose last week that I’m driving when I go back next week.
It’s not the fact that I’m 25,000 feet above the ground and will die if we crash. I don’t understand what keeps the plane in the air, but I put myself in God’s hands and try not to think about it. I love looking down at the landscape below, picking out the landmarks and enjoying the cloud patterns. I love that I can get from one place to another so quickly.
Flying isn’t what it used to be. I used to enjoy airplane food with all those cute little packages. Now they toss you a bag of Cheetos or pretzels and a glass of something. They don’t let you bring your own food and drink through security, so you have to buy something in the terminal or go without. I hate the luggage restrictions. I’m constantly worried about being caught with something I’m not allowed to have on the plane. I have to pay $25 extra to check a suitcase which will be X-rayed and possibly searched?
The planes that fly short distances are getting so small you can’t walk down the aisle without raising your arms and scooting sideways. You can’t count on free movies or music anymore. Instead you can rent a tablet-type device. People sitting side by side don’t talk to each other. They turn on their phones, tablets or laptops, plug in their earplugs and tune out everything.
And I can’t imagine having sex in the bathroom. This one was so small they didn’t even have a sink, just a plastic bottle of hand sanitizer.
Flying anywhere from the Oregon coast means driving two or three hours to an airport in Eugene or Portland. Add that to the extra time needed for check-in and security, plus getting something to eat and drink, and it’s a whole-day adventure for an hour, forty-minute flight.
Then there’s security. If I’m lucky, I get the older woman who always goes to the same place treatment and can bypass taking off my shoes and jacket and unloading my laptop. It’s unnerving to be getting a half-dressed full-body X-ray in one place while my purse and computer are rolling off the conveyor belt somewhere else.
Things went all right with security this trip. The line in San Jose was long, but I didn’t have the problem I had last time I flew out of there. I was so rattled that when they asked for my ID, I handed them my debit card. Oh-oh, go straight to the problem-passenger line.
No, the trouble started when I decided to eat dinner at the sports bar near Gate 28 in the B terminal. It was 5:30, and the place was jammed. Tattooed waitresses in black kept passing by me instead of finding me a table. When I did get seated at a tiny table for one amid other tiny tables for one, nobody came. I watched the servers bring second and third beers to the guys at nearby tables, but I didn’t even have a glass of water. I was afraid I would run out of time if I tried somewhere else. After 25 minutes, I got up, chased a waitress down and threw a loud hissy fit while people stared at me. I am embarrassed to think about it now, but I got my food and drink in three minutes. It wasn’t very good, but this squeaky wheel got the grease.
When we boarded the plane, I found myself in the aisle seat next to an immense woman whose flubber took up half of my seat as well as all of her own. I felt sorry for her, but I’m not used to being so intimate with a stranger. She didn’t want to talk, just listened to her music and looked at stuff on her phone. Her husband, equally large, sat across the aisle. When the plane finally landed, he immediately stood, placing his rear end in my face. Nobody was moving, but there he was, a wall of man-flesh in blue jeans.
As I mentioned earlier, the aisle was narrow. Our two flight attendants were unusually wide people. They banged my arm every time they passed by. My restless legs went crazy. It was dark in the plane, and my seatmate didn’t enjoy my turning the light on to read, but I had to do something. I couldn’t see out the windows at all.
A little before 10 p.m., we landed. I rolled my suitcase out to the far end of the long-term parking lot, surrounded by groups of people all glad to see each other. I shed a tear when I saw my Honda Element/aka The Toaster waiting patiently to take me home.
It will be me and The Toaster next time.
My father, who broke his upper leg in March, moved to an assisted living facility last week. It’s a pretty place, a former convent with a chapel, crosses etched into the fences, and a lush rose garden. He will stay there while he continues to heal. With luck, the doctor will let him start putting weight on the leg in a couple weeks and then he can work on walking until he can walk himself out of there and go home. He’s healthy otherwise. Today is his 95th birthday, and he’d rather be spending it anywhere but there.
The last plane he flew on was an Army Air Corps plane during World War II.
When your family lives far away, you have three choices for the holidays: go to them, have them come to you, or stay home without your family. Frankly, all three choices suck. Number two is not an option for me due to old people, young children, and people with full-time jobs being less portable than I am. I have tried option three, and I do not like being alone on the holidays. Right now, on an ordinary Tuesday with Annie, it’s fine. But Christmas or Thanksgiving? A little turkey loaf for one? How sad is that? Too sad.
So that leaves option one: I go to them. That means another long drive to California. Why not fly? Have you heard about the airports during the holidays? The train is a little better, but expensive, overbooked during the holidays, and it never arrives on time. Also, I need a car when I get to San Jose to drive my dad to my brother’s place, which is three hours from where he lives—unless you take a wrong turn which I did last week. Oooh, you should have heard my father’s reaction to that. Anyway, we made it.
I hate leaving home. I hate leaving Annie especially in the winter, but she doesn’t travel well. The last thing I need on the wet winding roads of winter is a giant dog in my face, a dog that I can’t leave anywhere to eat, walk or visit family members with cats, a dog that is definitely not going to let me take a much-needed nap at a rest stop while other dogs are perusing the “dog area” nearby. So Annie stays home. She’s such a nervous Nelly that I gave up on the kennel. All those other dogs freak her out, plus I discovered they don’t give the dogs any exercise. Eight days in a cage. Not for my baby. So I hire a dog sitter, who is wonderful, but spendy and who is not here during the long cold nights when Annie sleeps in her crate in the laundry room, quivering when it thunders during yet another storm.
It’s not just the dog, of course. I also leave my work, my piano, and all the comforts of home, such as bathtub, TV, Internet, and food of my own choosing. If I lived nearby, I could just go for a day and come home to sleep in my own bed, but no, I moved to Oregon, so I have to pay the price.
Sometimes it physically hurts to detach from my home and my dog, but once I get on the road, I love the first day of the trip. Oregon is so beautiful, and it feels great out on the open road, music playing, mountains and pastures flying by, towns to explore, restaurants to enjoy.
The second day is not as much fun. The “Bay Area” seems to expand more with every trip. This time, the traffic backup started at Dunnigan and hit a peak at Vacaville, where I endeavored to get lunch and found all roads so clogged with traffic it was nearly impossible to get to a restaurant or to get back on the freeway afterward. In fact, by the time I finished driving in circles and managed to get back on I-5, I was in tears and feeling sorry for myself. Too hard. All alone. Why don’t they come see me? Now I need a bathroom and there’s no place to stop. Etc.
The traffic in the Bay Area is horrific. So many cars driving so fast, zipping in and out of lanes with no warning, clogging up to stop and go, breathing smog, my hands, elbows and shoulders aching from white-knuckling it for a hundred miles. This is why we moved to Oregon! I had left Mt. Shasta at 8 a.m. and should have been at Dad’s house by 2:00. It was nearly 4:00 when I parked in his driveway and oozed out of the car with knees threatening to give out. Dad immediately started nonstop talking, and the visit was on. So good to see him, so hard to get there.
Saying goodbye at the end of the trip makes me cry again. Dad is 94 ½. I don’t know how many more visits we’ll have, how many more times he’ll be waiting for me to call when I get home, how long before he can’t live on his own. The guilt sits on my shoulders like wet cement as I head east on Stevens Creek Boulevard to the freeway, conscious of the now-empty passenger seat beside me.
I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and it gets harder all the time.
So why don’t I move back and reunite with father, dog and family? Money is a big part of it. I can no longer afford to live where I grew up. The cost of living is insane. Those 65-year-old tract homes on Dad’s street are selling for a million dollars. A million dollars! A studio apartment, if you can find one, costs more than my mortgage on this four-bedroom house with its massive woodsy yard. Yes, I could stand less rain and fewer gray days, but I don’t want to deal with the traffic and crowds in San Jose. My brother, living on a hill near Yosemite, feels the same way. Dad says he likes both of the places where we live, but he’s not going to leave his house until he has to, preferably never.
So I drive and drive and drive. I swear I’ll never do it again. I take the coast route when it’s snowing in the Siskyous and it takes forever. Miles of winding roads with rain making it hard to see. I pass all kinds of vacation destinations but can’t stop because I need to get to my destination before the traffic, before it gets dark, before Dad panics. Maybe someday, I promise myself, but not now.
I spent $900 on my car before I left. New brakes, everything checked, fluids topped off. The service guy said I needed new tires, but I didn’t get them. I hoped these would last another trip, and they did, thank God.
So was it all misery? No. I had a great time at my brother’s house. I enjoyed listening to Dad’s stories and just being with him. It was wonderful seeing the sun. I ate delicious foods and saw gorgeous sights, including a rainbow over the mountains and another one extending into the ocean. I got away from all of my usual chores and worries and felt my mind open up to new ideas and possibilities. I ate a marionberry muffin in Gold Beach and wrote a poem near Roseburg. I got to hold Riley, my 5-month-old great niece and feel her tiny fingers gripping my big hands. I got to talk face-to-face instead of Facebook to Facebook with my niece and nephew, my brother and sister-in-law, and her extended family. I ate a ton of pumpkin pie. I played the 1880s cabinet grand piano at Dad’s house, feeling its mighty power under my fingers. Memories came flooding back, and I slept better in my old bedroom than I sleep here at home.
The day before Thanksgiving, a writer friend had surgery for a brain tumor. The doctors couldn’t take it all out but hoped to buy him a year, maybe two if he is lucky. This is a man at the height of his career, a brilliant writer, beloved teacher, devoted father and husband. Suddenly he has to quit his job and doesn’t know what he’ll be able to do in the short time left before he dies.
None of us knows what’s going to happen. So we hit the road and take what it brings, whether it’s rain and bald tires or a giant slice of pumpkin pie and a chance to hold a baby.
How about you? Do you travel for the holidays? Are Christmas and Thanksgiving always at the same places or do you trade off? How do you make the travel tolerable? Any experiences you’d like to share? Please comment and let us know.
I just returned to Oregon after nearly a month in San Jose with my father. Dad is suffering from heart problems and will be having surgery in early December. Meanwhile he needed help, so I ditched everything here and hurried down I-5 to the place where I grew up.
Once I was there, I experienced this weird Dorothy-waking-up-from-the-dream-of-Oz feeling. I was home. The sun was shining. Every day. Every day for 28 days. Here, if the sun comes out, we rush outside to look at it because it’s such a fickle visitor. There, it’s the rain that’s a rare guest. It clouded over briefly a couple times, but cleared up without dropping any moisture.
I love the sun. I spent a lot of time sprawled on the old chairs in the patio soaking it up. Dad’s yard is like a nature preserve, full of shrubs and fruit trees, with three resident squirrels as big as your average cat, blue jays, mockingbirds, sparrows, crows, hummingbirds, and the biggest bumblebees I’ve ever seen. It’s nice back there, and it’s nice being warm. I barely noticed the constant roar of the nearby 280 freeway.
I slept soundly in my childhood room, and I enjoyed being close to the scenes of so many memories. It was also great being near my family, especially my father. I liked the fact that every store or business a body could think of was within a few miles, and I always had four reception bars on my cell phone. That first week, I thought: This is crazy. I should move back home. Now that Fred is gone, why am I staying in Oregon? I can’t afford to live in the Bay Area, where everything costs about three times what it costs here, but I’d have a lot more chance of finding a job there than I would here. I could rejoin my old writing and music groups. It would be great.
Over the weeks that followed, the feeling faded. Even perpetual sunshine gets old. Folks there are always worried about not having enough water because it rarely rains. Everything is crowded, and the traffic is unbearable. A week ago today, I took Dad to San Francisco to meet the surgeons who will be doing his procedure. I don’t like to drive in big cities, and I definitely don’t like to drive in the dark. The directions were good, and I made it successfully to the parking garage next to the hospital. But we got out at 5:30, the height of the evening commute. Stop and go all the way. Red brake lights in front of me, white headlights to the left, eight to ten lanes across. Gripping the steering wheel, afraid every minute of crashing and dying. After a couple hours of that, I told my father, “If anybody asks why your daughter moved to Oregon, this is why.” We agreed that no job is worth fighting that kind of traffic every day.
No, I live here. Right now, it’s raining. Out my window, the big Sitka spruce waves in a gentle wind. My dog Annie is asleep on her chair. And I’m writing in my bathrobe. This is home.
They say you can’t go home again. Well, you can, but it’s never the same, and you might not want to stay there.