The old house is packed with memories

IMG_20190822_173002965_HDR[1]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.

IMG_20190824_081431250_HDR[1]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?”

IMG_20190824_081400085[1]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.

Brown-bagging it to school 1950s style

Picture this: a wrinkled brown paper bag with “Susan” written on one side and grease stains onIMG_20150914_161607735[1] the other side. For most of my elementary and junior high school years, 1957-1966, this was my lunch, and the contents were far different from what kids are eating at school now.

I got to thinking about this as I wondered how to cook the pork loin in my freezer. Should I ask a friend for advice or just consult Betty Crocker? If my mom were alive, I could call her, but she probably wouldn’t know. Growing up, we only ate fat-laden pork roasts, ham and bacon. Pork loin?

That led me to thinking about the slices of greasy pork in the sandwiches Mom packed in my lunch bag. Also in my brother’s lunch bag and our father’s steel lunch box. Sometimes it was leather roast beef that I had to rip with my teeth as the white bread around it dissolved under my fingers. And the meat loaf sandwiches, oh my gosh. And baloney we could bite into shapes, our teeth leaving scalloped designs, except where our baby teeth had fallen out. Slathered in Best Foods “real” mayonnaise. Not of this low-fat business I’m eating these days.

Fridays were more challenging because we were not allowed to eat meat, and I didn’t like peanut better. Sometimes my sandwich held two slices of yellow cheese slathered with butter. More often, it was oily tuna mixed with ketchup, the grease leaking through the bag.

The sandwich wrapped in waxed paper wasn’t all. Mom tucked in potato chips—regular or barbecue were the only choices then, a few dried apricots, and dessert—homemade cookies or brownies, Ding-Dongs, Ho-Hos, Hostess Cupcakes, or Hershey Bars. Somewhere in there was also a paper napkin and a nickel to buy a carton of milk.

We never had backpacks in those days of the late 1950s and early 1960s. We carried everything in our arms, our lunch bags crackling against our clothes with every step of our saddle shoes.

Mike and I sat with our classmates at long fold-down metal tables in the Cypress School multipurpose room. We didn’t trade; we knew our lunches were the best. We looked forward all morning to eating what was in the bag. We could smell the food from the coat closet or our desks. We devoured our lunches elbow to elbow with our friends and their bag lunches, then wadded up napkins, wrappers and bags and tossed them basketball-style into the big steel trash cans. No recycling back then.

Like most schools, Cypress sold hot lunches. The kids who bought their lunches sat on the other side of the room. We tried it one year. The spaghetti tasted great, but more often, we were served cubes of mystery meat in transparent gravy over a stingy blob of mashed potatoes. No comparison to Mom’s food. Plus we didn’t want to spend half our lunch period waiting in line for old ladies in hair nets to slap that glop onto green plastic plates.

As you might guess, my brother and I were not skinny. Our mother, also not skinny, didn’t stress out about sugar, fat, gluten, lactose, or high fructose corn syrup. But we were healthy. We ate well, and we got lots of exercise, walking to school, playing games at recess and in P.E., always on the move after school on skates, bikes or running in our cheap tennis shoes. Unlike today’s kids glued to phones, tablets and computers, the only screens we paid attention to were the screen doors slamming behind us as we ran out to play.

School lunches have changed a lot. Now moms are posting pictures online of healthy box lunches full of fruits, grains and veggies, sometimes cut into hearts, stars or other designs. The sandwiches do not include big fat slabs of meat oozing grease. And where are the Ding-Dongs and potato chips? Alas, I don’t eat them anymore either.

I’m sure today’s lunches are healthier, but those pork or beef sandwiches, made with leftovers from our meat-and-potato dinners, sure tasted good. In fact, thinking about them is making me hungry.

As for the pork loin in my freezer, I’ll ask Betty Crocker. Unlike everything else, she hasn’t changed a bit.

How about your school lunches? What did you eat? Did you bring lunch from home or buy it? Or did you go without? Not every kid is as lucky as we were. Please share in the comments.