November 7

I guess it’s not by chance I spent

the morning hours thinking of Mother–
not as a matron lavished with responsibility
the way I grew up knowing her–
but as a young single woman celebrating
independence.
I posted a grainy, black and white shot of Mom
a month after high school graduation
dressed in a gown of her mother’s invention–
with capelet and guantleted gloves–
and a crown.
That day, she sang for the town about lands of the free,
flying red, white and blue, the Statue of Liberty–
for whom she stood in effigy–her voice high and true.
(I know because she gave me a private rendition
forty-some years later from memory. That broader occasion
was our nation’s bicentennial and I belonged
to to the campus planning committee.)
She continued to be a statue it seemed to us kids.
Perhaps she was freer than we were–at first–
we, her earned virtue and the right to defend it.
Later she learned that political freedom
was different than freedom of spirit.
She suffered from fear and her realization
that others can think whatever they will.
Independence was not just about nation
but about heart and surrender–
a task she didn’t quite conquer.
In the afternoon, I took a few minutes
to stroll in fall weather. There was a place
where I stepped off the concrete into the leaves–
maple and elm and cottonwood mixed together–
crackling, sending up scent.
Mind and memory knew what it meant:
Mother had found me again after all.

mom as columbia

Find what’s yours . . . truly, danscir52

copyright 2014 Dan Christensen all rights reserved

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Fall Back

open hand drawing

Eyes closed, my hand retrieved the reading glasses from my nose.
I let my forearm glide along the front edge of the couch
while the glasses slipped unbroken from my sleepy fingers.
The street had just gone quiet on the cusp of night–
a first cold evening in October of these last
we can still see twilight at 7 (until Daylight Savings
comes again). The room had dimmed.
Scared awake suddenly by my perfect,
theatrical dying gesture–and aware of my aloneness–
I wondered:

Will I make a long exhale
some evening before winter settles in
not noticing how my fingers have released their grip
on instruments of sight?
Will I sense my way alone along a street I don’t remember
ever quite as silent?
Will I then look back and miss this sprawl of body
pressing cushion, and the heavy back of hand
against a floor?

Fall back sunset

Find what’s yours . . . truly, danscir52

copyright 2014 Dan Christensen all rights reserved

Return to Logan

It was a perfect day to see fall colors at the top of Sardine and down Wellsville Canyon. Stunning play of fiery maple leaves, the lighter red almost salmony scrub oak, bright yellow and yellow green quaking aspen, the deep evergreens. In the foreground, straw-colored grass–the background for purple gray sage shaded with trunks made black by rain.
Amy opened her window as we drove the diagonal highway through rural Young Ward and College Ward. I said this would be perfect air to help us locate exactly where we were but it was still too cool–or perhaps my sense of smell hadn’t awakened yet.
She had told me about the new Ag Science building on the east side of the Quad so, after dropping her off at Fine Arts, I parked on the south side of 4th North (There’s a pedestrian underpass now–today’s students have it so easy!) and scaled wet grass on Old Main hill. I climbed up through the amphitheater and looked back at the view of the valley. The only change to this structure (upon this return after forty years) was that the wood planks used for seating are now attached with grabber screws–still no match for the extremes of weather that also popped the nails.
I used a south door into Old Main. The space has all been remodeled into classrooms and offices. The original front entrance and hall have been incorporated into a wide suite for the president and assistants. I missed the auditorium where I took history and lined up for commencement (and where theatre students would entertain us those days we trudged up from Adams Elementary). I walked by classes in session, looking through two-decades-old Victorian-design light oak trim around interior windows and doors, as I exited onto the Quad.
You know how the scale of a remembered space usually seems smaller when you return. Funny. In this case the Quad felt bigger or, at least more empty. I haven’t quite figured out why. Maybe because I took the walk right through the middle with a much different mindset than I would have in my twenties. Today there was no one–crossing my path or on the surrounding sidewalks, in cars, looking out from buildings–no one who I had gone through school with, who I had taken tests from or turned in papers to, who had watched me weed the fitzer beds with summer grounds crewmen, who knew me, my parents–or who wanted to date me. But I had the sense that it didn’t matter. No one was expecting me. No one there had even known to miss me. No one knew that I had come back. Except me. Yet, even in my own mind, I couldn’t claim–as a conquering hero–the center of the Quad. It isn’t that kind of space. Yes, a person or group might define it temporarily. But you always move on–there is nothing to keep you there. You pass through it from one place to another.
Agricultural_Sciences_building
Needless to say, cell phones and computers have changed the texture of USU just like everywhere else. But I wasn’t expecting the new Ag Science building to smell like Starbucks when I walked in. (The old College Bluebird is gone but its function continues live and well.) Made way past fumes into a gorgeous atrium with its long, linear stairway to the third floor. Study rooms like glass treehouses project here and there as one ascends. Suspended sculpture forms a screen, new landscapes by local artist decorate the solid walls. A wall of glass–made private with an earthtone graphic of abstract cattails (yes, cattails can be even more abstract)–encloses the offices where I would have expected to find Dad. He wasn’t there. Neither was Lew, his office mate. Nor Paulette, their secretary.
At the east end of the third floor, I happened onto Journalism (my undergraduate major). It felt like home–or I felt happy that it had a new home in this finely detailed building that opened to vistas of the valley.
The grand finale was the dean’s office, the western terminus of the fourth floor. As I approached, its reception area framed a perfect view of the Quad side of Old Main. But, better, this was a floor-to-ceiling glass bay. I stepped into it to see mountain ranges to the south and west, campus trees. The sidewalk along the eastern border of the Quad coursed below me leading north to a view of the Art Barn and the empty quarter acre where Dad’s old building stood. “That site won’t be green space for long,” the dean’s secretary said cheerily and then surprised me by asserting the old building was intended to be temporary.
No, I didn’t correct her. But that was far from my impression when I was very young. If she wanted to talk temporary, I could have dredged up memories of the wooden, wartime structure Dad had first moved into for an office and how, not long after, ag science main entrance
Dad’s key to a brand-new building let us onto polished green terrazzo stairs with smooth aluminum railings, the smell of new plaster, and state-of-the-art communication reach-through technology that allowed his secretary to answer the same telephone he would take the call on. (Well maybe THAT feature did become quickly dated. Telephones on each desk soon seemed necessary. Perhaps the dean’s secretary is not completely wrong; the universe can come back in balance.)
I guess I could delay in endless paragraphs the key reason I started writing. How about just one more: A huge addition to the Business building is under construction on a parcel that includes the cleared site of a 1940s dorm, the first housing for “coeds.” I walked along the contractor’s security chain link fence to enter a beautiful library–located north and east of the one I knew. From there, I circled past the still-standing Natural Resources with it’s signature mosaic mural–perhaps a little faded but still disturbing with that glaring woman’s face. Then might have glared toward the empty site of Dad’s building, its edges awkward because they weren’t originally designed to be a level field (maybe they could lay out fertilizer test plots there–maybe I should). The Union hasn’t changed that much and I’ve returned to the Institute in other, recent years. Widstoe Hall has been replaced but not renamed. Old Main Hill central stairs are still the same.
Back to the car. Heading toward the north. The family names for houses along 4th East come easily to my mind. Homes of my classmates. Still there even if their parents are not. 10th North. “ROAD CLOSED Local Traffic Only.” I drive through the barricade onto gravel road base; the pavement has been removed. I don’t even notice how uncharacteristically quiet the streets are. The world has stopped but it seems right. Sister Larkin’s house is gone. The Cooks. I turn onto 2nd East, pull over to the right stopping short of another traffic barricade. I hope I’ve parked far enough out of the way of a front-end loader whose thick treads climb down a pale clay bank that used to be our south driveway.
I feel a sensation in my chest. A panic I instantly wish to escape. It’s enough to remind me of losing Mom, Dad or, the first time I felt it, losing Scott. I start to cry but this time it doesn’t last too long. The loader returns with long plastic pipes balanced and bending across its prongs. It uses our dual driveways to bypass the traffic barricade. I consider following it to continue north but an official-looking small pickup arrives and threads through two cones. I realize I can do the same to pull back onto the pavement.
On to 14th North to meet my cousin at the DI and then to lunch.

Find what’s yours . . . truly, danscir52

copyright 2013 Dan Christensen all rights reserved

Remarkable Woman

Half serious, Aunt Marrian, my mother’s sister, used to describe the cemetery monument she expected to be placed in her honor: A carved figure of heroic proportions–an ageless woman with face toward the sun, loose hair flying and voluminous skirts billowing behind her. Aunt Marrian wasn’t asking much. She just wanted to be remembered and respected.

This while her husband, my father’s brother (yes, brothers married sisters), Uncle Owen, persisted in calling her distant hometown, “Dogpatch”–as if he had rescued his wife from a barefoot, toothless, uneducated existence. Truth be told, both my aunt and uncle seemed plagued by feelings they would never measure up to the expectations of their respective parents–most of whom had already died before the two became an item.

As a teenager, Owen–his older siblings had moved out–was suddenly the man of the house. He experienced up close and personal his mother’s terror at losing the breadwinner of the family while having debts all over town. The Depression had been running for many years. Banks, businesses and utilities couldn’t afford to forgive these negative balances even though the Christensens were their friends. Owen’s mother’s emotional needs were an unhealthy burden for his eighteen-year-old shoulders. He disappointed her by dropping out of college. Two years later, his mother died also. From then on, Owen spent his life working endless hours–except for the three weeks in 1966 he stayed home to recover from a heart attack–insulating himself from obligations to anyone else.

Marrian was sixteen when her father died. Her mother bore grief and loneliness stoically while she sent sons into World War II, cared for two daughters still at home. Three years into family life without a father, Marrian was in college and began dating the orphaned Owen. He was anxious to marry her and Marrian’s mother pushed the idea of her daughter settling down. The match was made. Marrian gave up mostly-carefree co-ed life for total enmeshment in Owen’s quest to save the family farm.

She moved from the familiarity of her hometown to join a family distressed by recent deaths, financial problems, other incidents. Owen was strong. Strong enough to keep everyone happy–he must have believed.

With much to prove to her new in-laws who, by nature, were offish to outsiders–especially toward this petite, teenage wife–they immediately judged as pampered–who was even younger than their youngest brother–Marrian threw herself into the chores of processing and bottling milk, churning butter, gathering and packaging eggs–while cooking, baking, and keeping house. She carried on housewifery much as her mother had practiced it–and who had essentially chosen it for her–but marital bliss eluded Marrian.

She felt herself compared unfavorably to the former lady of the house who, granted, was a remarkable woman. A wise neighbor, seeing what was going on, told Owen he wasn’t going to find a wife like his mother (whom Owen had observed as an accomplished matron forty-five years Marrian’s senior). Perhaps the neighbor got tears in her eyes or a catch in her throat when she said this–after all, she had lost a close friend. However, this remark and others were interpreted by the family that theirs had been the rare blessing–if but for a few short years–of sharing the presence of an almost supernatural being, highly-favored of the gods.

We call this perfectionism and OCD now. I don’t know what the mental health professionals of the day called it when Owen’s unmarried sister was treated at the state hospital with a breakdown. Marrian would care for this sister-in-law–but was not to speak of it.

Owen occasionally escaped all these pressures taking trips with friends. Marrian resented being left alone. Yes, she was among plenty of other young wives surviving by themselves–after all, it was wartime. But they probably didn’t like it either. (Actually, there was a bit of cultural shame that Owen and his friends weren’t fighting overseas–even though their exemptions came from health or being stewards of the nation’s farms.)

Marrian was nineteen. She couldn’t see that, a half-century later, she would be included with the people one author called “The Greatest Generation.” Her motivations were close to home: expectations of Owen, pulling her weight in the relationship, keeping a clean house, hanging out spotless laundry. But the drudgery was wearing on her.

Insult to injury, her own mother pronounced disapproval about Marrian’s appearance. Upon arriving for her first visit to the love nest, Mother uttered the fateful words: “Marrian, you’re looking a little ‘married’.”Image

 The remark galvanized the young Marrian. As a single girl, she had always been careful with the way she looked, particular about her clothes. She redoubled her efforts. As her babies and other life changes came–bringing extra pounds–she experimented with weight-loss dieting. Her determination proved she could sometimes lose a pound a day in preparation for a trip “down home.” She kept her fashion flair alive to accent her slim figure and stunning face–black eyes, pale skin, high cheekbones, radiant smile. She eventually regretted some of the measures she took for vanity–having crooked teeth extracted, wearing shoes sized too small. Oh, and there were naysayers when she got a nose job in her forties, a facelift in her seventies. And, despite great effort, she couldn’t endure wearing contact lenses.

But, in all, Marrian succeeded at beauty.

 Try as she might, Marrian didn’t find the satisfaction her mother had as a full-time homemaker. She cooked, she gardened, she canned produce, she sewed, she collected antiques. Her children were well-dressed, well-thought-of, smart. Her home beautifully appointed and maintained. She and my uncle socialized with other couples, joined Rotary but, when he was at home, Owen worked in the yard. He left before dawn–before the house stirred. Aunt Marrian was restless; she was in her mid-thirties; her marriage was troubled; she declined going through another pregnancy.

 In youth, there were limitations on fulfilling her dreams–some imposed by the Depression and war. But she had money and time now. Her youngest had started school. What would she do? Her older children were taking music lessons. Playing piano had been very important in the home where she grew up but there hadn’t been much money. She now began serious study with a teacher. She also became a church organist. She planned a new house and oversaw all the details of construction.

 Marrian then decided to enroll in a nearby university’s interior design program. She kept at it and finished the requirements for a bachelor’s degree–except the class in rendering. Her stated reason for avoiding the class was fear that she wouldn’t have the skill. But I wonder–since she later became an accomplished oil painter–if she resisted graduation with its attendant expectations of getting a job in the field. Part of her still lived for the carefree young girl.

 Sometime during this part of her life, I began studying Spanish at the same nearby university. Like Marrian’s son, my cousin, I was on a mission for our church. My aunt offered to pick up my laundry, paying it forward in hope that someone in another part of the United States would take care of her son. I accepted the offer. She and I passed the clothes back and forth without seeing each other (except one Wednesday when I sensed she would be coming up the walk and staged a brief, unplanned meeting) but each week I included a note when I left my bundle in the dormitory mailroom. When my white shirts appeared on hangers (ironed), my undergarments and socks washed and folded, there would be a note pinned on for me. For nineteen years, I had held somewhat equal status among the forty nieces and nephews she and Owen shared. Now her service and the messages we wrote started to make me someone special.

Five years later, I returned to that university ostensibly to train myself for a career. Unlike my cousins and siblings–my age, older, and some younger–I wasn’t married.

Like Marrian, I had been born into my nuclear family after traditions were established, expectations set. Also like my aunt, I was good in all the arts. Perhaps like her, I was taught that what I wanted to do with my life was considered play, not work. Graduate school was supposed to teach me to work.

Aunt Marrian became an important mentor: I don’t think either of us was clear about my post-baccalaureate pursuits. We carried on anyway.

 It was a sunny, mild fall. We had both been noticing milkweed pods–unspoiled because of delayed storms–that dried along fences, the marsh grass plumes–like buff-colored cotton candy–that stood in receding wetlands, and the dark red seed stalks we called Indian tobacco. We sensed an urgency to gather in (what we hadn’t sown)–beauties of the season to make dried-weed arrangements–all the rage in DIY decorating at the time. Aunt Marrian had experience with these things. We planned our first joint project for a particular Saturday.

 I learned some things about design: 1. Offered a seemingly endless harvest of weeds, I succumbed to the temptation of hauling too much; 2. Some plants that sang to me in the fields when seen against other vegetation or dirt didn’t translate well when placed in a container (“It looks like you used all your dogs,” was Aunt Marrian’s unvarnished appraisal of my first attempt on the design table we set up in her basement); and, 3. Uncle Owen–who had spent the day at his place of business with the other men in his family–complained at coming home to the chaotic wake of my creativity. (Aunt Marrian sent an SOS to remove leftover weeds from their storeroom. “Good thing you’re Owen’s nephew too!” she communicated later with a note of alarm.)Image

I was also learning about dynamics in my aunt’s and uncle’s marriage–which, on the surface, seemed so different from my parents’. I didn’t know my Mom and Dad to distinguish between families or to assign blame for the actions of the other’s blood relative. But, when you’re interested in finding power chips, one is just as good as another.

Unfortunately, twenty years later, I had fallen into assigning blame to my wife for my unhappiness. I have come to believe that humans who feel their lives are controlled become focused on controlling the people to whom they have abdicated. “I am powerless to make myself happy so YOU must do it for me!” Blaming is the way we excuse ourselves for failing at this mis-directed endeavor.

My marriage ended in divorce, unlike Aunt Marrian’s–although at one point, she drew up divorce papers. I’ve had the good fortune of being alone with the consequences of my choices long enough to consider I might not have been right. As a shift in the foundation of my thinking, it’s  been liberating. It’s helped me be patient with others.

It’s helped me be patient with my aunt who–although she likes me very much–actively disapproves the way I look, my career choices. I recognized that being unable to make her happy is just as it should be.

Saturday before last I made the hour drive to her home to wish her Happy 89th birthday. I arrived to find Aunt Marrian in the studio she converted from my cousins’ former bedroom. She hasn’t painted for a few years so had placed an ad to sell her art supplies. Two women were there claiming spoils from Aunt Marrian’s organized piles. She totaled the charges–mostly in her head–and offered them some cake in the kitchen. She tottered–a result of fused vertebrae–but didn’t stop moving until each plate had been served with a fork and paper napkin. Then she settled on the loveseat and began explaining how my long hair and beard would be unacceptable to my dearly departed mother, her sister. One woman argued that it wasn’t as important as all that but Aunt Marrian returned a volley about how handsome I would be without . . .

I interrupted. “Do you want me to make you proud by singing for them?” I went into her formal living room and opened the pecan grand piano (she acquired twenty-five years ago when she withdrew the divorce suit that would have ruined Uncle Owen financially). By the time I finished the song, the women were watching from the entry hall. We all walked through the front door into the sunshine.

While Aunt Marrian looked in her mailbox, I told one of the women about my blog. “Dumpster!” Aunt Marrian had overheard, “Why would you call it diamondsinthedumpster?”

She seemed to get quite tired during the soup and salad we shared at her kitchen island but she did one more math problem in her head when I brought up how much water a person should drink based on body weight. While we cleared the dishes, she passed along a housekeeping tip she had just picked up.

We hugged just inside the back door; then she walked me into the carport to my car. I pointed out a bright side to outliving her brothers and sisters: “You get to have the last word.”

She leaned backwards against her ride these twenty-five years–a sporty convertible–to relieve discomfort in her back, I presumed. “Oh, I’m so lonesome for my family now,” she was serious. “I’m ready to go at any time.” I didn’t cry like I did the first time she told me this some months ago. I understood she wasn’t talking about quitting. Nothing in her character is about to quit.

I slid into my car commenting on the nice life she continues to sustain. “You’re a remarkable woman!” I said looking up through the driver’s side window.

“Am I,” she said over her shoulder, pleased but half mocking. “Yes, I guess I’m a remarkable woman.” Aunt Marrian brought herself upright again, balancing her capri-clad legs over her stylish sneakers. She squared her shoulders on a frame that without heels maxed out at 5’3, that this impromptu call to action transforms taller. Then, with a quick glance to make sure I was watching (and laughing), turned her face in profile, set a firm chin, a studied unconscious smile, instantly placid, eyes fixed in a faraway gaze both resolute and mysterious. Before me I see the woman carved of granite, billowing skirts, the forger of frontiers, the aunt I’m to remember, the woman she was supposed to be.

And, in important ways, is.

Find what’s yours . . . truly, danscir52

copyright 2013 Dan Christensen all rights reserved

The House with Two Front Doors

We didn’t grow up calling it that. A new acquaintance of my sister–just now, after our parents have been gone these many years and more than a half century since they designed an addition to our home with a separate entry–used the words. It was how a fellow citizen of the town let my sister know they were talking about the same house.

It made sense to my parents to build a door in the front corner of the large living/family room they would use the rest of their lives. Not that they walked through that door. It was rarely touched actually–unless my father checked the lock each night, which he probably did, after everyone else was in bed. However, the door was handy on the rare occasion large furniture came in or out or the carpet changed, which happened last the fall of 1973 (and, oh yes, to some extent shortly after this century began–although I don’t know if the door was used when an installer brought new carpet for the bedrooms on that end of the house).
It made sense to my parents, who had grown up in small bedrooms shared by multiple siblings and modest-sized front rooms for entertaining with a substantial share of each family’s resources dedicated to barns, stables, pens, coops, coal and wood sheds. At the time of their home addition, as fortysomethings with a half dozen kids, Mom and Dad didn’t know the future but their past included all those days before the prosperity of post-depression-post-war. Funny that, as the rest of life unfolded, they never seriously considered exercising the option built into the house of making it a duplex.
So spiders lived in the space between the 1950s-style hollow door and the eight-paned storm door (that swung opposite, directing all almost-nonexistent traffic from or to the stoop). In the spring, Dad would de-bug as he installed the screen. The door’s varnish blistered in the sun and the wood veneer faded. Sometimes, as we played in the front yard, visitors would ask which door to approach–although the question didn’t come up that much since our walk was a straight shot toward the original main entrance. And we lived in a smallish, uncomplicated town . . .
. . . where a few contractors controlled building. Ours had sold Dad and Mom a slice of ground to accommodate the addition. The next year he built a house between our re-positioned rail fence and the busy street beyond. The Cooks moved over the mountain from sleepy Garden City to be our new neighbors. Then the contractor partnered with a young builder to begin a row of higher density four-plexes adjacent to both our houses.
Apparently groundbreaking for the new project was a surprise to the Cooks and to Mom and Dad. The contractor they had all recently trusted was not present as trenches were dug the absolute minimum distance required for a side yard against the Cooks’ property line and much too close to the corners of ours. The city was called. An inspector arrived. Work was halted. It was within our rights to order the excavation moved and the concrete footings re-poured. That evening, our oily contractor and his handsome accomplice paid a visit.
Although not a lot of expense had been incurred, these wheeler dealers were anxious to leave the footings in place. Crowding our property would allow them to squeeze in more units at the other end of the land they owned. What could they do to sweeten the deal for my parents?That’s how we got complimentary concrete poured in the planter between our two front doors and a pro bono flat roof built over the resulting porch. (The agreement also included a six-foot high redwood fence to provide the Cooks and us some privacy.) The compromise (and proximity of early college-boy-tenant noise) helped the Cooks decide to move away within the first few years but eventually brought dozens of neighboring longer-term apartment dwellers to our front door–er, doors.

My parents welcomed them through the one or conversed in evening shade on the triple glider that graced the front porch from then on. They tended roses along the edge of the branching walk. The porch was a frequent setting for family photos. It was the first and last shelter from storm and sun. It was there one summer morning my nephew approached me from the car with his dad and announced, “I have a new baby sisto’.”

1035 color sketch brighter reducd

Three years later, I asked my parents to host my wedding open house in their home. It had been my dream to have such a party there. My sister and her husband helped work out logistics. The plan included routing guests directly to our receiving line in front of the fireplace. At last, the extra door investment paid off for crowd management. The house’s main entrance was the designated exit so, as guests arrived, my brother-in-law directed them to that other front door!

Just to say goodbye, I opened the seldom-used door again last winter. My sons (now grown), their partners, and I were salvaging fixtures and features of the house. You see, town traffic has overgrown its streets–even without our turning the old place into a multi-family dwelling. Ours, the Cooks’ and two other neighbors’ houses are slated to come down.

The storm door lock–original to construction–still works.

Find what’s yours . . . truly, danscir52

copyright 2013 Dan Christensen all rights reserved

 

Mother’s last remnant sale

My trip took less than a day and a half but, oh, the travel through time and space! Just how far is it between the spot by the sump pump where I watched Mother hang laundry (on lines Dad had strung from the floor joists above) and a snowbank behind Sister Larkin’s where I helped yesterday’s estate sale customers load their SUV? Or how do you measure the space of memory? How did I know, without seeing in the predawn, exactly where to lift the weatherproof flap to turn on backyard lights, then lead the first wave of secondhand dealers into Dad’s shed? What is the distance back to the dining room to total up another sale–a guy had lined up four pairs of ice skates on the turquoise couch–and explain my father was serious skater, he and my brother filed grooves into the blades by hand–and then bid up his offer?

Today my body seems to have measured the ground I covered, the loads I lifted. But my heart sings that I am lucky for it. Blessed for this trip home . . .
Friday, 2:17 pm driving Brad’s pickup, I call Karen. Almost out of the canyon; she times our meeting at the house. The sun is shining–an opportunity in above-freezing temperatures to carry some great stuff from the shed to the garage–load after load on the worn out bearings of Dad’s “new” wheelbarrow crunching through the snow and along the path David had shoveled the day before . . .
But not before Karen watches me get my bearings in sunlight streaming through sheer curtains in the laundry room, the first and only tears I shed . . .
Even with all the lights out after Karen and David left that night. Alone. I hear unfamiliar churning of the new heating system. I turn some lights back on. More looks at the drawer handles, the cupboard doors, floor molding, scroll work trim, the gold kitchen stove, the flagstone, the window locks, roller blinds, Mom’s and Dad’s closet. I turn off the lights again, do my stretches on the carpet, long thick pile, green even in the dark, feel the padding is mostly gone. I’m not lonesome. I’m home. But the mattress is too soft. After a few minutes, I drag it to the floor.
Saturday, 3:26 am. I check the time using my cell phone. The master bedroom is cold; the new living room is not. I wrestle the mattress through the door but don’t lie down again. I’ll just letter some signs to get the ideas off my mind. I go to the white formica kitchen tabletop we have set on the round fern-later-lamp table and sit on one of the white vinyl-padded metal gold chairs: “More good stuff downstairs” and an angled arrow. “Shelving make offer” for two places–the basement door and the stairway ceiling that curves to become that head-cracking corner. An hour or more down there pulling things from corners into the light. I get the second florescent fixture burning and decide to leave it on–so close to morning now. I open the fruit room door and find Mother’s textured Bakelite bread pans. Many trips upstairs. I arrange a sampling of 1960s vintage on the front porch (will thieves come at this hour in sub-freezing air? the occasional car goes by): the Cooks’ large, square two-tiered blonde end table, Dad’s clock radio, hula hoop, a “Pillow Talk” videocassette, the Singer canister vacuum with its high-impact plastic accessories in the original cardboard caddy (yellowed now. I remove the shiny nickle nozzle left from our old Electrolux–whose roar I used to be afraid of. Put the treasure in my suitcase with the sliverplate flatware Karen carefully collected on the kitchen bar and gave me the night before.) I need a bread knife for my kitchen. I take one, no two–the trouble with being at an estate sale where the prices are this negotiable!
Scale seems smaller since I’m an adult now–except for the the tall, wrought iron plant stand–sprayed avocado–I find behind the coal furnace (which I needn’t have bothered to dust and lug upstairs since it sold to the first customer for the price I asked). About 6 am, I center a table in the main part of the basement, empty sacks of fabrics (I collect a few bright ones for myself and children by the stairs). I post a photo on Facebook to notify those of you online: “Mother’s last remnant sale . . . . ” Image
While I’m taking a bath (that’s a nicer tub than any I’ve owned these years) the doorbell rings! This earlybird does some shopping on the porch while she waits to see if–with all the lights on–someone really is in there. She has an eye for the good stuff; others like her soon arrive. Karen, David and Keith jump in with the sale in full swing. Dave is our cashier.
One careful customer–searching books downstairs–finds a small box of personal letters and reels of 16mm black & white film–Dad’s shows on KUSU TV. She brings them to us.
Seems most folks who visit estate sales think we’re all one family. Some are–ward family anyway. The two women who loved our parents still live around the corner, spend a good part of the morning with us, take the upright vacuum, Dad’s mowing hat, two heavy afghans Karen and I put our heads together to identify–blue and gray one from someone on our parents’ mission; turquoise blue one knitted and donated to the Relief Society bazaar by Marie Chambers–from whom Mom hid that it didn’t sell by buying it. (Someone else fell in love with the loose-crocheted beige and blue one Mother kept adding onto. I sold it with a twinge having heard from Karen the night before that it said “mom” to her like no other. We had draped it with other blankets on the ironing board. The crochet-covered hangers didn’t sell.)
Young families needing a start or start over were a theme. Janis (maiden name Seeholzer) and her husband walked from their house on 5th East looking for furniture to help a young woman they knew. They bought the crushed velvet swivel rocker. David used his pickup to deliver all three. And the boat-long blue couch Karen sold to a young mother of teenage boys who lets them have the bedrooms in their 10th North apartment. The couch will be her luxurious daybed. This young woman was also thrilled with Dad’s reproductions of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration, and topographical maps I gave her from his stash in the basement. The refrigerator went for $40, the washer ten.
A jarring order out: One young man called to see if he could haul intact a basement shelving unit. I measured. One seemed narrow enough. He came with a friend. He first sawed through and broke the 2×2 crane Dad had added to maneuver heavy packages. Got the unit to the upper landing where Karen handed the friend tools to pull the hinge pins from the garage door (two Spanish-speaking men and I were trapped downstairs during this process). Despite forceful ramming, still too wide. The guy used his fist to break off 1x cross bracing. I was watching from below but Karen and Keith only heard the sounds of our house being prematurely torn down. The guy also took the wheelbarrow and I threw in the horseshoes set. We got $20, surprisingly no scarring, all the doors still lock.
Representing his life-long tie to Grandpa, Keith went for the riding mower. His in-laws came with a heavy snow blower to make a path from the shed to the driveway. The lawn mower didn’t start so they towed it and then, by hand, pushed it up a ramp onto a large RV trailer. Keith said, “My in-laws have the best big toys!” (Now he does too!)Image
Karen kept to schedule, ended the sale at noon and began loading for DI. She had freshly laundered Mom’s house dresses for display in the front closet. By chance I caught the moment perhaps most representative of the day: Karen took one of the dresses for herself then, on her knees, laid the others still on their hangers in a pasteboard box. She said–mostly to herself– “Must be done,” quickly closed the flaps. I realized we were seeing the gathered necklines, the jersey fabric florals for the last time. Karen was laying to rest decades of caring for our parents, their physical needs, even saying another goodbye to our mother from whom she drew her strength, whose traditions she keeps alive.
I had miles to go. I took a suit Mother made for Dad–there was one still left! Other surprises from the basement–things we left seven years ago–were stashed in the cab of the truck I was driving. I told Karen I wished I had taken more of Dad’s clothes seven years ago; we found belts and cardigan sweaters. The Christmas tree (for Linda) and the tall blonde chest from Mark’s and Roger’s south bedroom (for my apartment) were loaded in the back.
Don’t know what David took–except the money.
We hugged. Karen said, “Thanks for the day.” I said, “Thanks for the chance to come home.”
I had people to meet, places to be.
With love, Dan
Find what’s yours . . . truly! danscir52

copyright 2013 Dan Christensen all rights reserved

Intentional flaw–Ancient wisdom about OCD

My dad’s first sheepkin was a diploma for earning a degree in agriculture. He was still single when he graduated. It was the Depression. Jobs were scarce but an opportunity in his field opened up. Dad rode a train from his hometown to go live in a tent on the desert. True, it was austere but, by aesthetic providence, his exposure to the elements coincided with a sophisticated movement among 20th century artists.
I don’t remember him mentioning the work of Georgia O’Keeffe but, like her, Dad developed an appreciation for Native American arts and crafts. While in New Mexico, he had the good sense to buy–at great Depression prices–three Navajo wool rugs (and a basket or two) which he and my mother made part of their home furnishing the first 20 years of marriage.
I came along halfway through that period. Consummate conversation pieces, the Navajo rugs introduced Dad’s experience on the reservation, admiration of the rugs as art, speculation about what the designs represented. Mother told me that she had to break my father’s habit of showing company there was no difference between the front and back of a Navajo rug–since the act of flipping it over or waving it in the air created a display of dust, reflecting badly on the lady of the house. Still repeated in my day, however, Mother would regularly point guests to a line of contrasting yarn woven into a corner of each rug and extending to its edge. She called the feature “the intentional flaw” with purpose to “let out the evil spirits.”

I admit this concept seemed to have little relevance in my culture–although the rugs continued to be valued.

Fifteen years ago as staff in an art gallery, I worked with a painter whose focus was Navajo art and philosophy. One day I thought to ask her if my mother was right about the “flaw.” This woman’s understanding was that Navajos long ago observed human nature to include excessive focus on works of the hands. The remedy: an artisan nearing completion of a rug or basket weaves the extra line deliberately for the benefit of his or her own spirit. It is a physical symbol and conscious act of freeing the spirit of the maker.

Now THIS has relevance. I have melded the concepts–what I grew up with and what my new friend explained–and am evolving my own way to view my flaws. A bonus came by observing a difference between my son and me: “How is it you don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake?” I asked one night as he sat on my couch. He told me what he had learned from studying art all through junior high and high school: “The first two years I was always erasing. Then I realized what I thought were my mistakes sometimes turned out to be some of my best ideas.”

Obsessiveness about being perfect–or not having any flaws–is its own evil. It keeps me from moving. I paralyze myself, prevent the next mistake which just might be the best act or move or stroke or choice ever! If I make a “mistake,” I have decided to say to myself, “My intention is to use that flaw as a line for moving beyond the boundaries of this project, for freeing my spirit.”

Take my advice. Commit to a color, put something in place, draw a bold stroke, cut to length. Then move on. Avoid premature assumptions about spoiling the project. If it isn’t working out the way you thought it would, it just means you aren’t done yet. It might just turn out better than you could have imagined!

Find what’s yours . . . truly! danscir52

copyright 2013 Dan Christensen all rights reserved