Sunday, November 1, 2009

Under the Lava Flow - Layered Rooms, Houses, Family Memories

Uncle Harvey has owned his Tomball house since the late 1960s and has had a renter/part-time roommate for many of those years, who moved out this spring. This deprived Harvey of a helpful though unofficial caregiver, but also freed up a room he hadn't had access to since his mother died in 1975 and Mark moved in soon afterward. When I spoke with Harvey after Mark’s exit he sounded more excited about getting the room back than disturbed about losing his healthy, mobile, younger (younger than Harvey’s 79) care person. Harvey said that despite the number of years (decades) that had passed, Mark left the room almost as he had found it - the wallpaper (a rich red floral) was still beautiful, the furniture still had a sheen, and the closet still contained the possessions of Harvey and his mother. (God knows where Mark had squeezed his own stuff...poor guy.)

(The room in these 2009 photos, minus the only slightly archaic electronics box on the dresser, looks exactly as it did when my sister and I spent the weekend there in 1976, while my dad was on his honeymoon.)

Probably as a result of losing a mother in my preteen years, giving up my single bedroom to share again with the younger sister from hell at the same time I gained many stepsisters who I hardly knew, etc., one of my prevalent dreams is Finding a Hidden Room. In this dream I realize there is a room I didn't know about or forgot about behind a wall or door, ready for my decoration! storage! or whatever I want to do with it. It is a nice dream until I wake up. Actually though, since we have lived at Wildgrove, where I have, yay!, the Sarah Room (bookshelves and a closet for my Converse shoe collection) and a guest room (the room itself is not cluttered but the closet is full of my clothes), and a connecting bathroom that is MINE (until we have a house guest), the dream has decreased in frequency – although I still have really weird versions, such as finding a secret room with dead goldfish in aquariums, or accidentally entering a room of a neighbor’s house because I thought it was part of my house (Officer, I swear that has never happened in reality, even though in my last dream someone did call the police).

My dad remarried when I was 14, to a woman who added her 6 children to our family’s 4. Since my mother had been gone for more than a year and ill for longer, our Scholl family traditions had already begun to fade, and I understand why the family dynamic shifted to the new majority, Jordan people. However as I grow older I have increasing angst for the original Scholl holiday traditions, Scholl milestone memories and everything else about our family of 6, now seemingly buried under what I once, in early 30s bitterness, called “the lava flow” of the Jordan stepfamily.

Other do-overs and cover-ups occurred – again, for understandable reasons – during the same decade. After my mother and uncles moved their parents to Tomball, other relatives bought their College Station house and remodeled it almost to the point of my non-recognition, at least the interior. The new-version house was well-appointed, well-lived in and gracious…but where went my grandpa’s office with the dusty hardwood floor and the nap bed where Grandpa snored every afternoon, the hall closet that held the 1930s toys we 1960s children had a ball with, the original simple, single bathroom with rose-pattern tiles, a tub that was slow to fill and a finicky toilet…

My dad made practical decisions when new dependents moved in with us in 1976, and he made appropriate changes to our house. My brothers’ childhood bedroom – with archaic floral paper that even they probably hated, even in the 1960s – was painted over 1970s lavender, and my mother’s collection of Christmas crèches and other old-school holiday decorations (I still have no idea how our Snowman candles never melted in an un-air-conditioned Texas house) were moved up to ever-higher cabinets, and eventually disappeared. If a manger scene homemade from a corrugated cardboard box – for weeks every winter my mother painstaking applied pine cone scales as roof shingles on this forever project – had been offered to me in my 20s, as in,“Do you want this thing, whatever it is…?”, I’m sure I gave the decision to toss it. And you don’t get a second chance with those youthful toss decisions.

In the early 1990s my dad and stepmother moved a few blocks west, to an affordable, available house that was – literally, coincidentally – next door to Uncle Harvey’s. Even stranger was the fact that 732 James was so similar to 730 James, although smaller, with fewer rooms and less expensive materials. I still remember the thrill of playing in 730 James when it was newish and empty in 1968/69– vividly remember the stone floor in the den and oatmeal sculpted carpet in the bedrooms and hallway – so how could it not be strange now when I’m now in my dad’s house next door, a house that although perfectly fine does not have an extra half-bath, a sewing room with built-ins, or the spacious feeling of what I consider the original.

For many years I have struggled to try to update memories and theories of my mother to the present. Not long ago I had a small breakthrough when I bought a 2-sided floral comforter on – I wanted it for the green side but it had an alternate side beige with roses. One week I switched it to the beige & roses side for a change, and immediately thought: this looks like my mother’s older-generation taste…if she was visiting us today she would like it…and if I was visiting her today she would have something like it.

My imagination comes with many walls and booby traps, but suddenly I could visualize the kind of guest room my mother would have created in my childhood home, had it and she been allowed to continue. My original bedroom was smaller so would have become an office or sewing room, and I imagine my brothers’ room would have become the guest room. My mother did love florals so might have updated the old wallpaper only slightly, probably would have gotten a new bedroom set for herself sometime in the 1980s or 1990s and moved her old furniture to the guest room, and would have very likely bought for the guest room a bedspread similar to the underside of my Overstock comforter.

Using or even thinking about the flip side of that comforter (in earlier decades we called everything other than a homemade quilt a bedspread, so it would be that to my mother) brings Mother to life – but although a very credible image it’s still an imagined life. Sometimes the comforting image of being in Mother’s contemporary guest room works, when I am ill or tired. Sometimes that’s almost enough.


Leslie Ligon said...

How cool! I never knew you had the "Hidden Room" dream; I've had one of those for years, too!

I'd add more about it, but I'm having to plan my escape from my own home, so I'm a little busy with the details.


P.S. Thanks for letting me know about your blogs!

Library Lady said...

"And you don’t get a second chance with those youthful toss decisions."

True -- whether it's tossing a thing, an idea, a person, or an opportunity. There are no second chances to be had. It's lost opportunities I regret the most.

You've written a beautiful -- and honest -- piece of family history. I, too, have my own memories of the Magnolia Street house and Uncle Harvey's house. Since I've only been in Ben's "new" house once or twice, for good or bad, there is no memory there.

I remember always feeling excited going to Harvey's house. I suppose because it was almost always for an occasion (Easter, Thanksgiving, New Year's). But also because Harvey made a point of making it nice for all of us. And the smell of the fireplace -- even if it were summer. That smell permeated the house. (Or was that something else that permeated the house?!?) YIKES!!!

And of course, never having known your Mother, I refabricate with my own imagination. Tim and I used to refer to her as "Saint Evelyn". I started calling her that because she seemed to have been the perfect Wife/Mother as I heard stories about her from Tim, you and your siblings, and other family members.

Sarah, your writing is exquisite. Through it, I am able to conjure up mental pictures/ scenarios as I read.

And lastly, reading your blog and responding to the entries help me feel closer to you.

Keep writing...