So the Veeders are coming home. All of them. (Or as many of them who can fit in the time, take the drive, plan the flight and find it worth while).
It’s reunion season after all and that is what the Veeders intend to do. Reunite. Over casserole, bad lemonade, bars, jello salad and coffee and coffee and coffee.
My dad has been helping to plan this reunion for the past year. I mean of course. He is an important link in all of this as he has chosen, or has been charged with, or blessed, or just stupid enough to serve as the steward of this home place since his dad died nearly 20 years ago.
So, upon our official and gradual move from the city of Dickinson to our permanent residence at the ranch house, I have been helping a bit to get the place ready. Because, did I mention this house we have moved into has been vacant a good 10 years off and on? It turns out it needs some maintenance. (For those of you who have ever set up shop in an old house, I know you are nodding your head while recalling that lovely must-like scent.) Anyway, I spent most of my day yesterday in the basement, cleaning out some goodies and numerous spider webs.
Now I must mention here, that I am no stranger to this place. I basically grew up here. It wasn’t my childhood house, but it was my grandma’s home. Which meant that I spent many holidays, sleepovers, weekends and weekdays playing and reuniting with my cousins and aunts and uncles from across the country. It was our 600 square foot meeting place. Our stomping grounds.
So there I was yesterday, in the depths of the basement, waist deep in boxes filled with other people’s stuff. Because over the years, this place has become the unofficial hiding spot for pottery, homemade doilies, ill-fitting clothing, and as it turns out, that sunflower latch-hook pillow I may have mentioned earlier. These boxes are full of the important things that people on both sides of my family, myself included, are just not quite ready to release their grip on. And this got me thinking. On the eve of family infiltrating the landscape, what, really, are we saving?
See, to me the act of organizing stuff in this particular basement was a little unnerving. Because this basement was the location of the wonderment of my youth. It is where my cousins and I performed faux marriage ceremonies, established the “Kitten Caboodle Club” to help save stray cats all over the farm-yard, and played “don’t fall in the hot lava” (the flaming red, orange and yellow carpet may have served as inspiration). It is where I performed my first interpretive dance to “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” learned, with regret, that the Easter Bunny does not exist (and just to help me out, neither does Santa Clause), and was informed that some of us were moving far away to Texas. According to me (and I’ll speak for my sisters and my cousins) nothing that was currently in this room really belonged there.
I raised up my hands in frustration (and consequently swiped up a cob-web).
Then my dad came over and we found, under the bed, a collection of his old albums and we went through them one by one. With each Neil Young and Emmylou Harris and Bruce Springsteen record came flooding back to my father a memory, an image, of who he was at the time he played it, over and over and over. He flipped to the back and read off, out-loud, the titles of the songs. Not surprisingly, many of them were familiar to me, because many of them he sings to this day. It was an exhilarating experience for him, to show someone else something that meant so much to him, to have his memory sparked enough to tell a few stories. We laid them all out on the bunk bed where I used to sleep. We laid all of them out.
But now what? I mean, I was working on cleaning this place out, to make room for the next batch of things I am not ready to release. What are we doing with these physical things and what does it say about the human condition that we insist on holding on so long? I mean, really, did my dad need to run hands over the covers of these albums to remember that he was once an afro donning, hippie-style ranch kid, in touch with his creativity and the front man and member of a traveling band? Do I really need to physically put on the mint green, 1960’s bridesmaid’s dress my grandma had in her dress-up drawer to remember that I once dramatically danced to Bette Midler in front of my entire extended family in the living room of this very house? I am not sure. I really am not sure.
I remember going through this house with my family, aunts, uncles and cousins after my grandmother died when I was
eleven. I remember there was an agreement that the grandkids each got a pair of her reading glasses (which she left all over her house, even though she usually had a pair strung around her neck) and we got to pick a few things that meant something to us individually. Something to remind us of her. I took one of her lipsticks. The kind that was blue or green and changed color on your lips. Mood lipstick I think they called it and it was always bright fuschia on her mouth. And also a Norwegean doll, who she referred to as “bestemor,” or “grandmother.” I am sure I found a couple other things, but I don’t remember. What I do remember was the stillness in the house that day– so quiet, even with all of us kids roaming around. I remember the smell of the grass softly seeping in through the open windows. I remember not giving a shit about her eyeglasses or her doll or her handkerchiefs. I wanted her voice, her laugh, her hands, her smell, her bread dough and homemade pickles. When I grew up, I wanted to ask her things and compare our features and understand why I may have turned out like her. And none of her things that I would put on my shelf could keep that from going away. Not when I lost her at eleven years old.
The funny thing is, that here I am. In her house. Wanting so bad to keep the bricks and mortar in tact. Wanting to keep the windows clean and the floors swept. For her. For her family.
What am I holding on to?
My friend recently wrote that she too has been tempted to move back to her family farm to help make it “alive again.”
Maybe that’s what we’re doing here. All of the careful collections of things are set on shelves or in boxes to remind us about the spirit of the place, about ourselves. Because these relatives, my relatives, are not coming back for the noodle salad and family gossip. No. They are coming to touch the soil where my great-grandfather built his first home, to walk the hills they once rolled down as children, to stand on a familiar landmark, to breathe the air their great aunt sucked her last breath in, to visit the spot she once had a garden, to gather in the old barn. They are coming to remember and to celebrate the spirt of the place and the souls that rejoiced, wept and cussed here. Because we can’t hold on to the flesh and bone, the voices, the pain and the triumph, but we can preserve a tea-pot. And that helps us remember that we came from something. From something quite great.
Which brings me to the roses.
I was told that below our house is a patch of yellow roses that my great-grandmother planted before she died early and suddenly in 1932. Cornelia’s roses. My great-grandfather, Eddy, tended to these flowers every day during the summers after her death, making sure they had water, sunshine, and were free of weeds. Since his death I am not sure that anyone has hoed or weeded or fed those roses. Yesterday, after emerging from the basement flushed and searching for air, I walked down to where her garden used to be and found, that after over 80 years, those roses were holding on too.