A Home Rooted in Stories

Last weekend my brother and his wife moved into their new home. Well, new to them. The house itself is more than 70 years old, lovingly built and renovated by the same couple throughout their marriage. You can see their uniqueness throughout the character of the rooms: a great room off the entry perfect for entertaining; a large, private master suite with only a sliding glass door for escaping to the backyard; a central galley kitchen designed for efficiency; small private spaces for hobbies including a dark room, library, office and wine closet. It is the kind of house that leads to questions and wonder in every oddly shaped room, layer of plaster and bricked up window. It is a house begging to share its stories.

I know many of them — the owners were my grandparents.

My grandfather returned from World War II ready to marry his sweetheart and start his life. He told me once that there weren’t enough homes available for the returning GI’s — he just wasn’t able to find a home to purchase. So, being the resourceful person he was, my grandfather moved his new wife and infant son into his parents’ house, bought land from his father and proceeded to build his young family a home. Years later, he could articulate the thinking behind each of the design decisions and the practical evolution as his family grew and their savings made enhancement possible.

When I was growing up we visited their house every Sunday. It was a family ritual that needed no explanation and brooked no argument; few things overruled our 5:00pm trip down familiar roads to my father’s childhood home. I learned the little bit of patience I have from those visits, over the 2,500 hours of amusing myself and my brothers while the grown ups chatted. To be honest, I learned about life without even knowing it. Once during a job interview I was asked what interested me about the automotive industry. I answered, without embellishment, that listening to my father and grandfather “talk shop” had taught me about business before I even knew I cared about business. Family, loyalty, conflict resolution, straight talk — I learned all of that and more as a child at their feet. 

I remember that sometimes grandpa would fall asleep and we would all wait patiently for him to wake up knowing he would smile and assert that he was just reading his eyelids. I remember my grandmother disappearing into the kitchen to come out with plate after plate of snacks (cut fruit, cheese, chips, cheese balls) that we would eagerly devour. I remember getting old enough to be given permission to go off on my own into their bedroom (the only room with a tv) to sit on the bed and watch 21 Jump Street and Star Trek the Next Generation. I remember summers throwing lawn jarts, climbing trees and playing hide and seek under the massive willow tree — the one that was later struck by lightening. I remember one glorious summer afternoon (and only one) when we churned ice cream by hand — it was filled with chunks of Oreo and delicious.

As an adult I created new memories. I got dressed there for my wedding, journeying across the driveway to walk down ‘the aisle’ — a cobblestone path through the grass to my parents’ back deck. We brought our children as infants and toddlers, setting them on the carpet and pulling out familiar toys while grandma brought fresh baked cookies. I remember the warm feeling when my kids first asked if they could go over to “Old Papa’s” house, watching from the kitchen window as they ran across the driveway on their own. They would open the door and head straight to the back bedroom without any warning; grandma and grandpa didn’t mind, their door was always open.

My grandfather only admitted to one time when he and my grandmother had truly disagreed. It was when his business had been taking off and his peers in industry had suggested that he needed to move to an affluent town to ensure financial success. Achievement was important to grandpa and he thought they needed to do it. My grandmother was adamantly against it — she argued that they had to remember where they came from and stay true to their roots. More than 20 years into my own marriage I have a hard time seeing that argument in my mind’s eye. It must have gotten pretty heated, but my grandma was a strong woman and she loved her family more than anything. She won and they didn’t move.

I have a hard time imaging my life if she had lost.

There was a time in my life when I was convinced that my past, present and future would be lived within a few miles of that house. I thought I might be the one to live in their home. My parents were living in my great-grandparents house across the driveway and I had moved home to raise my own young children just a few miles away. I envisioned the changes I would make, how I would be true to the history while building a bright future for my own family. And then I moved away, pulling up roots four generations in the making to start over in a place where we had no history at all.

I would be inclined to be maudlin if not for my brother and his wife. I’ve watched as they have embraced the old while creating a new space totally their own. Walking into the front door brings a feeling of comfortable recognition tied to their own character. The house includes furniture that was my grandparents, pieces that were once mine and things all their own. They’re creating new stories, stories that the next generation will share. I can’t help but think that perhaps it has worked out the way it was meant to — that the house was always destined to come to them. I like that.

Grandma would have liked it, too.

Celebrating Stickiness

This time last year I sat down and set a goal for myself: write an average of 2.5 blog posts per week or 130 posts in 2016. I didn’t deliver, not even close. I only wrote 64 posts not even 50% of my goal. In fact, I tried and failed to write two posts yesterday and now I’m sitting here stymied.

I considered the possibility that this whole blogger experiment had run its course and that I’m out of thoughtful witticisms. I countered my inner critic with the fact that 2016 was a complex year and my overactive brain was struggling to simplify the world into succinct posts. As my brain warred against itself I worried. I’m heading back to work soon and I wondered what it would mean if I couldn’t pull off a decent retrospective / kick-off post. What would happen to my legion of followers? My thousand dollar speaking engagements? The big book deal?

Ok, there is no book deal.

My life, like this blog, has never been about a book deal. It’s been about showing up every day, doing the best I can and hoping it is good enough. It doesn’t mean I don’t let people down — I do. It doesn’t mean I haven’t failed — I have. It doesn’t mean that I won’t ignore the world and play Candy Crush — I will. But after it all, I pull on my big girl panties and go back at it, mostly because I know people are counting on me to do it. It’s about being sticky.

Over the holidays I had breakfast with an old friend. A really old friend who I hadn’t seen in person for more that 20 years. We picked up right where we had left off and between the hug hello and the hug good-bye I told her how I met my husband and she told me her story of starting over. We talked about as much as we could stuff into an hour and as we stood to walk away she hugged me with tears in her eyes. She told me that I had been one of a handful of people who had helped her get through a really rough time. She thanked me for just being there even as I felt horribly inadequate. I hadn’t done anything. Heck, I had done less than nothing. I hadn’t helped her pack up her things and find a place to live or a new job. All I had done was ping her on Facebook, remind her that she was worth her own happiness and share the stories of other smart, strong women who had done what she was trying to do.

It felt like so little, it was just stickiness.

For me it’s simple — life brings people into your circle and sometimes their velcro sticks to your velcro. It’s quiet and sometimes you barely know it’s happening, but then later on you notice that they’re hanging on there and you wonder, hmmm, when did that happen? This year, I’ve added some people to my velcro. Their connections are new and they likely have no idea that they are stuck to me, no idea that I may pester them 20 years from now to squeeze me in for breakfast. After all, it’s not like friendship has a rating systems so they can learn what they are in for from those that came before: “She can’t party, but you can count on her to stick.” – 4/5 stars.

I think stickiness is a lost art. It doesn’t have the same epic nature as storybook love or the passion of firework lust. It doesn’t have the daily demonstration of best friend texts or next door neighbor porch sits. But stickiness is precious because it doesn’t care about distance or time or frequency; it’s the complete confidence that someone is there and will be there regardless of evidence. Stickiness is a lot like faith.

Of course not everyone sticks, not everyone wants to stick and some people don’t deserve to stick. This year I pulled some people off, painfully aware of that long, loud noise that velcro makes when it separates. I wasn’t the only one who made that hard decision this year, walking away from connections that have been in place for a long time. Pulling apart is hard and scary in the moment and if you’re wrong ‘people’ velcro doesn’t go back together again, not like the real stuff. And sometimes being sticky to the wrong person can hurt. It’s complicated.

Fortunately for me, Colbie Caillat laid it out well in her song, Never Gonna Let You Down. The song articulates the way I want to be to my friends and family, so well that it had me in tears the first time I sang the chorus aloud to my car radio:

I’m never gonna let you down
I’m always gonna build you up
And when you’re feeling lost
I will always find you love
I’m never gonna walk away
I’m always gonna have you back
And if nothing else you can always count on that
When you need me
I promise I will never let you down

As we head into another year, I’m reaffirming my commitment to be sticky. I’m going to keep showing up, on this blog and in real-life. You’re stuck with me and when you need me I promise I will never let you down.

Count on it.

 

 

 

 

Home for the Holidays

When we moved away from our hometown three years ago, nothing changed more than our approach to holidays. For twelve years we took for granted our close proximity to family and our ability to be available for everything from impromtu birthday dinners to elaborate Easter egg hunts. We laughed at people who fought airports and highways, packing presents and pets in a weighted down minivan to get to family festivities.

We didn’t realize how good we had it.

When our kids were little we packed a ton into the 30-hours around Christmas. Without taking any vacation time at all we could host a Christmas Eve gathering, be in bed by 1:00am, wake-up and open presents with the kids by 9:00am, be showered and to my parents by 11:00am, pop over to my grandparents, swing home to drop off presents and let the dog out, go over to the in-laws and be home again — exhausted but happy — by 9:00pm. So much joy, so much family and so little inconvenience.

Moving changed that and in a heartbeat everything got harder. Alerting Santa to the change in delivery address. Dealing with pets. Taking vacation. Driving on crowded highways. Packing for a week. Wrapping presents. Cooking dishes. Buying an artificial Christmas tree for the first time since owning a house. I hadn’t thought Christmas had been easy before, but suddenly I knew better. It had been a cakewalk and I hadn’t appreciated it.

But even more than that, I took for granted the relaxed ease that come with geographic closeness. There’s an ability to just share space when you’re close that you lose when there are many miles between you. The everyday meals and everyday  stories that don’t feel special enough for a visit are fine when shared on any given Thursday across the dinner table. I remember with longing sharing a grilled chicken breast and microwaved potato with my grandfather on our everyday plates, talking with him about my day at work. I remember dropping the kids off at my mom’s for an overnight so my husband and I could go to see a movie, watching them toddle off for just another night at Nana’s. I remember sitting for an afternoon at my mother-in-law’s pool watching wet kids jump in and out, dripping on every towel. It wasn’t special then, it just was.

Those days are gone.

Now, when we are together every minute is on a clock, measured for value. Every moment is either greatness or wasted opportunity. I had a friend who had moved away from family once say that when you have fewer moments they are better moments because they are special. I understand that, but I’m not sure I agree. Maybe I am just being maudlin — reminded more than ever of relationships that are struggling and that I haven’t been able to cultivate — but it feels to me that the truly great relationships of my life are built on top of lots of regular moments shared. Not special events, but boring routine times when the comfort of just being allowed me to share my whole self with someone. Allowed them to say in return…

…yeah, I like who you are.

Being home for the holidays reminds me that I have fewer of those moments now with the people I love than I would like. It reminds me that I could do more to make the most of those moments. It reminds me that I am imperfect and I will, on occasion, waste those moments by playing Candy Crush or scrolling the neverending feed on Facebook. But, it also reminds me that it isn’t over. That every moment is an opportunity for a hug, a kind word, an unexpected visit or an out of nowhere message through Facebook. As long as I’m breathing I can make the most of moments.

So, what are you doing reading this? Go make a moment matter.