Used to be, when I came home for a visit, my mother put fresh flowers on the bedside table in my room. I hope I told her how much I appreciated that gesture of welcome, of I love you, of I’m glad you are here. I think I did. There were no flowers when I moved back to the house permanently in 2012.
Now my family is moving in with me, part-time. Temporarily, we assume. I’m preparing the room.
They arrive today for actual virtual school—which started on Friday, at their house— but they have been coming to my house a two or three days a week for the past month. While Emma sat in Zoom Rooms, Wynne prepared her “classroom” in the back room of my father’s workshop over the carport. It’s adorned with children’s books, stuffed animals, and other teaching props. Emma installed a WiFi extender and they tested it out. If teacher’s WiFi fails, this plan won’t work. If Elliot’s student WiFi fails, this plan won’t work. If Emma’s meetings on Zoom fails, this plan won’t work. A lot is riding on my rural connections.
While the moms worked, the boys and I played.
While they were at their home, I’ve been preparing the room; gearing up to really open this house up to a family again, for the first time in nearly half a century, when the last Staebler child left home. I moved back downstairs yesterday, to my childhood bedroom, and my respite in the years I lived with my mother in her last years. (I’ve ordered a new rug, so it will feel like a new home.)
We got a new rug for the tired family room too, replacing my grandmother’s braided rag rug, that I dragged from the storage room a few years ago. It’s the last room in the house to get an update. I never use it. I don’t even remember being in it as a child, except to use the sewing machine, but I know we popped corn in the fireplace and had game nights there. I think. My sister Girl Scouts tell me we did troop activities there, my mother as leader. But none of that is in my memory bank.
The family room, along with my bedroom, were also the last rooms to be completed in the 1960s, a few years after we moved in (except for the bath and living room in the apartment, which happened long after I left home). My father designed it and did all the work himself. When I cleaned out a drawer this week, I found his schematic for the cabinets in a stack of blank graph paper and my heart seized up. It must have been a reject plan, because wall of built-ins doesn’t look like this.
Story of the week: Last week, six-year-old Elliot opened the drop-leaf desk to reveal cubbyholes and was enchanted. “Gigi!” he exclaimed, “Did you know this was here?”
A few years ago, I decluttered the room so it could be a playroom for the boys when they visited, but some of my mother’s “decor” remained, along with full cupboards and drawers of blank paper (a foot tall stack), enough carbon paper to keep me supplied for life, maps for their trips to Europe and Indonesia, slides of those trips and the tree farms my father visited, a file drawer of the world peace projects and programs my mother engaged in.
Now it is all gone (not the paper and carbon paper—art). Well, moved anyway. I’m sure I hear the storage room belching at night. Furniture has been rearranged, removed, exchanged for pieces that were stored elsewhere. A bright new rug covers the brown floor. “Study carrels” have been erected for the boys, and my mother’s old Royal typewriter moved aside (Elliot likes to play with it) to create an iPad charging station by night and activity space by day. I cleaned out the cabinets to make room for games, toys, and art supplies. Soon the dingy beige walls will get a clean coat of paint. Maybe.
In my eagerness to prepare a lovely, clean space for the refugees—for I know they must feel like they are leaving home, forced out by a pandemic—I washed some throw rugs. And clogged the trap in the tub the washer drains into. Flooded the laundry room. Not for the first time. I pulled all the towels out of the rag bins to soak up water. After I spun out water, dried them, and was stuffing them back into the overfilled bins, I reached irritation saturation with said bins and, in spite of all I need to do in a weekend shortened by Friday’s hike, I finally emptied them out.
The Depression, I blame it on those years. My mother could not throw out anything. I pulled out my father’s boxer shorts and the tank style undershirts he always wore. There were my mother’s underpants, camisoles, and old socks, which she wore until they were rags before putting them in the bin to languish for decades. The sash from her old blue corduroy bathrobe (how is that a useful rag?), aprons, and button down shirts. And enough pink washcloths and hand towels to stock a shelf at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I stuffed two trash bags full to deliver to the thrift store for fabric recycling. I still have the third bin, stuffed full of bedding, to go. Another day. I’ve already done that one once.
In the bottom of the drawer, as if to prove my point about saving, were miscellaneous pieces of plastic with a note taped to the plastic bag that held them:
I defrosted the upright freezer and threw out the strawberry, rhubarb, raspberry, and blackberry syrup and sauces I put there a couple years ago. I like to pick, cook, and preserve more than I like to consume. Not unlike my mother and her rags, I suppose. I probably need to do the same with last year’s tomatoes I froze with the intention to can pizza and spaghetti sauce when the weather got cooler. Anyway, there is room now for the Costco run that’s coming my way, so we can prepare meals from the freezer rather than frequent trips to the grocery store. Meals for a family requires more forethought than cooking for one. And these days the fewer trips to public places the better, especially in rural towns.
I knew I was needed when I came home to live with my mother, but she did not want to need me and refused to admit that she did. I rarely felt wanted. But it was different, I know. She was 96 when I arrived, and my presence signaled the end, the bridge between independence and death. My family needs me now, wants me and appreciates me. In the future, this will be a “before the pandemic” and “after the pandemic” chasm—like before and after my family moved from Olympia to Centralia when I was eight. Like before and after their parents’ divorce for my children. This time with me is the bridge between life and more life. It’s a time Elliot will remember, and perhaps Adrian as well. And I will be there at the heart of it. Being here with my mother was important to me, but being here for the next generations is important to them. These are the legacy years.