Also, after the recital:
#notesfromthreeofearthfarm, #ThreeofEarthFarm, airbnb Centralia WA, Ernie's Rapid Lube, H&S Custom Interiors, home, home renovations, legacy writing, mid-century modern homes, Notes from Three of Earth Farm, putting the garden to bed, skylights, sunrises, Three of Earth Farm, Three of Earth Farm Airbnb
Putting the “Modern” Back in “Mid-century,” and other tales.
With my sisters’ blessing and my oversight (and work), changes are coming to the house we grew up in from its construction in 1960. My parents took out a $50,000 loan from my father’s brother to build the house. Presumably there was money from the sale of the house we lived in on the south bay of Puget Sound in Olympia, but the loan is all I know for sure. We called it “the house that Donald’s jack built,” and he came from Michigan for the celebration when the loan was paid off not too many years later. The times they have changed.
The house has gotten tired in the almost six decades since then. My mom wasn’t crazy about change, and she couldn’t see—or didn’t notice—the dinge, so nothing much happened after my dad died in 1995. The kitchen got an update a few years ago when the pipe under the sink burst and Rebecca was in charge of repairs. Somehow she talked our mom into new counter tops and color on the yellow walls, along with the floor that had to be replaced.
I repainted the master bedroom some months ago, but over the past several weeks, some major work has been happening in the ceiling. The four skylights in the kitchen and hall have been opened up from the drop ceiling to reveal the sky, removing the cracked and stained opaque plexiglass panels that have covered them for 58 years (some having been replaced by even cheaper material in the “they don’t make it like they used to” vein). Matching cracked and duct-taped panels also covered florescent lights in the kitchen where there was no skylight and have been closed in and recessed lighting installed.
And the florescent lights in the bathroom are gone, gone, gone. A new and smaller glass panel now filters the natural light there, where a support beam bisects the skylight making opening it up untenable. I found my dad’s notes up there, penciled onto a “tubafore” when he changed the bulbs so he could monitor their promised guarantee, dating from 1966. I’ve painted the bathroom (no more lavender) to go with the new bathroom floor (an earlier project) and replaced hardware on the bathroom cabinets. Next up is major work on the outdated leaky tub and shower fixtures. Alas, I think the pink tile will have to go.
As soon as the messy part of the project was complete, I was there with my paint roller covering the dirty beige walls in the hall, additionally dinged by my mother’s walker the last few months she lived in the house. The floors and trim are next! Huge thanks to H&S Custom Interiors, who are the absolute best, always willingly (or they fake it well) doing additional little tasks for me. You know, as long as they’re here. I love this small town family of independent business owners I have fallen into.
In other news, the garden has been put to bed, leaving the mole-destroyed brick walk and gate and fence repairs for spring. I picked (and ate) the last of the chard last night. Or maybe not, that stuff has staying power.
In the occasional serendipity of operating an Airbnb (Three of Earth Farm, Centralia, Washington) last week my guest came to my door to meet me and asked if I knew who he was. No. He hadn’t known who I was either when he made the reservation—Airbnb doesn’t reveal the last names of hosts. He lives in California, but grew up in Centralia, his family and mine attending the same church. He was in town for the memorial service of his brother-in-law; whom, it turns out, was the retired owner of the mechanic shop (Ernie’s Rapid Lube) I take my car to. A beautiful person who created a great business; one that made my transition back to my hometown with an elderly car a bit easier, I was planning to (and did) attend the service as well. I was unaware of the connection between the two families. Small world.
The Women’s Writing Circle series I facilitated this autumn—in the midst of the renovations, which are being completed today as I write this—met for the final session yesterday. As my 60-year-childhood home was exploring new life, we nine women explored some of the themes of our past lives and looked to whatever is still to come. Writing, reading, laughing, crying. They all want to come back for another series. I am bursting with gratitude for these beautiful women and our extraordinary stories.
And this morning the sky danced.
And now I’ve got to either get back to the garden or make muffins for tonight’s guests. Or both.
I lived in Raleigh proper for eight years, worked in the city longer than that, and lived in the county that contains it for two decades. I’ve been gone six years. Although this week’s visit was my third, I was nearly completely lost. I guess you really can’t go home.
After making multiple wrong choices on the maze of interstate interchanges coming into the city, the next morning I can’t make it from my friend’s house where I’m staying to my favorite café where I wrote my first blog every week—two blocks from where I worked for eleven years—where I’m meeting friends for breakfast. The street names are familiar, but the map in my head of how they connect is completely gone. I drive in circles with no idea where I am or how to get where I want to be until I happen to come to the street the restaurant is on, the name of which I had forgotten. The remainder of my time in Raleigh, I depend on Siri.
It doesn’t help that there are new traffic circles (the first ones went in shortly before I moved and have now multiplied like rabbits); many new buildings; new businesses in old buildings; and torn down buildings.
My favorite blueberry crunch bagel at Café Carolina is now mysteriously too sweet. I’m reminded of my mother grumbling that foods aren’t as good as they used to be, declarations I rolled my eyes at in their predictability. The café and that bagel are among the very few things I have missed since I’ve been gone. I don’t have to miss them anymore. The Panera Bread and its cinnamon crunch bagel, where I write many a blog post now, have become home to me.
After breakfast I wander into the number one place I’ve longed for the past six years: a sweet boutique grocery store called The Fresh Market. I note the new signage as I approach it. I’m lost from the moment I walk in the door as the picture I’ve carried with me evaporates. It’s been completely reorganized; nothing at all is familiar. I wander for the three minutes it takes to quickly walk the circumference and I’m out the door. I don’t have to miss that any more. Of course the FM scone I loved has been long gone, the reason I settled for the blueberry crunch bagel in the first place.
I mention to my friend that though the Nissan dealership washes my new car for free, I’ve missed the car wash where I used to get my Honda CRV washed, hand-dried, wiped down inside, and vacuumed for $10. She tells me it went out of business. Don’t have to miss that anymore.
Before I head to the airport on the last day of my visit, I drive to the last two beloved places: my dear house and the historic cemetery where I watched many a sunrise before I went to work.
My neighborhood is barely recognizable. More houses have been renovated, some torn down and replaced. New neighborhoods surround the old one. My house looks mostly the same, other than yard improvements I saw several years ago. My prized banana tree—that the new owners moved—is a thriving grove. The front door is still Global Purple, and that makes me happy. The lawn is still weeds. Then, as I drive on by, I realize they have removed the fence with the purple window pane door my son Nicholas built for me. It was my pride and joy, and that makes me sad It’s not mine any more.
I expect property values have gone up and I wonder for a micro-second if I should have hung on to 609 Edmund. The wondering doesn’t last long, though once home I check the city deeds records online and confirm my suspicion.
The last stop is the Oakwood Cemetery. Old friends there are right where I left them. There are some shiny new stones scattered among the ancient ones, but otherwise at least one neighborhood is unchanged. I can breathe there.
Heading out of town on the way back to the Charlotte airport, after making wrong turns on what I thought would be a simple Siri-free drive to Hwy 64, I decide to drive through the first neighborhood, in Apex, my family owned a home in when we moved to North Carolina in 1988. I get lost somewhere between a new Costco shopping center and where the high school Nicholas attended was but now is not. I never get to the house, but end up in what was a decrepit tiny town but is now super cute.
I love the friends I had when this was my home. I felt loved and cherished spending time with them again, just as they always had made me feel. I miss what we had then. But, like me, they have moved on with their lives and the lovely evening we spend together is more time travel than reality. I look forward to hosting them at my home someday (some have already been). I will lavish hospitality on them as I share my new familiar. But while I will continue to visit my grandchildren at the other end of the state, I will not return to Raleigh. I am a stranger in a strange land there.
My American Airlines flight flew close to Mt. Rainier in the glow of the setting sun before making a wide circle over the entirety of Seattle and its islands as the moon cast a ribbon of light on its waterways. I usually fly American, but only one other time in the more than 40 years since I left home, do I recall it taking that same long eye-popping loop. We were 40 minutes early. Maybe the crew was eager to be home too.
“Are you home?” my seat mate asked as we touched down. “Yes,” I said. “Oh, yes.” Good and truly home.
It was one of those mornings when you’re just glad to be alive: cool and fragrant, birds singing, flicker pecking, doves waking up, owl calling goodnight. With the promise of way too much heat, the last two days I have left my chair in the living room corner early after my 5:00 (or so) bed-leaving, staying only long enough for coffee.
Yesterday I took the second cup of coffee to the barn door in the just-risen sun. I haven’t done that for a long time. Of course then I noticed the blackberry vines still cruising into the barn, and the bramble around my sitting log, and the trail on each side of the barn I still haven’t cleaned out.
I tossed out the rest of my now-cooled coffee—the second cup is never as good anyway—and went down to the mailbox in the garden to get my leather gloves. I pulled the native blackberry vines out from in and around the barn, my mother would be appalled, and cleared enough of one trail at least enough to walk through, and the other one more thoroughly. Not done yet, there is still the pile to haul off, but I’m checking it off my list.
Off course, by then, the sun was shining on the house gardens and I had to do the planned activity in the sun after all. Also not finished. Need to get the St. John’s wort beaten back. Maybe after it sheds its sunny little personal fireworks display that are just beginning to pop.
Today, up early again, I did not ignore the voice telling me I would be so happy if I cleaned the Airbnb suite for tonight’s guests before I went out to work. I should have ignored it. The target was the garden my sister created when she moved back to the homestead sixteen years ago. By the time I got out there it was already too hot for pulling run-rapant thyme, euphorbia, and creeping Jenny; and wandering sweet peas and more blackberry vines that will take over the house if not beaten back. I persevered and reached my goal of cleaning out and mulching half of it.
Rebecca and I have each had our gardens to create, while letting our mother be in charge of her pet area. My garden, dubbed “the garden where nothing will grow,” because that’s what my mother said would happen if I wasted my money trying, is looking good. It could have used a few more plants from this year’s Master Gardeners’ sale. Next year.
Now I’m having to care for hers too and she would not, I think, be happy with what I have done—or, in truth, not done. I tried, finally, on Sunday, to get it under control after ignoring it all spring—pulling out all the ^@#* lemon balm and buttercups I could get my hands on, and of course, the blackberries—but quickly discovered I can’t fix it this year. It needs a professional, and a make-over. Maybe I’ll just let it go rogue.
As I finished for today, I had one of those moments while hauling the wheelbarrow full of detritus to the dumping ground: my mother is gone. Forever gone. What about the questions I hadn’t asked? The ones I don’t know yet I wanted to ask? She’s gone—two months on Thursday. My father is gone—23 years on Thursday. I can’t ever ask them anything. Never ever again. The answers died with them.
It’s inconceivable to me.
I can only guess, and watch for clues on this property they poured their heart and soul into for half a century. It will also ask the questions.
One of the questions I did ask my mother, just a few weeks before she left, was if my father did all this work himself, even as his body began to betray him. “Yes,” she said.
That is also inconceivable to me.
Tomorrow I’m taking the day off from work to celebrate my birthday on a hike in the Gifford Pinchot NF. A short one, with minimal elevation gain (Flutterby will do the bulk of it). My body is tired.
And now the sun is setting on my favorite garden and I’m heading toward my last sleep before my 66th anniversary.
The sun has set on my mother too, and some moments I am overcome with, not grief exactly, but disbelief. And nostalgia. Nostalgia for the halcyon days of my childhood, heightened by caring for this place where I set down roots, pulled them up, transplanted them, and brought them back to their native beginnings.
Okay. Done that. Check it off my list for this century. I’m a mountain girl, not an ocean girl; but it’s been so hot, the beach seemed the place for my adventure this week. I do try to go once a summer. I love the Olympic Peninsula beaches with their drift logs, stone beaches, tidal pools: Ruby (my favorite), Kalaloch (my parents’ favorite), Rialto and LaPush (farther afield); but since I’m camping at Oregon’s Mt. Hood at the end of the month, I decided to explore the Oregon beach too.
Here’s the thing: Oregon beaches have beach towns. Beach towns have people. I am not a fan of either. What was I thinking?
Cannon Beach was still socked in with fog when I arrived at noon, and crawling with tourists from full-up motels and rental condos, no parking. I figured I would find lunch, check out the beach access, drive farther down the coast if it didn’t look interesting there. Short version: Getting lunch took much longer than anticipated, beach was boring and crowded, drove on.
I parked in a nearly full state park lot and headed to the wide, sandy beach, fog still hovering just above the water. Why is it that people congregate at beach access points? It was swarming with beach umbrellas and towels, kite flyers and sand castle architects, dogs and coolers, a not-in-use volleyball net. Not many in the water: frigid, no doubt. These people would love the southern beaches on either coast. But in the PNW you don’t wait for appropriate weather, especially if you’ve forked out the bucks for a condo vacation.
I walked down the beach and was quickly beyond the hoards. There was no wind—unusual at the beach in this corner of the country—so not uncomfortably cool in spite of the lack of sun, and that I left home in a hurry, forgetting a jacket.
It was a black and white photo day, even without adjusting the setting on the camera. I loved it in the end; and I’m not a fun-in-the-sun beach person anyway. It’s the kind of undistracting weather that gets me into myself. Here’s where this tale gets interesting.
I walked until I got to the “haystacks” and to where the headland stretched out into the sea. I hadn’t checked the tide table, and the fog-shrouded haystacks and the secrets their tide pools hold were out of reach.
Clambering over the rocks, I found a private beach, save for the gulls. Though it’s true that I saw only a half dozen people since I left the crowd at the access, from here I could see no one nor be seen. Sadly I saw no puffins; maybe if I’d had binoculars, or been looking harder.
I didn’t stay long; I wasn’t sure if the tide was coming or going and I didn’t want to get stuck. But it was long enough to get my heart going in love for this wild paradise I have come home to. The waves rose and broke as they crashed against the rocks off shore. The gulls shrieked. The trees high on the cliffs above me, permanently bent in the direction of the relentless prevailing winter winds, are evidence of who is in charge here. And it’s not the humans.
A friend asks me over and over what it is that brought me back here. “It’s home,” I tell her, “it’s where my soul needs to be.” “But what about it?” she persists, urging me to get to the bottom of it. She’s not satisfied with my vague response: the mountains, the trees, the hills, the valleys.
I love it here because I grew up here. Like other people love Texas or Kansas. She tells me she is from here—well, from the other side of the mountains, which is not the same—but she doesn’t yearn for “home.” She most feels home in England, where she has never lived. She tells me she loves England because of its history, she felt it in her bones and in her breath from the moment she arrived on its soil at her first visit.
Finally, walking on this beach, I got her question; and she’s been hinting at the answer all along. It’s not that my answers were vague or untrue, but they were the “what,” even I wasn’t feeling the “why,” other than it’s home.
I love this land because of its history too; but because of its natural history. I love it because it’s “new.” I love it because it’s not ancient ruins and because—except for the Indian Wars, a horrific exception that can’t be overlooked—it isn’t built on a long history of generations of spilled blood. It was built from nothing, on the backs of hard-working, courageous men and women. There is no history other than the giant ancient trees that fall in the rain forest and become mother logs to new trees; the trees that fall into the ocean and move in and out with the tides, until they are tumbled bare and finally thrown up onto the shore where children play on them for a few seasons until they are washed back out in the next massive storm; the mounds in the earth from ancient volcanic eruptions; the mountains that still erupt. No one has tried to tame anything, beyond what they need to survive.
On “my” beaches farther north, there are no beach towns, no condos. In my mountains, there are no Gatlinburgs or Dollywoods. If people want to visit these places, they have to be okay with inconvenience and the whims of nature, maybe crappy roads. They have to be content with entertainment in the form of hiking and walking on drift logs. No one owns the land, other than the American people, and maybe some timber companies; at most some mom and pop cabins for rent.
Visitors come because they love the mountains and the sea. There’s no Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, no putt putt golf, no Waves beach stores. Even restaurants are hard to find at the Washington beaches and mountains.
My mother loved the Appalachian mountains of her youth because you can touch them, be one with them, climb them in a skirt. I love my northwest mountains because they hold all the power and we humans are small and insignificant. These wild places are impervious to and untamed by humankind.
It’s not because I grew up here, I realized as I walked down the beach, back to the crowd a few safe yards from their beach town. I am my parents’ daughter. My father grew up in the mid-west and as a boy, dreamed of moving west “until he was stopped by the ocean.” He’d never been west. My mother, at the beginning of America’s entry into WWII, put in for a civil service transfer to the Territory of Alaska. She’d never been west. (She only got to Spokane that time.) She was participant with my father, as they dreamed through the mail during the long years of war separation, that they would settle in the far west.
Love for this wild, nearly untouched land is in my DNA. No wonder I felt like a stranger in a strange land those 36 years in the southeast. I’m home now. My heart beats strong again, my lungs fully expand. My soul hums.
This is why I adventure, to access what I know. It’s never wasted time, even at an unfamiliar beach in the fog. Still, I’m sticking with the wild coast of the Olympic Peninsula and the not-to-be restrained mountains. Sayonara, beautiful tame Oregon.