Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The man drove onto the corner of the lawn and slammed his truck to a stop. Greg went out to question him and received a load of anger that I could feel from inside the house. I walked outside to see why this angry man had invaded our peaceful afternoon. I was struck by the waves of hostility that hit me with a force for which I was not prepared. Obscenity laced invective was screamed at me, words frightful and threatening . I asked my 'neighbor' to leave, after trying to learn his name, and with more curses and and violent imagery flying at me from his truck, he spun his tires and roared off.. I was shaken by this encounter; I felt that I had been assaulted and needed to go wash. My hands trembling, I found the phone and called the police.

This is all over a  twenty foot square ( actually it is a narrow triangle) of land that sits up by the road where I have stacked my firewood for almost 20 years. Where the folks who lived here before me parked their cars. A piece of ground at the edge of the forest that only I can see, that is useless to anyone else, but that has obviously become very valuable to the people who have had the survey done and discovered that my firewood pile sits on the edge of their property.

There was no reasoning with this man, someone whom I have never met. I would not recognize him if I bumped into him today. But this encounter has shattered the peace and safe-haven of my home. I am now frightened. Frightened that he will hurt my dogs, that he will steal or damage my car or hurl the offending logs onto my carefully planted and lovingly tended flowerbeds. I want to lock my doors, figure out how to lock the shed and basement, get curtains for all the windows since I feel he is now out there, waiting, his ugly words hanging in the air, his anger palpable, lingering. I am nervous that this is not over, that one visit from the state police will not deter him from taking what he believes is his, this tiny corner that no one ever wanted.

What is it that makes people think that it is OK to be so abusive towards one another? Where do we learn that this is how to handle disputes? That anger and intimidation are our only weapons against the wood stacking demons around the corner who have taken over a very small section of forest that does not (in his mind )belong to them?

This is rural Pennsylvania. The property lines were more ideas than fixed boundaries. No one , for as long as I have lived in these parts has ever bothered to have a survey done, to be so exacting in claiming what is theirs. We all spill over onto one another in some fashion and no one has ever cared. Until now.
And so with peace of mind shattered I must walk out into the dark, start my car and drive away from my precious home, my sanctuary, the one place I have always felt safe. I will worry about this foolish, violent man's next step, and be uneasy when I come home later, carefully locking the doors, and staying inside, no longer comfortable wandering in my gardens, relaxing on a bench enjoying the solitude. I am sad that this has happened, I feel that something has been lost, never to be regained, taken, never to be returned. I don't know what to do.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Shiny Things

We are odd beings with our predilection for collecting. Like magpies and crows we pick up shiny things and bring them home to our nests where we display them proudly. We gather more and more shiny things until the older treasures are pushed to the back and the new are out in front. The oldest are then carefully placed in cabinets and drawers, attics and basements and yet more shiny things sit in their places.
We collect all manner of things: jewels, shoes, and china, snow globes and  vases, cow bells, carved birds, and silver, tea pots, paintings, and gold:  truly, anything under the sun. To each of us, these wonderful things are precious, and we , some of us, go so far as to judge others by how many and what manner of shiny things are owned. These things infer status upon their owners, in disproportion to their intrinsic value, and foster avarice and envy among those not equally endowed.
And yet they are only things.  They have no heart, they can not love or laugh, weep or grieve. We may gain momentary satisfaction in admiring our shiny things, but in our busy lives, more often than not, these things sit and gather dust and become burdensome. They must be washed and polished, shined and maintained.  
Ultimately, when we shuffle on off of this sparkling mortal coil, we  must leave per force, our things behind  for others do with what they will. Some few of these things may be of great value for the memories they provide, may bring on tears of remembrance, sadness and the pain of loss. But most are what they are: things to be divided up by those left behind, items with no remembered history, no perceived significance, things of little or no importance to current life. 
But while counting and dealing with these collected items, what remains of the collector? Besides a bunch of stuff, the detritus of a life, the only concrete thing that is left by those we love is the weight of their lives as they impacted upon ours. The sound of laughter, the warmth of a hug, their generosity and kindness, the sparkle in a smile, the feeling of love, deep genuine love that abides in our hearts, never to be forgotten. Those are the things  that are so far more important than all of the shiny things collected: important things to be cherished and remembered that are as intangible as the wind, but contain the force of a hurricane as they blow through the heart and  psyche.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


It is a long lonely process, dismantling all of the stuff of one's youth, the dusty old toys, the moth-eaten books,  the 'Game of Life' well used, played constantly, giving no idea that life is not a game, but a  long hard road with very few shortcuts to happiness.
The  always creepy basement is full of ghosts. Joanie in her sleeping bag shivering while Pat told the scariest stories about men with hooks for hands and monsters out to maim and kill small children and teenagers in the most horrific manner. Those stories caused a fear of the dark that has stretched over 40 years. One runs up the basement stairs still feeling that tingling between the shoulder blades, still.
The old pool table stands forlorn, pockets empty, cue sticks tip-less, chalk useless. The bar, so cool with it's own sink and Naugahyde covered swiveling bar stools where one could spin oneself far out into another galaxy...close the eyes and spin, faster and faster until once stopped the world revolved around the spinner, disorientation and escape complete, if only for a few moments.

Everything seems so small, so much smaller than memory recalls.
Nannie's china chest, filled with irresistible, untouchable trinkets, the scary table saw that sounded late at night:: that night when the hollering woke slumber and the blood stains made a trail down the hallway as a neighbor tried to wipe them up. Daddy had an accident, it's okay, go back to bed. OK.

The rest of the house filled with treasures gathered from far away places. A few of them will go to new homes, cherished  family heirlooms. But what of the rest of the items so lovingly collected and displayed? How does one get rid of things that were bought for their beauty or novelty, the buyer on a gleeful holiday free of any inkling of what the future holds? These items now sit on the dining room table, next to the breakfront filled with the precious china and leaded crystal goblets that made the table at the holidays so beautiful and festive. It is hard to look at these things and not think about how much they were loved, how dear they were, how much pleasure they brought to the one gazing through the glass. But there is so much collected in a large house where 7 people lived their lives, lives truly of 'quiet desperation'. Who wants all of these things? What do they all mean? After all, they are just things. But they meant something to the one who brought them home and they feel important in some way. Maybe it is the memories stored away inside them, all of the Christmas dinners, the parties, the family visits . Those memories remain after the things are gone but are somehow diminished  when these things are treated as if they have no value.

The attic is a magpie's nest of cards and letters and photos saved over the course of almost 60 years. Tiny bridal shower cards, with that dearly familiar handwriting on the back detailing the gift that came with them, wedding cards with sweet little flowers and glitter, baby showers, birth announcements, kindergarten graduation certificates, the beginnings of a family and a life with all of the hopes and dreams that accompany young love. All of it saved in an attic that suffered invasions by rapacious raccoons, squirrels and other chewing critters that ate their way through most of that hope and left the remains piled in the corners. All of those things so lovingly saved, so precious, so ruined, meaning nothing to the one who was left behind. The sadness of sweeping up and throwing away these things is overwhelming, the resharpened feeling of loss and heartache cutting back through to the surface. Tears leave wet tracks through the grime that is stirred up by the sweeping.
There is one box, untouched by the marauders, just a shoe box, just a treasure chest of photos of childhood friends, of letters written by young friends long forgotten, letters from  the once cherished, now estranged sister, from beloved grandparents written in that fractured English that 50 years of living in America could not fix. Pages of bad poetry, reading of longing and loss wishes unfulfilled, pages of teen-aged angst that feels still all too familiar.

There is more, much more before this project of packaging up 50 years of life will be complete. There is no escaping the memories, they are there in every item picked up and wrapped : sometimes they slip in, causing a  rueful smile, other times they are like a sucker punch to the midsection, leaving a weeping wreck in their wake. But this job must be done, this move must be made in this life, so close to over. It is a long process, sad and hard, with  few light moments in between.

New memories are made every day and  gradually replace the melancholy of the old, life is truly happier now, the good finally outweighs the bad. When this project is complete, and the move to a new life is made, the old man will settle in his new chair in front of his beloved television, with the few chosen mementos carefully placed around him. And for him the old memories will slowly fade into the background . Hopefully what will remain of the past will lose it's sting of sadness, an accommodation will be made with loss: the memories put away in a quiet place, trouble no more.