Thursday, September 01, 2011

The River of Time

On a recent Saturday evening, about twilight, I was cleaning up in the kitchen and found myself staring out the kitchen window. The sky was overcast, and the rampant vegetation in the yard lent a peaceful, greenish cast to the light. Birds flocked to the newly-filled feeders. There were the pileated woodpecker, the catbird, the usual flock of sparrows (those good little laborers in the vineyard!), and the goldfinches that I have come to think of as "mine," since I finally figured out how to attract them.

Funny, isn't it, how we come to think of things as "ours." I recall my mother and grandmother, in the house where I grew up, standing in the kitchen, aprons on and sudsy water to their elbows, and looking out the kitchen window into the yard that was "theirs." It was a different scene, of course, in addition to being a different window: my grandmother was a great gardener, so in those days they looked out on hydrangea, lilacs, beds of roses, a vegetable garden, a peach tree. That backyard seemed like heaven to the little girl I was then. My own backyard, by contrast, is wild and weedy, and we refer to it kindly as the "woodland garden," as we watch it wildly growing out of control.

As the years passed, of course, the women looking out the kitchen window changed, grew older. Where my grandmother and mother had stood was, in time, just my mother. Now it's just me, looking out a different window onto a different scene. In a few years, my daughter, perhaps, will stand here looking out.

The river of time flows. One Sunday this summer, my husband and I went to a couple's twenty-fifth-anniversary renewal of their marriage vows. It was a touching service, a reminder of how some things grow in richness over time, are not defeated or diminished by it. The group in attendance was small, the mood buoyant. We wished the couple well for their second twenty-five years. At that point, they will be eighty and eighty-one.

On the way home, we did something I nearly always do when I have occasion to be in my hometown: I drive past "my house," that house where I grew up, where I lived till I was twenty. It was difficult to part with it, fourteen years ago. My parents had been the original owners. They had it built in 1949, and in great excitement my dad, who was a commercial photographer at that time, documented the construction in an album: every stage, from the removal of an enormous rock in the center of what would be the basement, to the pouring of the concrete walk. They loved their house; moving into a bigger one as their fortunes rose never seemed to occur to them.

The house has sold twice in the interval since dad died, and I had been generally pleased with the fate of "my house." The owners seemed to be taking good care of it. One of them pulled out the azalea bushes under the front windows, the pink ones I always thought of as clashing with the red brick. I cruised by, and approved. Later a security system sign went up out front, and a new coat of paint appeared on the front door. Again I cruised past, and approved.
After my friends' ceremony, however, instead of cruising past I stopped the car dead, and J. and I looked at "my house" with dismay. It looked abandoned. The windows stared blankly at us. A weed as tall as I am had sprung up in front of the windows, where the clashing azaleas had resided. The huge maple tree on the front lawn appeared to be dying, and the magnolia tree that had been my grandmother's joy had grown into a tangled, unpruned mess. The bushes at the end of the drive had nearly grown together in the middle. It was an appalling mess. It looked very sad. There was no "For Sale" sign.

That evening, I searched for a real estate listing, but found none. It wasn't for sale! It really was abandoned. This morning, it's all I can do not to pick up the phone and call a realtor back home and ask for information, if there is any.

But I guess it's better not to do that. Did I mention I sometimes have trouble letting go? What would I do with "my house" anyway, now that the folks I loved have gone, borne off down the river? It's just a house now, after all.

Besides, I can always cruise by in the fall and check on it.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

Oh, I know how you feel and sympathize. The home my parents built with such pride and maintained so lovingly throughout their lives is now the dismay of their neighborhood. Trees and shrubs are overgrown (that's the kindest way to phrase it), the curbs have crumbled, the driveway cannot have been resurfaced since the day my younger son was born in 1976 and everything looks weary and sad. The worst that it is owned by two physicians who could, but won't, make it shine again.