"So scared of getting older,
I'm only good at being young.
So I play the numbers game
To find way to say that life has just begun.
Had a talk with my old man,
Said 'help me understand'.
He said turn sixty-eight
Don't stop this train,
Don't for a change the place you're in
And don't think I couldn't ever understand
I tried my hand
We'll never stop this train."
~ John Mayer, "Stop This Train"
(Click below - if you're going to suffer through this post, you might as well listen to this song...)
It was a busy week and I stayed well-fed thanks to my wonderful friends. I certainly didn't go hungry and no, Katie, I didn't lose any weight. I did OK down here in the deep South, with a little help from my friends, of course.
Now, what do I do when I'm left to my own devices? I paint and I write. I did a lot of both. One project is finished (painting) and the other most likely never will be - it's a never-ending story and that's OK. (It's a tradition, right Katie?).
Oh, I am such a product and a direct result of a quirky upbringing and without a doubt, the quintessential embodiment of Aquarius...Blame it on the stars, I say. I have no defense - I was born right smack dab in the middle of the sign and it suits me. I make no apologies. :-)
This past week, I caught up with friends. I went to my home group meeting on Monday Evening and after that, I lassoed my friend Mitch and we went to see "The Heartbreak Kid", and we laughed. We shamelessly laughed and ate popcorn and drank really large cokes. Mitch was temporarily disconsolate when he discovered they didn't have some specific candy at the theatre, and I thought for a moment I might have a brewing tantrum on my hands, but he bucked up and pulled it together and didn't create "much" of a scene.
The movie was funny and silly and filled with sophomoric pranks as any good Farrelly Brothers film is. It wasn't a movie I'd ever go to with a date because I'm sure it wouldn't speak well of me given the scenes I laughed at most, but Mitch is like a brother and we certainly don't work to impress each other. We just hang out. In fact, as we were walking to our cars after the movie, he was telling me about this one woman he found attractive and extolling the virtues of her beauty and then he said something that stopped me dead in my tracks..."And she's got a rack on her!". I just looked at him and said, "Tell me you didn't just say that.". He just laughed even harder and said, "Well, she does!". I just shook my head and giggled some more. I felt like "one of the guys" there for a second.
"Radiance" in a Brushstroke
I visited Sherwin-Williams. I emerged a few minutes later with a gallon of paint, known as the shade of "Radiance", and a lot of work ahead of me. This would be the perfect week to do it. My mom would be out of my kitchen, I could leave a mess without hearing about it, and it would be fresh and spiffy in time for the senior citizens arrival. I wanted to surprise them and I thought this was just the ticket.
In typical style, I started immediately even if, by now, immediately was 6:30 PM. I painted through two episodes of "I Love Lucy", four episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show", two episodes of "M*A*S*H", and then two more episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show". I got a lot done that first session (Tuesday) of playing Picasso on my walls.
In addition to painting, I took everything down from atop the cabinets and loaded it in the dishwasher. It had gathered a lot of dust in the time since the last painting. Justin walked into the kitchen just as I was taking the lid off a crock pot and gazing at four biscuits that had been placed in there, probably years ago, and had grown quite an impressive covering of mold. They were like rocks. Justin and I just looked at each other and wondered, who had put them in there and why? We had no clue and no time to play Perry Mason. I soaked the crockpot in antibacterial soap overnight and stuck the lid in the dishwasher.
The walls took two coats and the effects were transforming, not only on the walls, but the ambiance of the room. It warmed up the heretofore pastel pearl walls and gave it personality. I hate pastels. They always strike me as indecisive. They hint of a color but don't have the fortitude to carry it off. I love bold, primary colors. If you're going to be a swatch on the color wheel then, BE ONE! Do it!
Believe me, I picked a color known as "radiance" and it doesn't whisper anything. It's warm, sunny and cozy. It doesn't "hint" at all. It most certainly made the white woodwork stick out and look defining. I was very pleased with my choice. It was heart and home affirming, and it had my imprint all over it which was only fair, I had "radiance" all over my hands, a few places on my arms and legs, and I didn't mind. Painting is a lot like life - it's messy. It's supposed to be. I've never been adverse to messy. I embrace it and it loves me right back.
Wednesday Night I took the evening off - all work and no play makes life dull and that's not a good thing for anyone - it's like pastel paint, and should be avoided at all cost. My friend who lives on Wrightsville Beach invited me over for dinner. He's a wonderful cook and even better company so who was I to say no? Sure, sometimes it annoys me at how fast he knows the answers to the crosswords and Sudoku, but no one's perfect, right? He even had iced tea this time and allowed me to partake of two glasses! It most certainly was a welcome break from all that painting.
He was even prepared for another late season swim, but this time we stayed in the surf and just walked along the beach for a bit. It's always a good thing to see, smell and listen to the ocean and it was soothing looking up at the blanket of stars overhead. It was still, technically, warm enough for the water, but I was tired and just didn't go in this time. Later, I wished I'd been more bold but maybe another time. He noted that I was exhibiting signs of being "sensible". I wasn't quite sure how to take that, but it was a little concerning. I so rarely hear that word ascribed to me. I can't be sure it was anything resembling a compliment.
Thursday found me returning to the ladder with my trusty paintbrush in hand. Justin was kind enough to observe the places that looked as if they needed another coat, which was easier to detect in the daylight. In fact, it was determined, that the entire room would require two coats and there was just no getting around it. I was far to much invested in it to stop by now. Two coats it would be! Sometimes, you just have to commit and I did, without any reservations or regrets - what a rarity.
Now, it should be noted, that if you called me last week and your call was sent to voice mail, this wasn't me screening calls, as I'm known to do now and then, it's just that I was most likely balancing between the ladder and the counter and after getting up and down so much, I finally just let the phone ring and stayed on task. Otherwise, I'd only be half finished and I had a deadline. Pops and Granny had moved their date of arrival up one day and could now be expected on Saturday Afternoon. Knowing my mother would be aghast at the disarray, I had to buckle down and stick to it.
AARPUHLEEZE...Like I Need to Be Reminded of This?
During the Thursday Afternoon painting session, I had "Little House on the Prairie" for company and I loved that show when the kids were growing up and we'd endlessly watch Laura Ingalls Wilder grow up. It was like mashed potatoes (comfort viewing!).
I painted my way across the kitchen, as Pa and Ma Ingalls crossed the prairie. However, the commercials really played with my head. In between segments of "Little House", were all of these dang "AARP" commercials. After the first ten, I started to feel really old, noticed my knees popped and wondered if I might be catching arthritis. I mean, I'm less than six months away from turning 48 and the last thing I wanted to be reminded that I was horribly unprepared for retirement, the high cost of healthcare and how "folks over 50 still enjoy an active lifestyle". My gosh, I'm a hair's breath away from 50! If I hadn't been slapping such a warm and revitalizing color on my walls, I could easily have sunk into a funk over the fact that I'm not that far away from joining the "gray coalition". In fact, I think I stopped at one point and ran into the downstairs bathroom to examine my roots for gray hair. I'm sure it's beneath the peroxide line, and I didn't dare look too closely. Those commercials should be banned. Talk about a morale buster. Yes I'm in denial and I plan to remain there for as long as possible!
I took a break Thursday Afternoon and decided I had earned a trip to Smithfield's because the only thing to get one's mind off aging has to be chicken wings, cole slaw, hush puppies and sweet iced tea. It may not make me any younger, but it certainly diverts my attention! I didn't bother brushing my hair or changing clothes. I looked like someone who had slept in their clothes and popped awake and started painting first thing, which is exactly what I had done. My hair was sticking out everywhere, typically messy and with a mind of its own, and my sunglasses hid the fact that there was yellow paint adorning my face and I had no make-up on. Hey, I was only hitting the drive thru.
As I pulled out of Smithfield's with my gastronomical treasure, one of the older employees walked in front of me (I know most everyone who works there given the frequency with which I hit that place last winter) and he said, "OH my gosh, it's Meg Ryan!". Given that I had spent most of the morning and afternoon hearing about all of the medical maladies awaiting my advanced age, left wondering how long it would be until I had to call "Tom Crews" with "The Scooter Store" and place an order, this was a most dearly welcome compliment and I thought, mister, you have got to be kidding me (I knew how I looked), but if you think so, thanks for sharing. It may have been a mercy compliment, but so be it - I took it and ran with it.
After my wing-fest, I got right back to work and knocked out most of it by the end of the night. There was a lot of paint to scrub off my person, but I had managed to get more on the walls and that made me feel marginally successful.
When the Birds Fly the Coop, Think Fish...
During one of my breaks, I eyed what used to be my aviary and I had been trying to figure out what to do with that open framework that used to house finches and is visible from the downstairs living room as well as the loft upstairs, just outside my office. Once again, I have my Wrightsville Beach buddy to blame for my inspiration. I have gotten into more projects since I met him. First it was the inspiration of the woodwork in his beautiful home that got me scraping my own stairway and railing. Then it was the bold color of his kitchen that tantalized my senses, not to mention the flip-flop lights he has strung around the ceiling of the eating area and kitchen. Whimsical. Now, it's about fish.
A couple of weeks ago I was over there and he showed me the new baby black mollies in his 55 gallon aquarium. They were beautiful and instantly brought up memories of the aquariums in my past and there have been many aquariums in my past. I remembered how much I enjoyed mollies in particular. Eureka! I could transform the former aviary into a place for my 55 gallon aquarium which was currently housed amid about a thousand spider webs in my pool house! Yes! Brilliant! Perfect! Crap that's going to be a lot of work.
Green, Green Grass...
I talked to Justin about it later that night and he agreed to help me get the aquarium out, but didn't offer to clean it up for me. He had "mowing" on his mind. We couldn't let Granny and Pops return to an overgrown, neglected lawn. So I was on my own when it came time to scrub the thing down, but scrub it I did, early Friday Morning as Justin was firing up the lawn mower. Later in the day he helped me carry it upstairs and we placed it in the framed area. I'd always thought of a 55 gallon aquarium as a pretty decent-sized tank, until I placed it in there. My suddenly decent sized tank looked pretty small in that 72" open space, but never mind, with a few plants on either side, some flitting fish, it would work. So that's my NEXT project. Later today I'm heading to Lowe's for a few plants, and later on this week after the water has recycled itself, a few good fish. I'll probably keep it contained to mollies and swordtails. I think it will look perfect and goodness knows aquariums are much less trouble to keep than birds, plus, fish don't escape and fly around, taunting you as you try and woo them back into the cage. The cats will be just as entertained. I'm sure Magellan will spend hours licking his chops and trying to figure out a way to "fish".
Justin did a fantastic job on the lawn and really took his time, knowing that his labor would come under the close scrutiny of the perfectionistic and meticulous Barbe Cook. Justin paid attention to detail, no question, and I think he actually enjoyed it. It was funny listening to him sing to his iPod as he mowed row after row.
Surf's Up! Finding "The Perfect Wave" in an "Endless Summer...
By Friday Evening, I was ready for another break and my WB friend generously offered up his culinary skills once again. The only thing he requested was that I bring my copy of "Stranger Than Fiction" so we could watch it after dinner. Easy enough, right? Dinner was more impressive than anything I could order at a restaurant and the salad was almost too lovely to eat! After dinner, we headed for the den and I opened up to find that "Love, Actually", was in the "Stranger Than Fiction" DVD case. What the heck? I'm just coming to terms with Fall, and neither one of us were in the mood for a Christmas feature. What to do?
Fortunately, my friend offered up "The Endless Summer", a 1960's surfing movie that was more like a travelogue - so we settled down and watched these two surfing-addicted teenagers travel the world in search of "the perfect wave". We visited Hawaii, California, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and finally back to Hawaii. It was a great movie and I really enjoyed it. I couldn't believe how these guys balance on boards on giant waves, some of which looked as if they could swallow a person whole. The movie was shot before surfboards came attached with leashes which explained why these guys were always hyper-aware of where their boards landed after the ride.
Of course, all I could think of was how I'd love to sail to all of those places someday and what it might look like from the vantage point of the bow of a sailboat. Someday...someday. A durable dream doesn't go away if it transitions into a passion...it may get temporarily postponed, maybe placed on the back burner, but it doesn't have to disappear. Sailing will never disappear from my consciousness, even if my sailing has mostly been under the command of a freakish captain with pirate tendencies. I've an idea I would enjoy sailing even more with someone who actually knew what he was doing and didn't take reckless chances with his crew. I intend to find out.
Home is the Sailor and his First (and only) Mate!
And then, it was Saturday. Yesterday. I popped up early and put the finishing touches on the kitchen, cleaned up the debris and put away the ladder, paint tray and all manner of brushes. I mopped the kitchen, opened the windows and beautiful sunlight highlighted my interior handiwork. I couldn't wait for my parents to return and admire my hard work. There was no way they wouldn't notice the fresh, clean shiny "radiant" kitchen and breakfast area. Or so I thought...
I finally heard their van pull into the driveway and I closed the pocket door that opens to the kitchen from the laundry room. I bounded down the steps of the side entry and collected my "welcome home" hugs. They looked great - certainly not like two octogenarians who had been traipsing all over Southern West Virginia! They certainly looked much more well-rested than I felt!
My Dad entered first, looked at the closed door and asked if he was allowed to go into the kitchen. Sure, of course, I told him. He walked in, me eagerly following on his heels, set down his baggage and looked around. He realized something was different. Finally, he said with a smile, "You painted the woodwork!".
Huh? All that work and all you noticed was the freaking woodwork? Barbe Cook take off those shades and drink in the fruits of my labor. The woodwork? I hadn't even painted the woodwork he was admiring!
A few seconds later, my mother walked in and looked around and said, "Did you paint the kitchen orange?". NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
It's NOT orange crazy woman! It's "radiance". It's lovely. It's warm. Bask in it for goodness sakes!
"I like it!", she says in earnest backpedal fashion. "I really like it!", she repeats with sheepish redundancy. By now, my dad had removed his sunglasses and could see more than the white woodwork. I thought it was more glaringly impressive - maybe they'd been in the car too long! Oh well, hey, I don't regret all that toil and trouble. It does look nice. More compliments were forthcoming as the evening wore on.
My mom more than made up for it by blessedly brewing some of her famously rich and wonderful coffee. FINALLY a decent cup of coffee. Kitchen walls be damned - it was time for coffee and talk, both things I'd missed immeasurably.
After I helped them bring in their luggage and bags of this and that, we convened around the kitchen table and I heard about the highlights of their trip. They'd had a wonderful time visiting old friends and relatives at my Uncle's birthday party, they shared with me who was doing what and how everyone was getting along, how Charleston didn't look like the capital of a depressing mining state - "it was bustling, growing, looked good!". My dad, however, summed it up best..."But I sure wouldn't want to live back there!", he said. My thoughts exactly. My mother can never quite bring herself to toss about negatives with regard to West Virginia - her loyalty is fierce and while I don't believe for one-second she'd ever want to live back there, she finds it impossible to say anything remotely unkind about the state. It's her home. She was born and raised there and spent a chunk of her history there until I came along with my gypsy ways.
It was wonderful catching up with them, watching my Dad walk outside and chasing Cassie around, who was unabashedly thrilled to see them. As I watched my Dad chase her in the side yard by the pool, I realized that someday I want to not grow up and be just like him. Any 82 year old who can still chase the ball of energy and fun that defines Cassie, is the equivalent of a good "thumbing of the nose" at every AARP commercial I had to suffer through this past week, and a keen reminder that you don't really have to grow old, regardless of the number of candles that might adorn your next birthday cake. Accumulating years may well be inevitable, but aging is definitely an option I hope never, ever to exercise.
What an amazingly rich, resilient template my parents have afforded me, worthy of my best possible emulation.
Home By Another Way
(A song about "the Epiphany" and one that speaks to my own personal "Epiphany".)
"Home is where they want you now.
You can more or less assume that you'll be welcome in the end.
Mustn't let King Herod haunt you so,
Or fantasize his features
When you're looking at a friend..." ~James Taylor
This morning, when I instinctively made my way downstairs, I smelled the welcome aroma of my Mom's coffee. Yes, things are as they should be, Fox News was blaring on the TV and cereal was being poured. I grabbed a few blackberries and looked around with a smile. Home.
This crazy house has grown in terms of my affection for it when I realize how, had plans stayed on that perilous course, I was scheduled to be living in Raleigh now. How profoundly grateful I am that I didn't sell this house on a whim, that I woke up in Wilmington this morning, that I have an aquarium to set up, a beach to walk on a few miles from here, and my own space is still, blessedly, my own space sprinkled with the people and things I love most, in a town I adore. Thank God I woke up when I did, held fast to my convictions, and realized the error of my ways.
I remember when Katie first learned of my impending relocation and ill-advised nuptials, no small measure of her concern was for this house. This house truly has been more of a home to us than any dwelling we've ever lived in. It's been home in seven years and a lot of living has gone down in seven years but one constant in it all has been this crazy, quirky, odd structure we affectionately refer to as home. When she first expressed her desire that I keep this house, I couldn't really understand it (remember, I was deep in delusion territory). It was just a house, I reasoned. So what? Why is it so important to you that I still own it at Christmas? Can't we have Christmas in Raleigh?
"It's best to go home, by another way.
Home by another way.
We got this far to a lucky star,
But tomorrow is another day.
We can make it another way
Safe Home, as they used to say.
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high,
And go home, another way..."
Word. NO. No, no, no, she told me in no uncertain terms. In fact, I think she said something more akin to "Hell no!", which was, looking back, entirely apropos. No, this is home. This is the place. This is where we live even when we're not here. We may leave it for a time, but the fact that it's still here and waiting for our return has come to mean something intrinsic to each of us. Wilmington, and more importantly, this place in Wilmington, has become our collective definition of home and I become more grateful for it with each passing day. I have slowly realized that maybe it is all of the ups and downs and everything in between that we have negotiated during these seven plus years that has somehow made this structure even more meaningful, and this residence has, in fact, taken up residence in each of our collective hearts in different and highly individualized ways, but with the same result.
Justin and I were riding down the street the other day and I mentioned that when we were house-hunting back in August 2000, I had been scheduled to look at the house around the corner - which looked far more conventional and stately than the one I ultimately settled on. "I'm glad it didn't work out that you were able to see it. You picked the best house.". Once again, I was reminded that in the minds of my kids, my parents, my animals and, belatedly, finally me, this place has truly become "home". It's never too late to find one's home, I guess.
Last night after everyone was settled back in, I walked out in the driveway and saw our old cat Sylvester trotting across the street heading for me, obviously after enjoying a visit with our neighbors cats across the street. It was dusk and there was a chill in the air. Sylvester had decided it was time to come home so he could meow plaintively until I forked over a dish filled with Magellan's ultra rich kitten food. Sylvester seems to always have known this was home, after his neighborhood visits, returning here every evening. Sylvester "got it" much sooner than I did. Sylvester is a very wise cat.
When I pull into my driveway these days, it is with a growing and profound sense that finally I "get it". Coming home, to this one in particular, is a gift and one I shouldn't ever take for granted. Home truly is where our hearts are and I'm just so grateful for the place our hearts have chosen to take up residence and remain. Home never looked, or felt, so good.
Perhaps the real "radiance" in this house never came from a Sherwin-Williams paint can. I have a hunch it was always here. Maybe the events of this past summer and the dismal prospect of selling my little house on Nottingham Lane, offered me the opportunity to see it for what it truly is and always was. As Sting sings, "I was brought to my senses", before it was too late.
"Once in a while,
when it's good
It will feel like it should
And they're all still around
And you're still safe and sound
And you don't miss a thing
Till you cry when you're driving away in the dark
Stop this train
I wanna get off
And go home again
I can't take the speed it's moving in
I know I can't
'Cause now I see
I will never stop this train."