Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Frog joy

Sometimes things do turn out just the way you imagine it. Year after year and traffic light after traffic light, I watched our girls grow ever older without ever having been divested of the notion that what God scooped up in His hands and rolled into a ball to form into the world was a big batch of concrete. I recalled my own youth of such easy sweetness—lazy days wandering the ravine that fell off behind our woods in New Jersey, digging in the natural clay, capturing turtles and baby rabbits, running through stinkweed and “quicksand”. And then later, combing the creek down the street from our home in Texas, swinging on thick rope over water cut limestone and riding bikes to town in the heat of summer to buy the latest 45 from Gibson’s. I compared this to their “playdate” reality, typically a two or three hour visit to the home of a friend by car where, as at home, they would be confined to a bedroom or a yard on a busy street and would never be out of the sight of an adult. As these trips had to be coordinated between two sets of working parents, there was little room for spontaneity. They loved their time with friends and always delighted in these arrangements, thinking them a treat as opposed to a simple by product of growing up. So I imagined, for years, the girls in a place where they could run farther than they were able, where they could learn the rhythm of seasons, where they could pop over to the neighbors’ and knock on the door to play.

In making the decision to leave everything and come here, we sometimes wondered if we were nuts. We’d spent 15 long, hard years building up a business in Houston that was finally humming along quite nicely and we were pulling up stakes with no guarantee things would work out on the other end. I like what Buechner says in “Secrets in the Dark”, that maybe the voice we should listen to most is the vioce of our own gladness, that which leaves us with the strongest sense of sailing true north and of peace, which is much of what gladness is. So when tonight I sat, as dusk approached, delighting in the squeals of my girls running across the open meadow, catching bugs and grasshoppers with their new friend from across the way, the light playing on the clouds and tree leaves, the birds and bullfrogs providing the soundtrack, my heart was flooded with peace.

Hayley had been trying to catch a frog since we got here, frogs being the only bit of nature she could get her hands on in Houston so she had grown very fond of them, but found Missouri frogs to be much more adept at evading capture. She amazed us by snatching flies (okay, so there are, occasionally, flies in the ointment) with her fingers in the kitchen which she said would, in the end, make her better at catching frogs, with the added benefit that she could also provide them dinner. We knew she’d get one in the end. And we are all very, very glad.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

On Little Pond

Last night at dusk we took bread out to the pond to see if the turtles would bite. Our small pond is stocked with bass, perch, catfish and a large goldfish that we’ve spotted only once. Hayley was tickled that I finally shoved aside my infinite list of tasks to take her outdoors. Not yet comfortable enough to brave it on her own, she pines to be outside catching lightning bugs, looking for frogs, chasing bunnies and watching for the mother and baby deer that frolic near the pond. They really do frolic—the mother and fawn play chase.

Once Hayley was satisfied that the turtles had had a sufficient meal, she asked if I would come see the dinosaur egg she’d found a few days earlier. We ventured to the front of our newly mowed lawn, near to where the vultures had sent her skittering backwards on her butt, and walked behind a cluster of trees. We peered into the brush where, slightly visible between the leaf heavy branches, was a large, silvery, rounded form. “The dinosaur egg!” Hayley cried in triumph. We had stumbled upon our cleverly camouflaged propane tank.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The road ahead

I ventured again into Columbia today, which is normally a ten minute trip. Unless you are driving in someone's wake. The gravel road from our house to the main road kicks up so much dust you literally drive blind and I haven't eaten this much dust since I lived in Lubbock. How's that for a metaphor on starting life over again in Missouri?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hello Rocheport

This morning was the first time we awoke to our whole family, and our family alone, being here. I picked the girls up at the airport Wednesday in St. Louis. Things have been so hectic we’ve hardly had time to realize we’re here, although when Ben left yesterday morning to go back to Houston it felt like someone had taken the training wheels off my bike. We are on our own in Missouri.

Our new neighbors have done a lot to make us feel at home. One neighbor has had us over twice already for food and introductions to other neighbors. We live on the outskirts of a town of 200, in a “subdivision” of nine households. I imagine we’ll know everyone pretty well very soon. When we were contemplating a move to the mountains of Colorado last year we were told that many people moved there to be isolated from other people— not an attractive idea to us. The people who live here have come here specifically because they value community. Just as I had hoped, the girls can walk down our drive and over to the neighbor’s house to play. In Houston they never went anywhere outdoors without being in sight of an adult. They are still getting used to their new freedom and are skittish about walking down the drive alone. This morning Hayley ran down the drive ahead of me, anxious to collect her new friend to play. She rounded a blind bend and was so startled by two large vultures sitting there that she skidded, landed on her backside and came running back to me in tears.

We’re all adjusting to this, for us, new and exotic existence. Samantha, even in the house, won’t let me out of her sight, freaked out by every bug and sound she is not used to. Concrete never startled. We’re the city slickers come to town and the town, I’m happy to report, has welcomed us with open arms.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

And which box has the fly swatter?

We left Dallas a week ago by car. The movers arrived on our doorstep to unload at 8 am sharp Thursday morning and the five man crew punted the last box from the truck at six pm. In the last four days (and nights) Wayne and I have unpacked, stacked, put away, nailed up and unfurled almost 27,000 pounds of “and why did we bring this?”

Before we left, the movers advised us to set aside the coffee maker, bed linens, towels and personal items we would need immediate access to in clearly marked boxes and to stash them in a piece of furniture we could easily spot amidst the hundreds of identical cardboard boxes. They never mentioned packing the fly swatters. Our glee at escaping a mosquito ridden existence has been tempered by a new plague of flies. I’ve been driven to the edge of sanity by these buzzing, tickling, loathsome creatures though my aim has steadily improved to the point I’m close to equalizing the household birth/death ratio.

Apart from that and my hour and a half detour back from my foray to the grocery store which found me halfway to Iowa, we’ve had a lovely arrival. Neighbors have had us to dinner, brought us fresh baked scones and gifted us with coffee and scented candles. Saturday, former fellow Houstonions Anthony and Dyan (who introduced us to Columbia) dropped in with hot food, just ahead of a dramatic thunderstorm. We sat all cozy in the screened in porch, having supper and watching the storm sway huge trees while grape sized hail pinged off the deck like Jiffypop. Suddenly, surrounded by our friends and safe in our sheltered perch, we began to feel at home.

Yesterday, Ben, another good friend from Houston, flew in to help with some handymanning—our first overnight guest. Our girls will arrive tomorrow. I woke up this morning, after the closest I’ve come so far to a night’s sleep, startled by the quiet. I had a quick shiver of panic. We are far away. Ben will leave. There is no rumble of traffic outside, no city lights, no grocery store or coffee shop around the corner. This is not a camping trip where we’ll pack up our tents and head back to the “real world” after a refreshing break from urban hubbub. This is now our real world—I’ve bought if off the rack but have yet to try it on to see how well it fits.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Houston in my rearview

The weather is cooperating today. I was counting on having already endured many weeks of hot and sticky days so that our leaving would come as a relief. Instead, we’ve had a gorgeous spring and what must have been the lowest overall lowest temperatures in decades. Only a week ago we sat on the patio at Diedrich with friends after a dinner out and I was actually chilly. The mercury never got above the low 80’s on June 1st and in Houston, to make it all the way to June with those sorts of temperatures is nothing short of miraculous. If it wasn’t for the weather, who would ever want to leave the city that offers Art Car parades, rodeos, Mexican food and the Rothko Chapel? But finally, a couple of days ago, the true Houston June rang the doorbell. Wayne and I strolled through the Japanese gardens on Saturday afternoon and as I felt rivulets of sweat run down my back, I knew the world had righted itself and I could leave with the solace of knowing I would indeed escape a hot, cruel summer. Or at least one that is as hot and cruel as ours is, for as long as ours is, since we are told Missouri can get quite hot and humid, too.

I’m on our porch watching the movers run boxes to the truck, which looks as long as a football field. How did we ever accumulate so much stuff? When we renovated our house, we took it down to the studs. We stripped the crumbling brick and tore off the old plastered walls. We took out the stained tile, the busted cabinetry and the old wiring. We started over with only the original footprint and the shiplap that formed the basic structure of the house. That is what this move feels like: we’re stripping our lifestyle back down to the studs. Starting over with our family togetherness as the only starting point, as the foundation from which we’ll build a new way to live. Last night, we got home late after coffee with a dear neighbor. As we pulled up, I felt again, as I have every time I’ve returned home, deep comfort and cheer at the sight of our house. Wayne and I collaborated on every aspect of building this place and I think we did a good job. Every knob and fixture was chosen with love. This house has provided a lot of joyous times to our family and friends but it’s time to begin our next collaboration. The stakes are higher. But the foundation we’ll build on is solid and the love we’ll do it with is stronger than before.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Goodbye 2047

So this is really it. Box by box, our house as we have known (and loved) it is being dismantled. Tomorrow the moving company will come to pull the plugs. Literally. By Monday, we’ll be loaded up and headed north. Yesterday Wayne signed on the house in Missouri so there’s no turning back — next week we’ll officially be Missourians(?).

Last night folks from the two houses nearest ours walked over and introduced themselves to Wayne. That is a very good sign. And one of them has a seven year old daughter waiting to meet our two girls—an even better sign. We’ve been grateful to live on a friendly street where everyone hangs out together and looks out for each other, a rare occurance these days, according to impressed friends who visit. Lisa, who lives a few doors down and is always up for a laugh or a party, created a keepsake album containing photos of each house and the family who lives there, as well as their parting messages to us. So on the day of inspections we were able to introduce the buyers to all their new neighbors. I don’t know which is the better inheritance: the house or the people who come with it.

We will miss both. We used to live in the house next door to this house. In 2000, three single guys lived in this house which sounded like a frat house but looked like a crack house. One day, over my protests, Wayne decided to make them an offer. In less than five years we’d met, gotten married, started a business, bought a house and had two children and I was in no mood to take on renovating a house that needed demolishing and yet another move. They accepted the offer. A year and a half later, after narrowly avoiding divorce, nervous breakdowns and committing homicide over our contractor, we were scrambling to move in before Wayne’s family, who’d scheduled their visit months out to ensure the house would be ready, arrived from England. We began frantically moving things in on Thursday and worked around the clock until we picked them up on Saturday when everything but the pictures were hung.

Wayne’s mum had moved to Houston five months earlier and offered to take Wayne’s aunt and uncle to Old Town Spring on Tuesday while we got back to work. I awoke on September 11, 2001 with Wayne bursting into the bedroom exclaiming his mother was in the hospital and the World Trade Center had exploded. Or something along those lines. I rolled my eyes. I’d been married to Wayne long enough to never believe a thing he said.

I stumbled from the bedroom in my robe and entered my new living room to discover a crowd: our employees, Wayne’s family, assorted neighbors, the electrician and the general contractor were gathered there. Fortunately, all eyes were rivited to the TV and not the state of my undress. The rest of the day proceeded to unfold in a surreal haze. While I watched the towers evaporating, I learned Wayne’s mum had gone into the ER in the night, unable to breathe. When we eventually made it to the hospital late in the day, the doctor pulled us aside. The TV above the bed replayed the horrific images of the day’s mayhem as more news pounded its way into our overloaded skulls...lung cancer...six months...

This is how the house we’d spent so many months fretting and battling over—with contractors, with floorplans, with budgets, with every doorknob, drawer pull and switchplate—introduced itself as home. The witness of our worst and our best; our joys and our grief. It’s been a haven to our family and the place we’ve welcomed, enjoyed and annoyed (in a nice way) many friends and family. We leave with fuller hearts and bigger souls.

It’s hard to think of someone else living here. If the new owners find half the riches here that we did, they won’t have done half bad.