We’re packing our house in anticipation of a move. Rae and I have both had our share of this nonsense. Yes, we don’t really have a place in mind to go to, but should something come up, it would be nice to just load it all and go.
It’s amazing how much we keep around the house that make it a home, but don’t actually get used. Along the top of our cabinets in the kitchen, we have an array of teapots. Oriental, English, even a smattering of ‘tea’ pots from the sixties, and a ginger jar for good measure. On top of being an unholy nightmare in packing properly (my own compulsion), it took nearly two hours for the twenty plus assortment.
Most of those pots haven’t been used since we moved in here. Judging by the coating of muck and mire on them, likely longer than that. This film could easily have been mistaken for vegemite. But, without them along the shelves, it already doesn’t feel like my kitchen.
I wouldn’t say that I placed stock in them, but seeing them there every time I entered the room just emitted this soft Feng Shui that made the room somehow more ‘home’. I’d say it was more ‘mine’, but the pots are Rae’s contribution. Frequently, I’ll be blasting my music, making a marsala to die for, glance up at the pots, and remember that it might be courteous to turn the music down. Hell, sometimes I even do turn it down. Sometimes.
We moved a lot when I was a kid. The first nine years were largely stable in my memory: I was born in Rochester, NY, and we moved within those first two years, making me too young to remember. After that, though, it was Wayland as far as I could recall. This town was as Americana as could be. One main road through the down that was just a loop off - and back onto - the highway running outside the town’s limits. The main road was smooth for the entire loop; anything off that loop was a bumpy nightmare meant to castrate men and provide orgasmic joy to women around the world. Most of the town’s expenses were sunk into maintaining this stretch, in an effort to keep travellers distracted as long as possible.
Boy did it work. There was a restaurant in town that my father would take us to once a week. Real snazzy joint. I would always act like I was eating at the Ritz when I’d order the fried shrimp basket. Next door was a VHS rental store, which is largely responsible for me seeing Major League when I was six. I didn’t get it until twenty years later.
Our household had one car – a van. Oh, it was stylish for the era. Hell, I think it was one of the first non-Volkswagen bus types of vans. Which is to say, a severed foot on wheels sporting fungal rot of the toenails would have had more sex appeal.
Having only the one vehicle, my father would frequently strap me into the child seat on his bicycle for grocery runs. Aside from the most terrifying factor – my father driving a vehicle that I’m strapped into and there’s no emergency eject – there’s also the fact that my safety is riding entirely on someone else. And we’re both on a bike. This terrified me to no end for years. The happiest memory I have of that bike seat was the day I outgrew it.
We were a functional family, but, always moving. So, when my parents divorced before I hit nine, I wasn’t very phased. I was sent to a therapy group at school a few years after this for fear that I was suffering repression because of how well I handled it. They let me stay on as the shining example of the program they presented me to the school as being; I stayed on for the relief from the other students at lunch time. And the free ice cream.
With the divorce, came migrations. Many, many migrations. For stretches, we would stay at a location for little more than fourteen months. My father had shared custody, so cut the time actually spent at any one place down to seven months. During this time, my mother was working full time; the same can be said of my father. Now cut the time I actually spent with either parent down another six and a half months.
I could handle the moving; it’s the family life I would end up missing. I understand the family life of missionaries and military families. That’s why I was jealous of those people for the longest time.
In spite of our regular familial exodus growing up, I spent a lot of time raising myself. Developing a sense of humor; standard codes of conduct; common sense; driving a car. The last one is a contributing factor as to why I held off on getting my license until I was nearly twenty-two. It was around this era of self-teaching that I found the old Julia Child reruns on PBS. Galloping Gourmet, as well – what a ruddy lifesaver Graham Kerr was! I would be eating solely macaroni – no cheese - to this day without his influence.
Our homes were never utilitarian, though. My mother loved making little bits and bobs out of tiny broken things. Hell - that could be the moral for my life: making little bits of awesome from little bobs of broken things. She would set up tiny shelves full of knickknacks constructed out of foam spheres and pine cones. Once, she pressed doilies onto the walls at even intervals for a border to living room. For a dining room, she showed me how to do install wood paneling, applying a milk paint whitewash to the whole thing. It was a great room: it looked like it had been that way since I was a child, the way the wood appeared to bend and distress.
In a few months, we’d leave. We’d move to another place, and she would go bananas customizing that place. Then we’d move. This was unending. The only real common threads were the knickknacks; the little pieces that make a house a home. While it was exhausting to always feel like the new guy outside the house, that warmth of comfort when coming home was always appreciated.
The older I become the more I’m realizing in all that time she spent not being motherly, she did a spectacular job of preparing me for life. People are adaptable; we can change ourselves to mirror every single situation they’re plunged into. But, they’re also sentimental, and need to be reminded about who they really are every time they come home.