Friday, October 29, 2010

Home Again, Home Again

As much as I love visiting Denver, there's no place like home. Sweet home, Alabama. (Could she be any more trite?) Trite but true. There's that little surge of sugar-laced adrenaline that fills me when I get home to my house in the country. There's just something about coming home.

After Labor Day weekend at the beach, I accompanied my granddaughter Myra and her parents back to their home in Orlando. A six-hour car trip took ten with all the Myra-stops, but that was to be expected. When weary nine-month-old Myra was finally carried into her house, into her room, she started grinning and squealing like a slide-whistle as she looked all around. It was as if she was saying, "Hello, bed! I'm home! Oh, hello mirror! Oh, Horsie and Lamb, hello! I'm home, I'm home!"

It made me think of summers as a kid in New York City, when my family would take off in our household-packed Chevrolet to the bungalow colony in the Catskills where we spent the hottest months. Jewish families from all over the city were regulars at these places. The moms and kids would stay all summer, and the dads would come up on weekends. I know it's where I got my taste for country living.

After Labor Day, we would pack everything up, tearfully say good-bye to our summer friends, and shlep back to the city. As my dad pulled the car up in front of our apartment building, the four of us would say, together, "And here....we....ARE!" The final sound of our little chant would be accompanied by the sound of the car engine turning off. While Dad started to unload, my mother and sister and I would carry a few things up to the apartment. Mom would unlock the big Yale deadbolt and as the door opened, we would be hit with the airless heat of a top floor apartment sitting right under the steaming tar of the roof. Mom would rush around opening windows, and I would greedily breathe in the heavy, still air smelling of woolen carpet and furniture polish. I'm home! I'm home!

Coming home to Alabama is not so much about my house, although I love my house. My "I'm home!" moment came when I walked around the yard, visiting the special places that make up my enchanted garden. there's the "Three Sisters" -- a tree that fell in Hurricane Ivan and whose limbs sprouted up into three new trees not grounded in the earth but connected only to the horizontal trunk. The giant spread of roots that rose out of the ground is a backdrop for a place where I love to sit. The trunk is my balance beam and my barre.

Then there's the Viney Wood -- a little, hidden wood filled with curling vines that we're cultivating into a place where I plan to sit with my grandchildren, telling them stories and challenging them to find the secret treasure in the wood. You won't get it out of me, so don't ask.

The Pyracantha bush which has been here as long as we have, has come into its own this year. Twelve feet tall with huge graceful branches heavy with bright berries, she's the queen of the garden right now.

And the little cedar tree that sprang up in the volunteer garden that evolved behind the back deck is almost ready for her close-up. My husband turned over that earth right after my father passed away, with the thought of making a memorial garden. Dealing at the same time with our son's surgery following a car accident, we never planted anything. Things just started to grow there, and over the last few years we weeded and supplemented until the memorial garden we envisioned took shape without our even noticing. Today, a perfect little cedar stand at the front of the garden. It will probably have to move to another spot where it can grow unhindered, but this year it will be a Christmas tree for Myra, right where it stands.

I'm home! I'm home!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I Love Housework

I wasn't trained in housework. "Why?" you ask. "How can a young woman not be trained in housework?" My husband has been asking that question for over 30 years. My mother taught me many things, but housework wasn't one of them. Although our apartment was always impeccable, my mother had other priorities. A lovely woman named Leona came over every week to clean the apartment and do the ironing.

Housework wasn't required of me, so I didn't learn it. Of course, I helped wash and dry the supper dishes, and I took the garbage down the hall to the incinerator. I often hung the wash on the clotheslines on the roof and brought it in when it was dry. In winter the sheets and towels were rigid and smelled like icicles and New York soot. Sometimes I dusted and ran the carpet sweeper, but I never learned how to clean a house.

What did I do? I read a lot and wrote stories and poems. I had a tape recorder (newfangled for a ten-year-old in the fifties), and I did "radio shows" with my friends and my little sister, the natural comedian. I played on the school playground and roller-skated around the neighborhood, skate-key on a string around my neck, until the street lights came on. And when my father was home, I sat at his feet and listened to his stories and lessons. So that's why I never learned to mop a floor or clean a toilet or scour a bathtub. My mom did the daily maintenance, and then she was busy with projects and volunteer work, mah jongg and shopping. That's what she taught me, in a nutshell.

My husband taught me to clean a house. (Everyone say, "Bless his heart.") My husband's mother required it of her children -- son and daughter -- and I must say they're two of the most capable and industrious people I've ever known. My hat's off to my mother-in-law. She knew how to leverage chores into character.

So, why do I love housework? I love housework because putting my house in order and making it shine grounds me. It's a way to quiet my mind and focus on physical tasks that bring, at their completion, a sense of peace and wholeness. A clean house feels good. I love housework because there's a memory attached to every photograph I dust and every bathtub I scrub. Memories from years ago and memories from last weekend. The family gatherings and the laughs. The little boys that were, and the new baby girl.

It's a pleasure to keep house, even though it's not my full-time occupation. Like my mother, I have many other priorities. But housework -- necessary and ever-present -- never fails to satisfy. It pleases me to think that all over Alabama, young people are still being raised in the fine tradition of chores that my mother-in-law taught to her children. Not to say that I fault my mother for this gap in my education. It was fine with me. And every time I find that impossible bargain dress or pair of shoes, I tip my hat to the woman who taught me the finer points of dressing well on a budget.

I'm just glad I learned to love housework, too.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"We're Gonna find a Cure for You!"

There's an old Jewish saying that humankind was created because God loves stories. That's one thing all humans have in common -- we all have a story. Stories with happy endings and stories with sad endings. Stories that make you laugh and stories that make you cry. Stories that make you avert your eyes and stories that make you clasp your hands to your heart because they touch your inner core.

At the Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure in Birmingham yesterday, there was a sea of stories. All kinds. My story hardly counts. Just a biopsy, last October, of a suspicious lump that turned out to be benign. The bravery required to walk through that experience was just a drop in the bucket of bravery, by my estimation. I've seen real bravery in this arena. But it opened my eyes and made me aware, right at the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, of breast cancer. Suddenly, it was my own breast under scrutiny. It made me part of a sisterhood, and sisterhood is powerful.

We came from all over the greater Birmingham area -- an army in pink and white converging on Linn Park from all directions. I walk for exercise and I think of myself as a fast walker, but I've never entered a race before and I hoped I was up for the challenge. The 3.1 mile race started at Boutwell Auditorium, went around the back of the Civic Center and across 11th Ave. North to 19th St., then all the way up 19th St. to 5th Ave. South, over to 20th, and then back to the finish line at the entrance to Linn Park.

It was a LONG walk with some long uphill inclines. All the walking I do had prepared me, but it's not an easy walk. Some of us ran - the swift ones -- some of them pushing babies in jogging rigs. Some strolled arm in arm, the pink signs on their backs bearing the names of the ones who bind them: Mother, Grandmother, Sister, Aunt, Daughter, Cousin, Friend. It was a lovely mixed bag of sisters and their kin, all moving together toward the finish line at our own pace while bystanders cheered us on. "We're gonna find a cure for you -- Keep going!" chanted one group of young women on the sidelines. "Keep going!"

Legs tired? Keep going. Thirsty? Keep going. Feet hurt? Keep going. I felt the burn, and "keep going" was what I needed to hear, but I thought about the women who keep going through surgery and radiation and chemotherapy. I thought about their daughters and granddaughters -- the ones at high risk for breast cancer. We need to find a cure, and money is the first step. Birmingham's Race For the Cure was a huge success -- over 16,000 paid an entrance fee and many raised additional support. There's also the Breast Cancer Research Foundation here in Birmingham which raises seed money to acquire research grants for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and has leveraged $2.5 million in donations into over $18 million in grants.

We all crossed the finish line at different times -- my time was 52 minutes. My goal was to do it in under an hour, so I was pleased. Maybe I can do it faster next year. I stayed by the finish line for a long time, cheering the ones who finished after me. I talked to women and heard their stories. There's an element of loss in many of the stories, but there's an element of hope in all of them. "We're gonna find a cure for you -- Keep going!"