I’m mad at life. This is not what I planned. In fact, it’s not even close to what I had in mind. I was planning to go gently into my elder years, able to do whatever I always did, but perhaps a bit more slowly. Gray hairs which turned out to be white — about the only thing that worked out the way I planned.
But all the other stuff? Poverty and ill-health? The endless crumbling of the house? It’s just not fair!
I do not feel insightful, but I could probably incite a riot. I feel very non-insightful. Mostly, I’m pissed.
I want is to win a ton of money so I can not only fix the house, but improve it so that it’s comfortable for both of us. I want our lives for the first time ever to become easier.
My childhood was rough. Adulthood has been, to say the least, bumpy. Somehow, I thought as I wandered into Older Age, life would get easier. Those things we’ve always needed to do would slow and maybe even give up. We could relax, surrounded by our nurturing family who would take care of our needs and maybe even provide a few small luxuries.
That has not been exactly been how it has worked.
Meanwhile, I’m just pissed about the whole “getting old” thing. Why doesn’t someone else cook dinner? Why are we both still scrubbing and vacuuming and cleaning? Why does the house persist in requiring maintenance and repair even though we’ve already fixed it more than once? Isn’t there an “end” point when you don’t need to fix it anymore? What’s wrong with this picture?
I say let’s round up the angry mob and attack age. Who’s with me? If we can’t evade age, maybe we beat the crap out of it.
I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.
The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.
It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining fully-grown white oaks in New York, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.
I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.
The first contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.
“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.
A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.
“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.
Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.
“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends were inevitable.
Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined the lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.
Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.
In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, a battle raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and goodwill, there was neither.
About 6 or 7.
A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.
“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”
I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.
We envied each other. It would be years before we learned each other’s secrets and by then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed while we grew up, lonely in our big old houses all those years ago.
Although most of us never plan to go home again to live, there’s always somewhere, way back in our minds, the realization that if terrible things happen and everything else fails, we can go home.
We wouldn’t like it and they probably wouldn’t care for it, either. We might even hate it.
But the thought is there. Almost hidden by the rest of our lives, friends, work, children.
I never went home except for the occasional dinner. I swore when I left I’d never go back … but there was always a tiny corner in there. Not even a set of words, but a fragment of a thought. There was a last-ditch place I could be if the rest of the world collapsed around me.
I never went back, even when things were bad and I was sick. Never wanted to be there, not even briefly. Then, my mother died. Eventually, my father died though losing him wasn’t much like losing a parent. I hadn’t seen him as a parent for many long years. Garry’s father passed and eventually, his mother too. He never went home, either.
We are orphans. We can’t go home because this is home and there’s nowhere else to be. We haven’t even the fragments of those unspoken words.
Every autumn, I go and take pictures of this little house because it sits next to a large maple tree that turns bright red or orange every fall. So I have a series of pictures of this house on subsequent autumn afternoons. Some autumn color changes are better than other years, but the little house always has its blue door.
I believe it used to be a carriage house for a larger home that is gone now.
It’s not fair to say it’s ALL daylilies. As it turns out, we also have some roses. Pink and red ones. Not as many as usual, but to no one’s surprise, they have come back enough to flower. Still, the soul of the garden is definitely daylilies and more daylilies. Front yard, back yard, side yard, along the road in the front, too. Probably in the woods, if there’s enough light.
I took pictures.
Maybe tomorrow, I’ll see what I can do with the roses. But I think I need a longer lens. Small roses way in the back of the garden.
We’ve got firewalls all over the place. Our modem, our router, Chrome, Microsoft are all busy protecting us. Theoretically, our ISP protects us, too. I think their idea of protecting us is to have such a bad service no one can get through, not even us. My phone blips out a dozen times a day and the computers die with regularity. If other people weren’t having the same problem, I’d think it was us, but I know it’s them.
If you call them, they will deny everything. Lying is a national sport.
Our many firewalls are obviously insufficient to protect us from anything.
I need protection. From life, politics, and the vast stupidity that is closing in around me.
I need to be protected from $1000 hikes in taxes when my town does absolutely nothing for us. We don’t have buses or taxis or trains. We pay to have our trash hauled. We have our own well and septic system. No one prunes the trees or even sprays for mosquitoes which, as it turns out, is fine because it would probably kill the birds while leaving the mosquitoes. They also didn’t spray for gypsy moth caterpillars.
Basically, we are on our own. Pay the taxes and figure out how to survive. The one time I called emergency services because we’d gotten frozen into our driveway and couldn’t get out, they told us that was a real pity, but they couldn’t help us. They said their trucks don’t have snow tires so they couldn’t help us. If we died in our house, that would be a real pity too. Oops. I wonder if they’d pay for the funeral?
So what am I paying for? So the town can waste money on some other stupid project? A townwide soccer team for kindergartners? We can’t get them to expand the library (who needs a library after all?) … or repair the sidewalks. Or even add a minibus so older people can get in and out of town.
So far, the only “famous” person to emerge from this town is William Howard Taft which is pretty dismal. Though I hear his ranking as a Chief Supreme Court Judge was better than his record as President. It is unlikely to be worse. He was a hard tryer, but a big failure. Not a bad description of Uxbridge, come to think of it. Except I don’t think we try all that hard.
I want protection from gigantic rises in the cost of oil to heat our house. I want them to fix the roads so that the repairs last more than the first month of winter.
I want to be firewalled from reality.
I want some of that money we pay to underwrite the cost of my drugs. I want the town to plow my driveway and clear away the monstrous piles of autumn leaves and other trash that accumulates. I want someone to come by and clean up the trash people throw from their car windows onto our “front lawn,” which is actually a lot of trees that need to be cut down.
I want them to collect the trash and not make us pay for it! You know. Like they do in other towns.
I want them to give us a senior discount on our taxes like most other towns offer.
If they are going to leave us to decay here amidst the forest, I think they should stop charging us more and more for the privilege of being unable to afford to live here. I could understand it if they actually gave us something for our money, but they don’t. Oh, but they built a firehouse.
So if the place burns down, they’ll be sure to drop by with hoses. At least, in theory. There are no fire pumps along our road, so they better also bring tanks. Do we even have tanker trucks?
No way around it. I miss the birds! They were always there and all I had to do was get the camera ready and wait … and voila! They would appear in full and glorious color.
Until the squirrels took over. But then I got a lot of cool squirrel pictures. From a photographic point of view, it was a win-win.
Even though I understand this is the right time to take them down, I didn’t think I’d miss them so much. I’d gotten so used to looking out the window to see what birds — or squirrels — were hanging on the feeders. It was the first thing I did in the morning. And the first think Garry did, too.
The day after we took down the feeders, there were birds and squirrels wandering around looking forlorn. Even the next day, we had a few cowbirds hanging around. But now, four days later, there are no birds in sight. I had no idea how many birds we had until those feeders went up and you’d never know today that the birds ever existed.
It’s pouring today, so the clean deck is shiny with water, but now we need another 48 hours of dry weather before we can paint it.
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