Friday, March 23, 2012

Farewell to the Mother Ship

Last weekend, my grandparents house was sold. My grandmother went to be with God more than a decade ago, and my grandfather just passed this December. Grandpa was still living in the house he and Grandma designed together with an architect in the late 1950s, where they had raised their six kids and entertained their 12 grandchildren for decades.

In an area of the country where a house built in the 1970s is often called "old," the Kelley house gave us all a sense of being rooted. It was large by Southern California standards: five bedrooms and three baths with living and family rooms on a single level. And it had a yard, a glorious expanse of grass bordered by roses and Oleander trees, plus a fruit and vegetable garden.

I loved my grandparents' house. I loved playing in the room my mom slept in with two of her four sisters. I loved the ashwood cabinets that line almost every room and hallway, the retro frosted glass levered windows in the bathrooms, the big utility sink in the laundry room where all my siblings and I have washed ollalaberry stains off our hands after picking them from my grandpa's bushes. I loved the red and black bathroom that was my only uncle's, and bathing in the salmon pink bathtub in the "girls" bathroom. I loved the cork floors in the bedrooms, covered by round rugs that had been raked (raked!) into perfect lines. I remember tiptoeing around on the exposed corners of the soft cork to avoid making footprints on the spotless rugs.

I loved the sweet peas and roses Grandma would pick and arrange all over the house; she never visited my mom without bringing a bouquet from her garden. She made jam and cobblers from her berries. Grandpa grew tomatoes and enormous zucchinis and bitter green peppers that never seemed to ripen all the way.

My grandparents' house had its own smell. The smell of cork and old wood and good furniture and clean. The tool shed -- where we'd retrieve worn badminton and croquet sets to play with our cousins -- had it's own smell too: charcoal briquettes and gasoline and tools and pine and rubber hoses. To me, it's the smell of summer and childhood -- and bliss.

My mother's childhood home feels more mine than my own childhood home. It's our Mother Ship, where my parents had their wedding reception in 1972, my grandparents had their 50th wedding anniversary and we danced in the covered carport Big Band music played by a DJ; where we help my grandmother's wake, and my Aunt Mary's (the youngest of six children, who died in her 40s). I had sleepovers with my cousin Kelley here, shared laughs and secrets with Anne and Colleen.

Now it is all gone. But we gave it a good send off. On St. Patrick's Day, no less, which my Irish Grandpa would have loved and my Norwegian grandmother would have said was typical; somehow our Irish roots always got more glory.

We showed up -- Jeff, the girls and I -- in the pouring rain on St. Paddy's and found my mom weeping in the living room. She and I walked arm in arm in the house and saw it for first time all over again, the way you can see a space you've known forever when it's totally empty.

Then we took a shot of Bailey's Irish Cream, and put on some Irish/Celtic music. My brother and his wife showed up with their two children, and eventually, we were all jigging in the living room (none of us actually know how to jig). Then our kids played hide and seek -- paradise! -- and experimented with which cupboards were big enough to climb into.

It was a beautiful day, and instead of being depressing, it became one last good memory, the ashwood-lined hallways ringing with the Kelley's great grandchildren's giggles -- laughter from children Grandma didn't live to meet.

My mom was smiling when we drove off in the rain. And I, with a bouquet of my grandparent's pink camellia's in my lap, blew a kiss. Farewell to the Mother Ship.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pet Peeves on a Short Leash

Ross: What is Monica's biggest pet peeve?
Joey: Animals dressed as humans!
Ross: That is correct.
from Friends, "The One with All the Embryos"

In my last post I painted a word picture: pet peeves are small things that annoy me, which I nurture and dress in silly clothes and keep near me. And as I said before, I don't think peeves are things I should keep as pets. Instead, I believe I should figure out what bugs me, why it bugs me, and then try to stop letting it bug me.

So I've been a'thinkin on this for a day or two. And here are my pet peeves:

1. People who get to the front of the line in the grocery store, wait until all their items are scanned, and then start looking around in their purse for their wallet.

2. People who get to the front of the line in a restaurant, and then start reading the menu.

3. Stores that have really long lines and only one cashier, while employees walk around stocking shelves and don't open another register.

4. People who don't pay attention at stop lights when the light turns green. They they take so long that they get through at the last minute but I get stuck at the red.

I could go on, but I think the theme is pretty clear. I have a patience problem.
The dialogue at the top of this post is from one of my favorite "Friends" episodes. The friends are having a trivia contest to prove which of them knows each other best, and one of the four categories is "Fears and Pet Peeves." Monica's pet peeve is above. Chandler's fear, the episode reveals, is Michael Flately's Lord of the Dance ("His legs flail about as if independent from his body!").

This is a telling episode. Its true: if you want to really know what defines a person, find out what their pet peeves and phobias are. Because again, the things we let chronically irritate us say a lot about our character, especially when we list them like items on a resume rather than as items on the list of things we'd like to change about ourselves. I'm not sure exactly what is says about Monica that she hates it when people dress up their pets. But I know what mine say about me: I do not like to be kept waiting.

Again, I have a patience problem. But I do notice that these things don't bother me if I've allowed myself enough time to get somewhere or do something. It's only when I'm trying to squeeze too many things into too little time (which is usually) that this irritates me. (And also, if I'm really, really hungry.) When I've left a margin of time, I am extremely forbearing and polite; I might even let you go ahead of me if you have less than 10 items in your cart.

But generally, places like JoAnn Craft stores need to put up a sign just for me that says "Your poor planning is not our crisis." Or possibly, "Just because you are trying to buy black felt and Steam-a-Seam before your daughter gets out of school and left your house too late does not mean we need to page someone else to the cutting table or open another register." But that would probably take up too much space.

So, reality check, Amanda. The world does not revolve around you and your housewifely agenda. Becoming short tempered with the children, the cashiers, and your fellow drivers on the road is not worth crossing one more item on your list.

I shall now edit my list of things to do and, in so doing, put my pet peeves on a shorter leash. How about you?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Dentist as Therapist

I know what I should say is that I hate going to the dentist, but what I want to say is that I hate the dentist, my dentist. I would like to shoot the messenger. The tooth doctor, this man of tiny sharp tools and huge bills, rarely gives me anything but bad news.

I got my first crown when I was 16. I had so many cavities that my mom got me on a program we called "flossing for college." As in, if you don't floss more, you will use up all your college money fixing your teeth. The dentist of my youth is now retired and likes to sail. I think my parents bought half his boat. When I got married, my parents were so glad they would stop having to pay for my teeth to stay in my head; now my poor husband pays for it.

This week, when I was told that I needed yet another crown and another filling, I was openly P.O.ed at my kind and skilled doctor, and the bubbly hygienist got a taste of venom too. Seriously, is this really necessary?

Then I went home, got out my dental mirror (yes, I have one, and no, I don't know why), and took a look at the teeth in question.

Oh. Yes, I see.

The new filling I'm getting is on a tooth that has been driving me crazy for about a year, because food keeps getting stuck on it. The crown is on a molar that has been filled multiple times (15 years ago by my sailor dentist), and has a visible crack. It's been bothering me too.

I'm about to make a spiritual jump here, so get ready.

If there's a small issue in my life that keeps repeating, a psychological snag I keep getting stuck on, is it possible that underneath is something decayed, or broken that needs to be drilled out and removed? I think of the expression pet peeve, and the picture I get is something I not only let keep annoying me, but an annoyance that I nurture and dress up in silly little clothes and walk about on a leash. When really, if something peeves me, shouldn't I try to get over it rather than turn it into a treasured possession.

The tooth that keeps snagging small particles in my mouth has probably needed mending for a year or more, and the tooth that needs replacing altogether has been causing me anxiety every time I brush my teeth (which is often, I swear -- my dental problem is genetic!). But because it's time consuming, painful and costly, I've been putting it off. I'm now very excited to get these troublesome teeth taken care of -- though I'm still not pleased about the bill.

And perhaps the hours I spend lying in the dentist chair over the next two weeks I shall apply to contemplating soul cavities. What's been chronically bugging me lately? What may be the root problem underneath? And who are the other messengers I've been yearning to shoot, just because they're pointing out something in me that needs fixing? It may be my most expensive therapy session yet, but let's hope it's productive.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

There Are Worse Things Than an Ugly House

My family lives in a cream-colored stucco condo shaped like a shoe box. The best thing that can be said about it from the outside is that it is inoffensive. My husband is an architect, specializing in high-end custom residential work, and we joke that our home is the antithesis of an architect's house. Our rooms are just a bunch of rectangles fit together without finesse.

But though my home is nothing special to look at, there is a house in our neighborhood that has always bothered me for its lack of, well, something. It is right on the corner where I turn into my neighborhood 5,000 times a week. Also of the cream-stucco ilk, the house boasts 1970s orange brick accents that could really use an update.

In the last year, the homeowners have done other improvements however: adding some really basic concrete steps that, unaccountably, lead up to the front door by way of two ugly utility closet doors. Then they added a wonky-looking black iron railing. And though I of the stucco shoe box am not one to judge, I did. It bugged both my husband and I. "If you're going to do something, at least do it right," we would remark. These "improvements" stuck like burrs in our aesthetic socks.

About a month ago, however, they made another addition: a porch swing. And often, I see the woman who lives there sitting on it with her grandsons. One is a baby. One is about three years old. They are out there in all different types of weather, easing back and forth, looking up at the sky and across the street at the trees bordering the schoolyard. They cuddle and they point at things and she whispers into their ears and they laugh.

For some reason, this makes me really happy, seeing that sweet grandma take time to swing with her boys. Before the porch swing, I had been thinking not-nice thoughts about her because her house wasn't pretty to begin with, and she had made it worse. I imagined I knew something about her that mattered, like having an ugly house was some kind of a moral failing. But now, I know something real about her: that she made an effort to create a place to just be with people that matter to her, and takes the time to actually do it.

I smile at her whenever I turn the corner now, especially if she has the boys with her. The last few times I waved. Grandma waves back at me, probably wondering wh0 I am and why I am grinning at her.

Perhaps one day I will stop and tell her: I always wished there was something beautiful to look at on this corner. And thanks to you, there is.