Thursday, March 11, 2010

Saw, Sand

Carpentry has been demanding most of my free time and attention the past couple weeks, with the result that the blog has been neglected in the corner, sniffling, for most of that. As is the case with many dykes of a certain age, my girlfriend was married once to a guy, and as is seemingly the case with many dykes of any age, family ties have transcended orientation and marital status, so the guy is like a brother or brother-in-law or something to both of us, and his parents remained as tight with my girlfriend as they had been when she was married.

Anyway. The parents got old, one passed away, and the other is in a nursing home, and the family house is in need of a lot of work before whatever happens next can happen. So the de facto brother-in-law hired me to build bookcases and tables and countertops in the guesthouse portion of the property in preparation for renting it out again. So we have been busy, me sawing and sanding, the girlfriend scraping and painting, the de facto brother-in-law's girlfriend painting and cleaning and wrangling electricians and plumbers. And some of de facto's sister's kids dropped by and variously pitched in and pitched a fit.

They don't want the house sold, or substantially changed, even when some of that change involves scrubbing years of grime from the kitchen cabinets or emptying drawers of decades' worth of sweepstakes entries, lunch menus, expired credit cards, expired medications. They don't live in town, of course, and have made minimal appearances here over the years, never--save this last visit, by one of the four--to help with the house, either physically or fiscally. They were a military familty growing up, so I understand their distress at seeing Grandma and Grandpa's house--the anchor of their childhood memories--fall into disrepair, and understand how painful it can be to think about a place that has always meant family to you more than any other pass into strangers' hands and be closed off to you forever.

It's unnerving when a place you thought was immutable proves itself vulnerable to time after all, when having to untether your memories from a house unmoors your sense of self along with them. But a house without the people is little better than a mausoleum, an empty stage with a set but no actors, a shell populated only by increasingly distant memories. My own anchor back in southern Illinois is slowly being cranked up too, my own grandparents' house set to sell on May 1, the yellow house with high ceilings and warm lights where my childhood self lives poised to move on into other hands, another family, ready for the next set of generations and memories. I don't want that house and everything in it to go away either, but I know it's not my call. I haven't been there and am too far away to help go through the drawers, the boxes, the closets crammed with stuff. Anything my uncle saves for me will be a gift.

It sucks. But it's also inevitable in our mobile reality. Here in my girlfriend's adopted family's home I sweep up as I go where I've moved the kitchen table away to make room for my saw and try to keep the sawdust intrusion to a minimum, putting things back as I found them, doing what I can to ease this transition as my own proceeds apace without me a thousand miles away. I hope they will like what I build for them.

1 comment:

Damien Huffer said...

The incredibly diverse families our community can form around individual members are just one of the present-day realities that has made me so fascinated by kinship/family networks in pre- and ancient history. As frustrating as they might be sometimes, thanks for sharing yours.