Thursday, January 25, 2007

Nice to see you again, Jack



It's been a while since I've posted. Work has been crazy and I've been sick for most of January. I've had some goofy cold/sore throat/no energy thing since January 2nd. When it first hit me, I tried to lie low in order to get better. I thought I had recovered, but the whole illness blew up in my face again this week. Therefore, no exciting workouts to report. I've pretty much worked during the day and have conked out on the couch at night. Not exactly what I had in mind for the beginning to my 2007 training routine...

I do have a semi-interesting story about the picture in my blog today, but before I get to it, I need to give it a proper set up.

One of many odd habits that I've adopted over time is the one where, when I have problems sleeping at night, I take a little mental stroll through the house that I grew up in in Milwaukee.

We moved in to that house the summer before I entered 3rd grade. It is a big English-style house that was built in 1919. The house employed all the great styles of that era -- big rooms, lovely woodwork, glass door knobs. chandeliers, a built-in "pond" in the backyard and a brick grill, clanky radiator heat and scary basement!

My mom -- like her taste or not -- really was creative in how she decorated the house. Regal colors used in the living room and dining rooms; using a 4-pane screen panel to hid one of the radiators in the living room and paintng portraits of teach of the four Jacks found in a deck of card -- one image per panel.

One of the first summers we were in the house, she had concocted a grand plan to convert the backyard in to a Japanese garden -- so we planted lots of little plants and hung wind chimes around the "pond". She took spraypaint and drew big oddly shaped circles and ovals on the cement patio and then had my younger sister and me paint inside the shapes with using earthy tones to create an artificial rock garden.

She even tried to make that scary basement less so, by attempting to convert one of the rooms in to a playroom. She painted a series of childern from different lands on of of the basement walls. She painted 4-foot high images of a girl from Sweden, an Eskimo and a Native American, plus several others, holding hands and grinning a "come play with us" grin.

I lived in that house until I moved away to college -- and my dad stayed in that house long after that. I was some where in my 20's when he sold the house and moved in to a flat, where he lived until he passed away in late 1990.

The house in Milwaukee is connected to many happy memories; sneaking the black cat I named Midnight in to my room to feed him cream; discovering music by playing The Monkees first abum over and over and over again (which was then followed by repetitive playing of Carole King's 'Tapesty' and Neil Young's 'Heart of Gold'; the landing on the stair where I got kissed the first time by that boy in high school; bedroom walls where I slept under images of David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman; spending Christmases in the Big Room with my family and their having to endure my younger sister and I dressing like elves and passing out the presents; the kitchen table where we ate my dad's famous fried potatos for dinner (and sometimes breakfast); exciting times when my older -- and much more glamorous -- brother and sister would come up from Chicago to visit...

That house also holds a lot of sad memories -- my mom dying when I was 10; times of what felt like countless -- now silly-- fights wth my dad and my sisters; sneaking gin from my dad when I was 16 and beyond, igniting my pretty rapid slide in to problems with drinking.

The house represents a very powerful connection to who I was and to who I am today. So, I find something very comforting about my mental visits to the house. Through the back door, in to the kitchen, around to the dining room, the living room and the front hall. Opening the door to the closet in the hall and seeing my dad's overcoats and suit jackets hanging there. Then moving in to the back bedroom area -- in to my dad's room, the bathroom and then the back bedroom to look out of the patio door to the back yard.

My mental journey then goes up the stairs to the 2nd floor, where I wander through the Big Room (aptly named because it was as large as the 3-car garage underneath it...): In to the bathrooms and bedrooms on the 2nd floor and walking through the attic.

I love that house and have had many fantasies about moving back in to it. So many fantasies in fact, that from time to time I check out Realtor websites to see if it, or any other house from my old neighborhood, is for sale AND is afforadable.

Turns out my older sister also checks out websites for listings in our old neighborhood every now and then. A couple of weeks ago, she sent my siblings and me an email with a link to our old house -- for sale -- but nothing near affordable for my budget.

However, Hubby said that we should make the trek to Milwaukee to see the house. Evidently I had mentioned to him in late December that I had been thinking about the house a lot. (This makes sense to me, as I generally get a little wistful and nostalgic for my family during the holidays and Christmas 2006 was particularly tough).

So to Milwaukee we went. I called the real estate agent and told her a little white lie -- that we were relocating to Milwaukee and were interested in the house. Hubby and I had an appointment last Saturday for the walkthrough.

I am SO glad that we did this. Although the current owner has a decorating taste that is really not my own, the house still had its "bones". Same rooms; same leaded glass windows; same elegant light fixtures and doorknobs. Same screendoor; same snapping click the light fixture one of the bedrooms; same ceramic tile in the back hall.

Someone -- the current owner or someone prior to her -- paved over the pond in the backyard (mistake); remodeled the kitchen (BIG mistake) and updated a couple of bathrooms.

The biggest suprises to me, though came on the 2nd floor and in the basement.

There is a small closet -- may have been once used for pool cues or some such items -- in the Big Room. One time, when my sister and I were very little, we were playing hide and go seek with some other friends. I squished myself in to that closet and had my friend latch the door. Obviously the seeker could not find me and when I tried to get out of the closet, the latch was stuck. I panicked and pushed back against the back of wall of the closet, trying to push myself out. I broke some of the wood boards in the back of the closet which created some extra room away from the door and that helped some how to get the latch to pop.

During our visit last weekend, I opened the closet door and discoverd that the boards are still broken.

The realtor saved the walk through of the basement of the house till last. Hubby says she wanted us to fall in love with the house before seeing the boring part.

Boring my ass.

I walked down the stairs and could see in to what was the "playroom" -- no little smiling faces of the friends holding hands but... as I walked in to the room, there was Jack -- Jack in the Beanstalk.

I had forgotten that -- 40 years ago -- my mom had also painted his image on one of the walls in order to welcome us in to that gloomy room.

There Jack was, grinning an impish 'hello', holding his ax, in front of his beanstalk and near his little chipmonk friend.

I was stunned, shocked, surpised and very, very touched.

I have very little left of my mother -- not many memories -- only a few pictures -- and some stories that either my older siblings or my aunts share with me. This goofy painting was really a wonderful gift of her -- from her -- to find.

Hubby took lots of pictures of Jack for me, and when we got back to Minneapolis, he printed out really nice copies for me and my sister to have.



The other fun thing to find in the basement were remnants of the self-portraits that my younger sister and I spray painted on a wall around the corner from Jack. Although I don't remember all the details as to how my sister and I decided that it would be a good idea to spray our images on the wall, they were there, smiling at me and saying "hello".

It was really a great end to my trip back "home"

4 comments:

WannaBe5Ker said...

Wow, wow, wow. What a trip down memory lane for you. I can't imagine the impact of going back to the house I grew up in, wow!

How special that all the owners subsequent to your family saved the murals! Wow.

Laurie said...

Thank you for sharing that beautiful story. I got chills reading it and thinking about my childhood home.

Dori said...

That was so poignant! How wonderful that your mother's hand was able to touch you these many years later.

Marcia Lee said...

You made me cry! What a touching blog entry! You mother sounds like a very special person with all the creativeness she put into your house and yard. What a trip and what a story!