We moved closer to the city in the early 70's. Mom and Dad were childhood sweethearts in their late twenties with just me as a reminder of post high school sexual prowess. Not that I was a mistake, but the fact that our trio were technically end cap baby boomers certainly made leaving the grandparents 100 miles behind more than just a break from parental ties, but for me as well since I was "latch-key" generation being ripped from my learned and lovingly adoring baby sitters that were far more patient teachers and care givers than my own that were still in their growing phase. My Grandmother used to say "most people never grow up they just get older. You are either an adult by the time you start school or it never really happens. One day when you have finished raising your parents you will understand." She was an unbelievably soulful woman. I feel her with me everyday. She would solve the worlds problems over a shared cup of Lipton in a stained off white melmac cup. I often contemplate over tea now. We choose our parents for what they have to teach us, and as life is a circle and lines blur, we frequently trade roles as He who teaches and he that is the student. As each decade passes and the lessons have unfolded by the cause and effect of previous incarnations, the pieces of the puzzle fall together into a more cohesive final product. That which becomes Me. As millenia pass, that which is We.
Mom and Dad's marriage was struggling and the thought of a fresh start with new options, new scenery and fewer opinions seemed like the interstate to take as the country roads just had too many ruts for a quick and easy partnership fix. To survive this, we needed to create change. We needed to move.
Dad had already taken a job here and was living with Mom's brother's family as She and I prepared for what seemed to feel like ripping out 100 sutures from a fresh wound by leaving the only safety we had ever known. The day came. The tears were many. The hour and half journey seemed endless.
With a car full of memories, used Kleenex and Smokie and Rosy our tamed feral backwoods cats with Mom and me, and Duke the retired police German Shepherd in the truck with Dad, we pulled into the drive way of our new life. Oddly it didn't seem as cold and ominous as the gray December day that veiled it and quickly became home.
45 years ago new builds were less common, so moving into someone else's taste and leftovers was pretty normal. You just seemed to deal with it, sometimes until you moved or died. Luckily Mom was crafty and Dad, still today, is a jack of all trades and finds no project too large or daunting. So with one's vision and another's verve walls were painted, carpeting replaced, a few new pieces of current furniture purchased along with a house full of custom cabinetry and draperies left by the previous tenants, the new digs took on a personality. Pretty nice overall and I believe we were proud to have grown up, looking something like a hy-brid of the Walton's and Matt Helm's bachelor pad. There were work boots by the back door and bell bottoms in the closet. Sufficiently upscale to be cool and always an extra potatoe for the soup pot to be homey. Nothing less than cozy yet Tragically Hip. Holy Rona Barrett, we had arrived.
Unlike today when bathrooms sell houses, we were one generation from farm people and just happy to drop trou inside and not to be wiping with page 132 of the Sear's catalog. In fact this house had not only one bathroom but another half latrine in the family room, not to mention a WC in the backyard shed built out of concrete block..............just in case peeing on a tree behind the garage wasn't pre-millenial, post western European kosher. We had 3 places to take a dump. The Clampett's had nothing on us.
The house was rather traditional, with nice windows and an abundance of knotty pine, but the master bathroom was another story. Not very large, as the words "master suite" and "spa-like" had yet to be coined into purpose selling dollar phrases, atleast in the midwest. It was utilitarian with tub/shower combo, comode, and sink. Not dual sinks, no rain shower head, and only Pepe Le Pew knew what a bidet was.
The room was no more than 8x5', and if you really think about it, many bathrooms that we grew up with were, and are today. It wasn't classic enough to be Donna Reed and wasn't anywhere near olive green, harvest gold or burnt orange enough to be Brady Bunch cool. It was something completely of it's own damage. It was unique.
The entire tub surround and half way up the walls in the remainder was tiled. I guess that's what you would call them. They were square like normal tiles, but in actuality were made of plastic. They were a swirl pattern of black, purple, plum, gray, and hot pink. So, to pull it all together, of course the remainder of the walls and ceiling were covered in shiny water resistant Pepto Bismol enamel. It was clean, functional, and somewhat of an homage to the hippy dippy psychedelic 60s'. So we lived with it. People didn't change things of such magnitude on a whim as it was still clean, undamaged, and served its purpose. So as to not be complete barbarians, we decorated it. We bought coordinating, matching pretty towels and a fabulous toilet cozy. As new linens weren't purchased weekly as we do now to suit our ever changing moods, they were special. Not to be used, They were for company, and even so you cringed when guests actually laid hands on them. Surely outsiders were suppose to know that the fabulous handtowels with all of the fancy trim on them were not to be handled...........not really. Hell, I don't think they were even made of cotton. It was the 70's, they were shiny poly blend something. They didn't absorb water, it just kind of ran off and slowly melted when placed too close to a space heater.
The 70's passed. The eighties came and went and I found myself after an unplanned turn of events in my 20's back home. Many things had changed, but the towels were still there. Layered one upon the other: purple bath towel folded perfectly atop twin smaller plum hand towels, crowned by pink wash cloths. Still looking pretty good I might add. I believe that the bathroom decor could have stood the test of another decade or so to become scientifically retro, but water damage, mold and time had taken its toll .Even fabulous has to have a facelift eventually.
It was the 90's, so to never be less than ahead of the curve, we redressed the bathroom in all of the latest color and decor of the 80's. If it was all the rage in restaurants and hotels 5 years before, it must be what's hot for us now. So tiles were stripped, moisture resitant surfaces replaced, a middle class tub/shower surround installed, a pedestal sink upgraded the traditional single countertop cabinet and the remaining walls covered head to toe with layers of plaid, paisley, striped and floral wallpaper in shades of Ralph Lauren burgundy, forest green, navy blue with a hint of Laura Ashley mauve for good measure. So to ice the cake, I of course bought Mom towels for the "new" bathroom as the old, still perfectly good towels made their way to the more utilitarian bars in the half bath. As a good German descendant always knows to "waste not, want not". We were able to change the look of both rooms on the budget of one. Thrifty!
As times had changed, and new adjectives like "bath sheet" and "Egyptian cotton" had buzzed into our hive, Christmas paper was carefully removed from Lazarus and Ayres boxes so it could be recycled for years later so as not to be too recognizable too soon. Cautious efforts revealed stacks and stacks of jewel toned bath sheets large enough to sleep on and all the extras and accessories that I was sure would never be purchased otherwise. After oohs and ahs, they were rolled in a more current Martha Stewart fashion and placed in the guest basket next to the sink, of course to never be used. As a matter of fact I am pretty sure that most of the everyday towels that made their way from body to washer to clothesline were still the good old standbys from the Duz box that came from Grandma's wringer washer a lifetime before.
I begged Mom to please use the towels and enjoy them. It's not that difficult to replace these things and the point was to add just a touch of everyday luxury to Her life. I have to believe that in her mind that just having them there "just in case" was in a strange way the best gift of all. For someday. For the future when all of the pieces of the puzzle come together and the "finished product of my life" is there to unfold, lovingly look at and possibly even use. How many times have the fruits of our labor rotted in front of us while we wait for someday?
Once again, I blinked my eyes and 20 some years passed and I found myself back home. This time it was different. Mom had died. I hear the words in my head and see them on the page and still can't wrap my brain around it. It's still fresh as if a wound that never closes all the way, not really. As friends have experienced this before me, I have now learned the subtle yet profound difference between empathy and sympathy. The news was shocking and situations surrounding the aftermath ranged from "ducks in a row" to "chaotic" and completely unprepared for. It was a ride to say the least. Some days a mild and less bumpy Dumbo and others a complete E ticket Matterhorn. The house was the same structure that had housed me for so much of my life, but many of the tools of everyday had changed. Yet, the towels were still there. It was like walking into an alternate universe just familiar enough to feel safe yet transformed enough to cause stress.
I have been here now for over a year and the work of editing has been non-stop. The constant in the process has been that which I have learned. Learned about my Mother. Learned about myself. Learned about my past for my future.
After months of cleaning, editing, trashing, donating, laughing, crying, rinse, lather repeat, I began to tackle the ever constant, rarely changing bathroom. If I stayed, it needed another Joan River's nip and tuck, or if I decided to sell, it needed............well. let's just say it needed. I had taken some time off close to Christmas to do some painting, cleaning and rearranging as when it comes time to put up the tree it doesn't seem so drastic and out of the ordinary to see changes. I needed a buffer, especially at the holidays. I painted the kitchen a more neutral tone of flat beige, as the current shiny version had a hint of pink in it that had always driven me crazy that was only enhanced by the frilly peach toned globes covering the light bulbs of the ceiling fan. Those got changed too. I carried the color into the utility room erasing 20 some years of ivy and hummingbirds. It was difficult to do, but had become even more difficult to look at daily. The end result was much better as in reality I wasn't erasing Mom, I was taking her back to a more youthful, easier time.
Before I tackled the bathroom, I first took a crack at a simpler task of pealing off the border in the master bedroom that I had since claimed as my own. Everything just needed to be simplified so I could think. As I took a deep breath and started skinning back, right in the spot that logically she had 20 years previously started the project, I was stopped in my tracks. On the back of the paper, in Her handwriting it said "What's next?" Whether to remind herself decades later, as a time capsule for a new owner, or for me. For me as just this moment. For me to think. For me to remember. For me to know that all is good with the universe and she will always be there.........for me.
So, after I regained my sea legs from once again another soulful reminder in a house full of memories, I finished the bedroom and moved on to Joan Rivers.
As a second job I stage and renovate houses, so I had the equipment and generally knowledge to do most domestic upgrades with relative ease compared to most novices but for some reason I took the long road on this one. I filled my spray bottle with warm water and fabric softener, whipped out the plastic 49 cent scraper and let my stress and frustrations out. Did I use the steamer? NO. Did I use the professional wallpaper scraper? NO. The logical items didn't even cross my mind as I had been living in what was to me a very illogical situation. I was Opie back in Mayberry and Barnie Fyfe had left bullets all over the place and I was looking for a gun and a shootout.
I sprayed. I scraped. I cleaned. I cried, I laughed, Oh, cussed quite a bit too.........just 'cause. Eventually I got down to the bare board and thought how empty it looked. It was a direct representation of my head at that time. Empty. It's sort of the feeling when you move to a new and hopefully wonderful place, and while you are walking out for the last time of your old surroundings it feels cold and empty. You just want everything back in place for one more moment so you can breathe it all in to properly honor it. I was moving forward, yet somehow wasn't ready to let go of my past.
So, in Dave fashion, I moved on. Grandma would say, "When life is too hard, put one foot in front of the other. And, if you can't find the heart to walk, concentrate on breathing." I took a deep breath. I took many deep breaths. I paced. I paced a lot. In this life I have become quite a Reggie.
Eventually the flooring came out (Carpeting. In a bathroom.....YUK) and a very neutral and slightly industrial gray covered the walls. I worked much with what I had as I knew that eventually a complete overhaul was necessary as function over form is truly the goal for better living, and there are larger problems here that just cosmetic, but this was a perfect first step for needed momentum.
I artistically and frugally altered the medicine cabinet. Painted out some brass fixtures. Changed flooring with what I already had in the shop, Removed the lacy curtains, and yes bought new towels. Stacks of dark gray towels. Rolled end on end and placed lovingly to behold in an old feed box to compliment the new more industrial masculine surround, to be admired from afar as I too continue to use the old ones.
I guess it's out of respect for who I am, and who and where I have come from. I want to use them, move forward, and learn from the life experieince of my predecessors, But, we are who we are. And, it's not just about towels now is it? It's about allowing ourselves to live in the moment. Rejoice in our accomplishments and surroundings. We could say the same thing about many things. Drive the new car. Use the good vacuum. Sport your best and new shoes everyday. Wear your favorite earrings, everywhere. Hell, I don't care if you wear your shoes as earrings, and if you can keep your feet wrapped around your neck that long.........................Well, that's a hot dog and beer for another ballgame......................