As it turns out, March had another good storm up her sleeve. We were at my sister’s house, which was originally my parents’ house and the home I grew up in. The storm started up rather slowly, with feathery flakes falling lazily. Then the flakes became smaller and more earnest looking. It’s been many years since I weathered a storm in this house. The voice of the wind is completely different than the wind at home. At our house the wind seems to have a single, howling voice. It rattles the old windows and screams around corners. There are very few trees to divert gusts from the house. At my sister’s place, the house is nestled in woods. My parents used to sign our Christmas cards, “From the 7 D’s in the house in the trees.” The wind lashed the trees and sang in a thousand voices, seeming to leave the house alone, Instead it concentrated its force on the maples, oaks and evergreens. The snow was heavy and wet, clinging stickily where it landed.
I stared out the window and imagined my parents, just after WWII, walking this piece of land on a fine summer day and dreaming their future. I imagine my mother wore a chiffon scarf over her hair, over-sized sunglasses and fashionable slacks that showed off her slim ankles. She would have smoked a cigarette with flair. My father no doubt had on sturdy boots and pants made from heavy fabric. His shirt sleeves would have been rolled up to show his muscular arms. He probably clenched a pipe in his teeth. I can almost see his startling blue eyes sparkle as he and his new bride explored through the pines and boulders. I am certain they held hands. My father once solemnly told me that holding hands with my mother was the single most romantic thing he ever experienced.
My father built this house. When I was teen my mother confessed to me that this was not the house she wanted. I think she had wanted a cozy Cape Cod style house, but I don’t’ remember exactly. She had shown my father a plan she found and he had scoffed and built this low ranch instead. The family joke was that he added another room every time she got pregnant. If she’d had her way and birthed the 8 children she dreamed of instead of the 5 she had, the place would be bigger. I've loved this place, both the house and the land, for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been sentimental, it seems, and I couldn’t imagine ever living in a place that was not built by my dear father’s hands. Looking at it now, I see with pleasure the sweet touches he added. A hopeful hearth in the basement, with 2 little shoulder high brick shelves built right in, perhaps to hold some candles or bric-a-brac Perhaps he envisioned a play room there, filled with boisterous children laughing over games in front of a cozy fire. I also see that I am much like him… he was gung ho at starting projects, but not so much on the finish work. I couldn’t build a thing, but I certainly see the pattern of plans that start off fine and shining and never quite end up the way they looked in my mind’s eye at the outset.
Housebound due to the storm, I read an entire book, watched the trees lash, and then became bored and went on walk about, looking for clues of my childhood. I went to the basement, and my right arm reached up automatically with some interesting muscle memory to pull the string my father rigged (part string, part pajama pants tie) to turn on the light in in his wood shop. I stopped dead when I inhaled and found the forgotten scent of that place clanging around in the spot where forgotten memories linger. The faint smell of cut pine lumber, and an inexplicable masculine aroma that must be the combination of metal, tools, oil, sweat, testosterone and most likely a hint of frustration. A friendly, comforting smell, one I was delighted to re-discover.
There in this large space, I found what I was looking for, peanut butter jars. My father had found what I always have fancied to be an ingenious way to store nails, screws, tacks and other troublesome small items that can be a trick to keep track of. In a house with 5 hungry kids, they had a lot of peanut butter jars. Dad screwed the metal lids to the studs that made up the ceiling over his head in the workshop, put the bits and pieces he wanted to store in the clean, clear, glass jars, and screwed them to the lids. At a glance, he could find just the hardware he needed. In my teen years, the peanut butter brand he preferred, Skippy, began to make their jars and lids from plastic. My father wrote a thoughtful, yet politely outraged, letter to the company, explaining his unique storage system, and his displeasure with the newfangled plastic. The president of the company fired back a kind reply. There was no stopping “progress,” but he sent a case of clean, empty, glass jars and metal lids to mollify.
Now my father’s workshop belongs to my good brother-in-law. But to my everlasting delight the jars remain.
On the deep storage shelves by the door there is a forlorn echo of my mother, as well, in the form of some beautiful china. My mother had been a fashion model in Boston before she wed. One day, walking down Boylston Avenue she saw some china in a window display that stopped her in her tracks. It was elegant, with deep colors, and featured a variety of different beautifully painted flowers. On her models salary, she began to piece a set of china together. I imagine she dreamed of serving her future husband delicious meals on the dinner plates, sharing tea with lady friends out of the delicate cups, setting a stunning table for parties. She had the set partially completed when she served her first meal on some of the plates. To her chagrin, she found that the bright colors and busy pattern made the presentation of food look… unpleasant. It was too busy, too much. She stopped buying the pieces and for the rest of her life had a preference for solid colored dishes. I’ll have to ask my sister if I can have a cup or plate as a keepsake.
We weathered the late season storm, fire in the fireplace and warm conversation when the power went out. More memories made.