Sifting Through

July 10, 2024 | My Jottings

From the archives…

She goes over the whole house in her mind again. The yellow stucco, the white trim, the half circle driveway out front. Her tiny self standing out there and looking south to the rolling gold hills in the distance, and listening for the call of the peacocks. Heelllp. Heelllp.

She goes back to the small galley kitchen at the front of the house, with a Formica covered table at one end, and the red vinyl banquette behind the table, a novelty to her which she called a booth, the cookie jar on the tiled counter with Nabisco Ideal cookies piled inside, the colored aluminum drinking glasses that gave a metallic taste to the water from the slowly dripping faucet.

She can see the good sized but narrow feet in the sturdy flesh colored sandals, anklet socks neatly turned down, and the stout but long calves above that, and the hem of the flowered cotton house dress above that, standing in front of the gleaming gas range. There is stirring going on, and savory smells she can’t bring to mind now because at that age she hardly ate the things others ate. Eggs, vegetables, pizza, soup, gravy and potatoes, almonds, apricots. All were impossible for her. She ate white rice with butter, Cheerios with whole milk and a spoonful of sugar, Skippy peanut butter and Welch’s grape jelly sandwiches on white Wonder bread, plain hamburgers “meat and bun only,” and Abba Zabba candy bars she bought for ten cents at the liquor store in front of Denel’s house. She would have a small salad if the lettuce was iceberg and the dressing was Wishbone Italian.

On the other side of the kitchen wall was the living room, with colonial style furniture, all arranged so the couple who lowered their bottoms down into the deep chairs and the divan with a sigh could see the television. Ed Sullivan. The Wonderful World of Disney. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins.

There was a corner used-brick fireplace near the large cabinet television, where no fires were ever lit, and a many-spindled maple dining room set neatly pushed up against the far wall of the living room. A large painting of three little girls gathered together reading a book was hung over the divan. She liked being in this house, liked walking around and taking note of things, even though she was mostly invisible when she was there.

In the entry hall closet, which hid a vacuum and a few hanging coats, she always took out the inflatable Peter Rabbit, which was weighted at the bottom and stood taller than she, the single toy in the house that was a punching bag of sorts. It was dark blue, red and pale yellow, and she would give it a few whacks and smile when it righted itself and wobbled until it was still and waiting again.

She can see herself walking down the hallway to the three bedroom and two bathroom part of the house, in white shorts with cuffs, a white knit short-sleeved top, and bare feet. Her strawberry hair is shoulder length and parted on the side, and has the remnant of a pageboy curl at the ends, something her mother created with pink sponge rollers after a night time bath.

One of the small bedrooms had a gold vinyl sleeper couch in it and a desk. It had held her crib when she was brought home from Inter-Community Hospital to this house on Delay Avenue. Before her grandparents had moved here from Kansas and bought the house from her parents.

She looks in the door of the second bedroom, which used to be her two older brothers’ room. It has a double bed, a tall maple dresser and matching vanity and nightstand, and she sees the hardwood floors and the spareness of the room as she passes. Across the hall to the back of the house, she sees the room she was always drawn to the most. Two twin beds with rich mahogany head and foot boards, white chenille bedspreads perfectly made, and three other pieces. A tall, dark dresser, curved at the front, all the drawers stacked in elegant symmetrical unison, a shorter, wider dresser with a huge mirror affixed at the back and twelve graceful drawers, and a single prim nightstand that divided the two twin beds. Years later she met a furniture expert who looked at this mahogany set in her guest room upstairs and said, “Ooohhh, that’s probably a Drexel.” The expert pulled out one drawer, saw the confirming stamp on the side, and said, “Even in this condition you could get $10,000, easy.”

She closes her eyes and continues, tip-toeing around the bedroom, turning the key on the side of the nightstand lamp, on, off, on, off, so she can see the two china globes light so delicately, taking their turns. She was never much interested in what was in all the drawers. The tour around the house, quietly conducted for such a little girl (whose award years later from her Girl Scout troop leaders was a defining ribbon that read, “Perpetual Motion”) always led to the Japanese jewelry box on the long dresser. The outside was black lacquer, the inside had little portions lined with red satin. It had been a gift from her father to his mother-in-law, her grandmother, when he was serving in WW II as Lt. Commander of the USS Magoffin.

She stands in front of the dresser and reverently lifts the middle lid of the box, listening to the mournful tune that plays, and each tinkly note is still sharp and clear in her memory, over half a century later.

She sees herself close the jewelry box, then walk through the house to the kitchen back door, which led to an attached screened porch on the side of the house. A clean cement slab made the floor, the slanted roof was aluminum, which was so loud and comforting in the rain, and there were metal rocking chairs and a dark red stained cedar patio table along the perimeter of the porch. Mr. Clean, a yellow canary who sang and trilled and couldn’t stay out of his water dish, lived in a cage on the cedar table. She would sit close and say bird things to him, loving how he cocked his head at her and jumped from perch to perch.

Since this going back is a sunny day, she steps out of the porch onto the pink, porous cement block her grandfather has placed beneath the screen door, into the small back yard. There’s a tall, shady tree close to the house, a rose garden with pale pink and yellow wide blooms she pushes her nose into, and some common bladed grass, rather than the springy dichondra lawn her parents had opted for.

She can hear the clatter of dishes being set on the kitchen table. The conversation of her parents and grandparents inside. She doesn’t know why her brothers aren’t there.

She was never invited to spend the night there. There was no sitting on a squishy lap for the reading of a book. She doesn’t remember being asked even one question (How is school going? What books have you read lately? Would you like to help me bake cookies?) or looked upon with delight. She knows they cared, but whether or not they loved has never been firmly established. They came from a different generation of course.

A screech coming from the dining room breaks her reverie and she’s back in her own home, knows her periwinkle colored parakeet, Phoebe, wants a morning greeting and a new stem of millet. She looks around her at the antique mahogany Drexel bedroom set now in her own home these sixty years later, and hums the tune from the jewelry box, long gone.

She has been told lately that she is cold and dismissive, that she is unable to make good human connection or change for the better. She has gone back to rake through the bits to see why this might be, what molds she was poured into that have shaped and hardened into what she is today.

She gleans no shiny treasures that would make her cry, “Aha!”

Except perhaps, just one.

It was in this yellow stucco house on Delay Avenue that she was clothed in a frilly dress and black patent leather Mary Janes. Her own lacy anklets were cuffed perfectly. Her hair brushed while she whined. From this circle driveway, the 1957 Buick LeSabre station wagon carried her off to Sunday School when she was three years old. She was taken into the pretty church, introduced to the warm and loving middle-aged teachers, and then her father drove home, returning to pick her up two hours later.

And this verse comes to her mind.

Philippians 1:6 – And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

She takes the gem and moves it in the light.

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 158

July 3, 2024 | My Jottings

“A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.”

~~C. S. Lewis