"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reunion, Part 2 - Homecoming, The Pantry

We're most of the seven miles from town to the farm when Marcia begins to wonder aloud where the turn-off is. She comments that given the number of times during our high school years she bombed out to my house to either get me or to spend the night, she should remember. And she does.

The Selle Road turnoff is visible up the highway from the back property line - the one that used to mark one side of the 80 acre rectangle that was Sunburst Dairy. When it was my home, the line was a straight, well-maintained, barbed wire fence. Now the line exists only in my memory, and as the blurred edge of the woods that sit in the southwest corner.

We turn left onto the road that leads to the house - the quarter mile stretch I walked eagerly to the school bus every morning, and trudged reluctantly home every afternoon from second grade through senior year. The hills between home and the highway seemed so much steeper than they do now, the creek under the bridge in the middle seemed so much more alive.

Marcia turns into the driveway, and decides not to push through the dense growth of weeds to the house. We get out of her car, stepping carefully, uncertain what might be hidden in the wild green that has overtaken what was once a gravel driveway. I monitor inner voices, prepared to comfort the girls for whom this was a place of suffering. The only thing I hear is Marcia's concerned friend voice, the swish of waist-high tansy ragwort parting as we pass, and the wind playing in the overgrown Lombardy poplars.

The house, which has been empty for years, stands solid in the shadows of fifty year old trees whose unrestrained growth is horror movie creepy. Marcia looks through the broken living room window as I pick my way carefully to the front door. There's a huge crater at the foot of the steps that I'm at a loss to explain. I step over it, test the wood of the first step, and breathe a little easier once I'm standing on the brick step at the door. I try the handle. It's locked. Preparing to bushwhack my way around back, I accidentally bump the door, which swings open. I hear the voices of the movie audience urging me to turn back, to save myself, to run.

I step into the house, pretending the goose bumps on my arms are from the wind. Marcia goes back to her car to allow me the privacy I didn't request, but am deeply grateful for.

I'm here searching for ghosts - any unfinished anythings that might still have the power to hurt me. I don't expect to find any, but know that if they exist, they'll have to show themselves here in this place where memories of pain and shame far outweigh any others.

There are two rooms in particular I need to feel: the pantry and my old bedroom.

The pantry, with its concrete floor, shelved walls and rotten potato damp earth smell was our designated fall-out shelter. A single bare bulb in the ceiling barely pushed the darkness back far enough to identify whatever we were sent in to fetch. In childhood the shelves were packed with hundreds of jars of beans, pears, peaches, jams, cherries, plums, tomatoes, applesauce, sauerkraut, pickles and occasionally home-made root beer.

During the summer of my tenth year, when there was a very real possibility of nuclear war, my parents decided we needed a place for the family to be safe while waiting for radiation levels to diminish in the event the Russians attacked.

Old gallon mayonnaise jars were filled with water. A pile of moth-eaten olive wool army blankets was tucked into a corner. Empty coffee cans were stacked on a shelf along with toilet paper.

I was appalled. And said so. I did not want to spend any time at all, let alone the possible weeks, stuck in that cold tiny stinking place with five people I could barely stand.

My questions weren't being answered. Where would we sleep? Would we have to stand the whole time? What about privacy? Would we watch each other go to the bathroom? What would we do with all that time? What about books to read? How would we cook our food? How would we know when to come out? What if someone got sick?

I said I would rather take my chances on the outside, alone, even if it meant dying, than have to live in the pantry with my family for weeks on end. My mom's response was no surprise: if I was going to be that ungrateful then maybe it would be better for everyone if I wasn't in the pantry with them.

As I stand in the middle of the room that has not grown larger over the years, I surprise myself by smiling at my ten-year-old choice. I'm proud of her. I love that girl's spirit. That love, and her spunk, are the only energy left for me here in this space.

(to be continued)


Jessica Nelson said...


I understand the feeling of visiting a place from childhood. I've done that and it always feels different, yet the same.

I'm looking forward to your next post.

Mark Lyons said...

"Five people you could barely stand..." You can only imagine how offended I was as I read those words. I guess I'll get over it...lol. I'm glad you got to go see the place (at least at this point in the story I'm glad...and the fact that you're writing about it takes a little of the suspense out of it), and I pray that you did find some of the ghosts and that you were able to find some healing. I love you for the spirit and spunk that the little 10 year old girl left for you.

I love you


Jessica Nelson said...

Oh, I thought this was the first part. Oh well. It was really well-written. I could feel the strangeness and the separation, and your memories. Very, very touching.

Janna Leadbetter said...

Oh, Deb, I'm just blown away. There's such beauty and brilliance in your post, and I feel your emotion.

I'll wait for more.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

"I monitor inner voices, prepared to comfort the girls for whom this was a place of suffering."

Beautifully rendered! I love that 10-year-old girl, too, and can see her (vividly) in the woman I know and love today.

kario said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: your courage blows me away. My scared little girl was one of the audience voices begging you to go back, turn away!

I am so pleased that you made this journey and can't wait to hear more.

Jerri said...

The spunk's still with you. It took enormous courage to return to that house, and it takes similar courage to share the journey with us so honestly.

As the great Maya Angelou says, you make me proud to spell my name w-o-m-a-n.

So very proud of you, Deb. So. Very.

hooray said...

I love you! And I love the 10 year old you! Beautifully done.