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Suburban Archaeology

The phone rang and with some urgency the voice on the other end asked, “where are you?” It was my daughter and at this time of day her call could mean only one thing. She had a problem. And needed me to fix it.

The city water department had called her at work. One of her neighbors had called to report that my daughter’s yard was flooding. As well as her street. The city had sent someone to shut off the water. And they wanted her to fix the leak before turning the water on again.

No. I am not a plumber. But I’ve learned a few tings over the years and my kids have come to rely on me to know what to do. I told her that as soon as I finished dropping off my stuff at the recycling center I would come over to look. The water was off. Any damage that was done was already done.

As I turned into her neighborhood I noticed water in the street. I’m still a block and a half from her house, and not even on her street. Can’t be from her leak. I was still hoping that the water department had called the wrong homeowner.

Rounding the corner I could see more water. But indeed it seemed to begin at my daughter’s house. Damn. Parking in the driveway I got out of my truck to take in the situation. Puddles in yard. Water running across the sidewalk that goes from the driveway to the front door. The garage door was open. My daughter was there. Nothing wet in the garage. Or in the house.

Seeing the dry indoors I was able to breath again. I had been through a flooded house of my own. Not a pretty sight. Years ago we were selling our house and had gone out of town for Christmas. Coldest day of the year. And a pipe in an outside wall burst. Flooding the living room, the bathroom and the garage. And no one knew. Until the skating rink appeared in my yard. But we got it all fixed.

Tapping my feet at the soggy ground and digging around the foundation a little with my fingers I decided that the pipe between the water meter and the house must have broken. In one spot or several I didn’t know. And where was the pipe? Gonna need a shovel.

Before doing any more research I called a plumber. He said it wasn’t worth digging until the water was back on. We also called the insurance company. They told us not to let anyone do any repairs that involved tearing into walls, or jackhammering the concrete slab that the house sits on until they approved.

Now there’s a nightmare scenario. Hopefully the break was not too close to the house and none of that would be necessary. Might have to tear the whole house down to fix the leak. Damn again.

The plumber came out and I told him what I knew. Not much. He turned on the water and said we would just have to wait to see where it appeared. Then dig.

He left me watching the ground while he ran off to do some errands. Call me when you see some thing he had said. It took about thirty minutes, but there it was. Making a puddle. I moved a little dirt around with my fingers to try pinpointing the leak. Shortly after I called, he reappeared. And started to dig.

An hour or so later I heard him working in the garage. Bang, clunk. What the hell? He was turning on the water heater. The job was done.

Going outside I saw the plumber’s apprentice filling up a big hole with the wet muck they had dug out. There were piles of tree roots. Big chunks of plastic that seemed to be the potting containers from the original tree that had stood there. And small pieces of PVC pipe.

The news was that the pipe was broken at an elbow. One piece of pipe had slid out of the elbow. Not a frozen pipe as I had thought. The plumber then produced another artifact that he had uncovered. An empty beer bottle.

The evidence suggests that the plumber who had worked on the house during its original construction had downed the beer, and forgotten to glue the pipe sections together. For twenty years they had been held together just by the dirt surrounding them.

I can conjure up many thoughts and images as to the situation on the fateful day so many years ago. But I won’t because that will lead me to ask what other disasters are waiting to happen here. Isolated incident. Won’t happen again.

Archaeologists sometimes classify items as religious artifacts when they are not sure of their actual use. I’m going to put the empty beer bottle into that category. For peace of mind. Further exploration may reveal a more accurate picture. But there is no digging planned on this site.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Which Boat For Me?

What a delightful dilemma! In planning for my financial future one of the exercises I undertook was an attempt to lay out major expenses I anticipate for the future. My kids have graduated for college so that’s out of the way. My house is nearly paid for. There will be a need for at least two new cars over the course of my remaining life. And I want to travel. A lot.

Then there is that one other thing that I have always longed for. A boat. The financial plan only looks at numbers. It doesn’t care what the numbers represent. The plan doesn’t say things like why the hell do you want to go to Pago Pago? Or, a boat is a lousy idea. But family and trusted advisors do say things like that. Then again, there are some who say follow your dreams, listen to your heart. Buy the boat. So I allocated a very small sum toward a boat. At some point in the future. Hopefully before I am too old and feeble to enjoy it.

With the modest budget I have set, and I mean not much more than a fancy bicycle, I have no choice but a used boat. Which is really what I want anyway. A fixer upper project. There are thousands of them out there. The choice I have to make is between three types of boat.

With my love for all things mid-century, I am fascinated by small speedboats from the late 1950’s to the late 1960’s. They are known as runabouts. What I love is the curved, single piece windshield. And the sleek lines. Something measuring fourteen to eighteen feet would be nice. The wooden Chris-Crafts are beautiful, but my budget is more along the lines of a fiberglass hull. Besides, I’d be afraid to scratch a Chris-Craft! Runabout boats have a certain look, and you know it as soon as you see it. They are getting harder to find, and even one requiring some work would be near the top of the budget. The positives are that they are beautiful. They zip about with style and grace. They attract attention. And they are fun. The drawback is that you have to step in and out and small engines require maintenance.

On the other hand, a pontoon boat has a lot of potential. Great for lakes. Perfect for parties. Easy to get in and out of. Get a bunch of friends together, load her up and have a blast. Engine still needs maintenance. But the aluminum body is easy to care for. And I can find a number of these within my budget.

And then there is the sailboat. The romance of the seas has always captured my heart. Call me Ishmael. And I’ve actually owned two small sailboats before. One was so small I couldn’t even fit into it. That was a fixer upper project and when I finished it I sold it. Without ever sailing it. The other was a sixteen foot Snipe. My wife hated it because in a calm wind it didn’t move very fast. Becalmed on the water in July in Georgia makes for a pretty hot day. I sold that one too.

I’m not a good sailor. Need more practice. But I love the idea. And I loved the reno project and would gladly take on another. Small fixer upper sailboats are easy to find. And within my budget.

So, that delightful dilemma remains unsolved. The romance of sailing the seas. The exhilaration of the zippy runabout. Or the party on the pontoon. In a perfect world I would buy all three. I have no idea how I will decide. But when I get the boat, I’ll let you know.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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The Picture

Sometimes it takes a while for the reality of something to sink into our brains. It may be a matter of coming to a place where you can accept the reality when it’s much easier to deny it, or it may just be that something hits you that says something like “remember that event? It’s real.”

After thirteen months, it’s finally beginning to sink in that my mother has died. Not that I was in denial or anything. I knew she had died. I saw her in the coffin. And the coffin in the ground. But I didn’t really accept that the person I had seen was my mother. Looked like her, but it wasn’t the woman I knew as my mother.

She died at age 90 of complications from dementia. Complications is a nice way of putting it. Basically, even though she had some memory issues, she knew she was alive, and what her quality of life was like, and would be like. And she said the hell with it, I’m done. After twenty six days of a self imposed starvation diet, she died. My father was with her. But I was nine hundred miles away.

She had been struggling for several years. It started gradually with, with small difficulties in finding a word when she was speaking. In the end most of her words were just a string of gibberish. It made sense to her, but no one understood what she was saying. And you could see her frustration.

For several years I was afraid that every time I visited her would be the last time I would see her alive. Finally I was right. It was one thing when she and my father lived in their own home. The place they lived for thirty eight years. But when they moved to the assisted living facility, which is really very nice, she went downhill fast. There was no more running on autopilot because she no longer knew where anything was. She stopped cooking, cleaning, making coffee, washing dishes. And her speech capabilities faded.

The last time I saw her I walked out of the room and knew I’d never see her alive again. She was sitting in a chair, babbling about something, looking very, very fragile. She had lost a lot of weight in the assisted living facility. She was my mother. At least she resembled her in appearance, and sounded similar. But the life I saw sitting in that chair was not the woman I knew as my mother.

My mother was vibrant and intelligent. She graduated from college the year before I did after having sacrificed for many, many years to raise her family. Her degree was in Far Eastern Art, and she got a job in an art museum working with Japanese wood block prints. Spoke Mandarin. She loved art and history and was widely travelled. Politically active with an eye toward power to the people. She was really something.

So, when she died I wasn’t surprised, and it wasn’t devastating. I lived nine hundred miles away so I hadn’t seen her as often as I would have liked. And after all, it was this new person, not my mother who had died. I went home, helped my dad and sister with the arrangements, went to the funeral and that was that. Sounds cold, but I loved my mother tremendously. She inspired me in my thirst for knowledge and deep thinking. But the woman who died was not my mother. Not in my mine.

As the anniversary of her death approached I thought about the facts. But they were just cold facts. She was dead. But in my mind, my mother, the person I knew as my mother, had been gone a long time, replaced by an imposter.

Then it came time for my own birthday. Just a few days later. And my wife was putting together a big party for me. Milestone birthday and all. She put out a lot of pictures of me as a kid and teen and young man and then as husband and father and whatever. At some point I looked glancing at one of these pictures and it captured my attention. A closer look revealed that my mother, my real mother, was in the picture. She was old, but vibrant, smiling, aware and active.

I had just completed the Philadelphia Marathon and she and my father had come to see me cross the finish line. My father took a picture of her hugging me as I wore my finisher’s medal and warming blanket. I was happy. She was happy. My father was disappointed I hadn’t won the race. He was convinced that being an overweight forty five year old white male was no excuse for not winning.

When I saw the look on her face in that picture, I recognized my mother. And then realized that my mother is gone. I can accept that. In a way it’s sad now, But I will always remember her as she was in her prime.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

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A Moving Idea

Sometimes an idea will simmer in your mind for a long time before you get the details worked out. Or even begin to take it seriously. Then some sort of trigger gets pulled and you feel compelled to act. Even obsessed with bringing this idea to fruition.

When I was a child my father’s employer transferred his job to another city. Another state. He loved his job, so he was going. And so were we. He was moving from the sprawl of Northern New Jersey to a manufacturing town in Pennsylvania. Not far from the Amish Country. He wanted to live in a rural area.

He and my mother looked at houses to make their new home. One of them was a farmhouse on a large hunk of acreage. In the middle of nowhere as farmhouses with vast expanses of land tend to be. He liked it. My mom, not so much. She was afraid that she would be isolated from the rest of humanity. And that her two young children would be stranded far from friends. Eventually they built a house in an upcoming new subdivision. Close to town, and shopping. The best schools in the state. A one-quarter acre lot.

This particular area was still considered to be in the country, and there were vast cornfields behind the house. And across the street, in the still undeveloped portion of the neighborhood, there were open fields. Up the road was the farmhouse and red barn to which all of this land had once belonged. So my father got a little of what he wanted, and my mother got everything she wanted.

That’s where I grew up. From age five until I graduated from high school. The day after I graduated, my parents moved out. They had bought my father’s dream home. An old stone farmhouse on ten acres of land. With a barn. They lived there for the next thirty-eight years and although I had grown up in suburbia, I have ever since considered this second home, Shadowlawn Farm, to be my real home. Like my father, I too loved the country life.

Fast forward to twenty years ago. My life takes many turns similar to my fathers. My wife and I had started a family and were living in an urban subdivision. The schools were failing and we wanted more for our children. We started to look in the neighboring county. Which happened to have the best schools in the state.

We looked at existing subdivision homes. We looked in the country. Every Sunday we would drive out to the country and ride around looking. One neighborhood had particular appeal to my wife. Best one in the county. We had always heard that you should buy the worst house in the best neighborhood you could afford. That was her plan. I was still holding out for the farm.

Finally it was my father-in-law who caused me to take action. He shamed me into it. What he said to me one day was that my kids needed to move. They needed to be near other kids. And I should get off my wallet and do right by my family. Of course I was going to take care of my family, but I didn’t have to do it at the expense of my life. But I did.

Time was passing and a new school year was approaching. If we bought a new house, or piece of property in the next county we could enroll the girls in the best schools available. There was a vacant lot for sale in that best neighborhood. So I bought it. And my wife and I got together with a builder and proceeded to construct a new house. It was exciting, but a story for another time and blog post.

Fast forward once again. This time to 2016. For the past twenty years I have been poring over real estate books looking at houses. Moving has never been a consideration. The kids were still in school. Then college. My wife was content. I was antsy. Then my back failed. Two surgeries later and I was having real difficulty with the stairs in our three story house. And walking. Moving suddenly became a consideration. But where?

To be continued…

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

 

 

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Miss Madeline

As part of my Halloween celebrations, I went to the Wild Rumpus parade on Saturday night in downtown Athens, Georgia.  What a blast!  High energy.  Lots of fun.  And wonderful costumes!  Creative and elaborate, or plain and simple.  Those in costume were obviously enjoying themselves.  As were the spectators.

Costumes ranged from jellyfish to young giraffes.  Of course there were a numbers of monsters and ghouls, but also Star Trek ladies, ladies of the evening, flappers, brides, and even a woman who was dressed as a strip of photos.   Like you get from a photo booth.  But there was one person, who I caught out of the corner of my eye, who I would like to thank.

Miss Madeline, French schoolgirl, I thank you for making an appearance.  Why her?  When my children were young, I would read to them the stories of Miss Madeline and her fellow schoolgirls.  And we would sing her song too.  Don’t remember the words now.  But the best part was how every book ended with the words, “And most of all, we love each other.”

So, when I drove the girls to school everyday I would say to them, “work hard, do your best, and most of all, we love each other.”  To this day, many years later, all we have to say is, “and most of all…” and the meaning is understood.

This morning I got a letter from my youngest daughter.  At the end she wrote, “and most of all, we love each other.”  Thank you Miss Madeline, whoever you were.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

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Bull in a China Shop!

My parents loved to go to antique shops.  And they loved to take me along.  In the early days, it was dragging me along, but I learned to enjoy it.  What I remember was my father always pointing to the signs on the walls.  “You break it, you buy it.”  “We break it, we cry, you break it, you buy.”  He did not want to be buying anything I broke.

If you know me, you would have a hard time believing that I was a wild child.  And in truth, I wasn’t.  Hands to myself.  Very quiet.  Out of the way.  Maybe because of the signs.  But I never broke anything in a store.

Nowadays, I still see those signs.  Even if the sign isn’t there, it’s pretty much a rule that if you break it, you become the proud owner of that broken piece of junk.  There was a time not too long ago however when I was in an antique shop and I heard a crash and the breaking of either glass or porcelain.  I held up my hands and instinctively said, “Wasn’t me!”  Turned out that some man was trying to reach something and bumped a very wobbly table that had several things on it.  Wobbly might not be the right word.  With the bump, it collapsed.  And to the ground went with it the glass items that had been resting on top.

Apparently the man was devastated and offered to buy everything, but the shopkeeper said it was his fault for having a wobbly table.  Didn’t hurt that the broken items were inexpensive and that the valuable collectors item which was on the next table had remained unscratched.

Now that I have a shop, I think of that wobbly table and try very hard to make sure that everything in the store is rock solid in it’s positioning.  I’m not exactly sure how this mall I’m in deals with breakage.  And I don’t want anyone to feel bad about breaking something, even by accident.

Much to my chagrin though, it turned out the other day that I was the bull in the china shop who needed watching.  And it was my shop!   I had laid out five or six delicate glasses on a shelf.  Rock solid.  Then I was moving a picture from one wall where it was mostly hidden to a much better location.  Right over those delicate glasses.  Between the hammer, the nail, the picture and something else providing distraction, I managed to bump the shelf.  In slow motion I could see the glasses wobbling.  Should I throw down the picture to catch the glass?  Could I catch it with my hip?  Before any answers came to me, I heard the crack.  More of a thud really because one of the glasses landed on the floor.  The carpeted section.  A nice, thick Persian rug.  Then it rolled off the rug, hit the concrete and broke into a dozen pieces.

Bummer!  I paid fifty cents for that glass.  What a shame.  And like the sign says, we break it, we cry.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

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Sending Forth

You bring them into your world and care for them.  Provide love and attention and nurturing.  Then one day they are ready to go.  Out into the world on their own.    You’re thinking about your kids going of to preschool.  Or college.  Off to a first job and home.  Right?  I know you are.  Me, I’m talking about the stuff I sell in my store- Living History Antiques.

That’s right.  I acquire these things, wherever, and bring them into my home.  I dust them off.  Maybe polish em up a little.  There are some bumps and bruises to attend to as well.  I get to know their every feature.  And quirk.

And then, I put them into the store to share with others.  The intent is to sell them so that’s a little different from raising and sharing my kids.  But I do feel attached.  Sometimes more than others.

Everything in the store is something I like.  That’s why I bought it in the first place.  But there are some things I bought intending to resell.  And other things I bought because I really liked them.  I mean really.  And there are even a few things I bought, and don’t intend to resell!

It’s these things that I have feelings about.  I want to sell them.  That’s the nature of my business.  But I want to hold on to admire them too.  Everything is for sale of course, and at the right price I will let it go.  Some things just have no room for bargaining though, while others do.

When these things go, it’s a little like sending my kids off into the world.  Difference is, I’ll never see the thing again, but I did have a chance to enjoy it.  With the kids, I’ve had lots of time to enjoy them, and they will always be coming back so I can enjoy them even more.  The things will never change so I enjoy them for what they are.  The kids, they will constantly be changing  and I can enjoy them for who they are, and who they will become.  I love my kids!

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?  www.personalhistorywriter.com

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