Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Day two thousand ninety one . . . Treasure Island.

"This house is full of treasures."

This is what my aunt said to me as we were going over the details of what had to be done before she slipped away from this world.

Growing up at 1073 Bedford St in Fall River for the twenty-one years I lived there I had seen the massive influx of collectibles and antiques. I had witnessed the boxes and bags brought up the stairs every weekend after a long day of yard sales and church bazaars. And I knew how much of it was mine, too. For I had been raised and taught in the ways of the pack rat. And every weekend I would be given a little allowance to put in my Donald Duck change purse which could then be used to mercilessly nickel and dime the poor people behind the tables at the Norton Flea Market. I must have a picture or two from the fleas we'd go to but I haven't found any yet. Regardless, I remember so many wonderful finds.

I remember landing my first Led Zeppelin album. It was actually Led Zeppelin III which is, of course, a gate-fold. And one of the nuns at the convent apparently had found the record from Led Zeppelin II and figured it belonged in that sleeve. And so for several years until I got into high school I thought Zep III was an incongruous but loveable two record set regardless of the fact that half of the songs weren't listed on the liner notes.

I remember finding my "The Visible Man" model. He was a 15" clear plastic body with the various organs and skeleton inside. You could take the top part off and play with the organs and stuff and learn about what we're made of. It wasn't meant to be spooky. But for some reason I was terrified of this toy. So after I bought it at the flea market I decided to leave him on the first landing on the stairwell in my house on Bedford St. And there it stayed for months and months. I had nightmare after nightmare of that little one foot three inch guy chasing me and throwing his heart, lungs and kidneys at me while I huffed and puffed up the stairs past where he lived and through the door to my room.

I remember buying a model airplane without my mom's approval. It was definitely worse for wear and tear when I wheeled and dealed for it, but I liked it mainly because it still smelled like the gasoline that once powered it. As an eight or nine year old kid gasoline is a very mystical substance, the price of which my parents never seemed to tire of discussing and which I was told to never ever play with. So I kept the airplane in the basement where it stayed and retained its gassy smell even after being thrown against the side of my house more than a few times.

But being left with the monstrous task of getting ready to finally sell this house has meant I have found not only all of these things which I bought almost forty years ago, but every single thing that my mother and aunt either collected, themselves, or was given by or inherited from their grandmother, grandfather, brother, uncle, family friend and distant relative.

It's a whole lot of stuff.

And I've found treasures for sure.

There was lots of jewelry.  There were specialized vintage toys that made a few collectors in Japan very happy. There were rare dolls. There were toy guns. There was Roseville pottery. There was Pyrex coffee pots and accessories. There were even some paintings and prints that my aunt must have paid a pretty penny for thirty years ago. Those made a tidy profit when we had the estate sale of her things back in 2009. There are old books. There are kitschy ashtrays from long-closed celebrity-owned bars in Vegas. There are vintage fabrics. There are lamps. There is furniture. And there are rugs.

Like the lady said, this house is full of treasures. And Jodi and I have done a very good job turning those treasures into income for almost five years now. But the sad part that I'm experiencing is something I could have never really pictured all that time ago.

I'm almost at the end.

I've almost picked up every tchotchke to see where it was made. I've almost opened the very last old book or magazine to see a long ago date of publication. I've almost sorted the last box of political swag my grandfather printed up in the 1950s.

I'm almost out of surprises and it is one of the saddest feelings imaginable.

Having this house to come to has been such a multi-faceted part of my life. It has provided me with something that at first seemed like a great burden. And for all intents and purposes it has been a bit of a pain. It's drained me of a good chunk of my finances just to keep the four walls up around the leaky roof. And having as many natural disasters as we do these days in New England it's definitely a worry when hurricane or blizzard season is upon us.

But I've been afforded such a wonderful escape by having this home away from home.

It's given me a pleasant two hour drive to go on where I can either clear my head with silence or listen to a couple of CDs or NPR or talk to Jodi about all kinds of wonderful things. It's quiet like I could never get in Florence, what with living so close to town with its dumpsters, lawn care specialists, bar fights and chatty bankers.

I have been able to stay connected with the area I grew up in. To hear the Southcoast accent is a great joy for me and a rarity in my vocally homogenized little valley a mere two hours away.

I get to eat the freshest seafood. I get to enjoy one of Jodi's favorite things with her: a lobster roll. And I get to do it within walking distance from the door.

I get to stroll to the beach.

I get to watch the deer prance into view in the morning from the big picture window in the backyard.

I get to be at peace.

And I've gone on a journey over the past almost twenty years since my mom and aunt bought this place in 1994. While I mainly would come home four or five times a year it slowly but surely became the place where my childhood moved to, because all the things that influenced and populated my memory came here from there.

I moved through my twenties coming home and making noodles at Christmas which was such a big hit.

And I bought my mother her very first CD player one year and gave her the first CD she ever owned which was my band. And I played it for her and she cried and held my hand and beamed proud and bright like only a mother can do.

I helped move the last of my things out of the house I grew up in when they finally sold it in 1999.

I moved through my thirties and came home here from long tours across the country and sat and babbled for hours about how cool it is to be in a van and play in California to even just ten people.

I would think of just the perfect gift to give that would fit their lifestyle here like a new bird feeder or a rechargeable drill so I could help fix stuff when I came home.

I would tend to the pine trees in the back yard when I got home by hammering in fertilizer spikes and watering over and over again. Those trees are now twenty feet tall. 

And how I told them I joined up with the chorus and got my passport and went overseas for the first time. And when I came back I sat on the big leather couch with all the puffy blankets with my dog that I only saw when I came home and showed them pictures on the TV from my camera of me sometimes red eyed but still definitely 4,000 miles away. And how my mom would hold my hand on that couch and tell me how proud she was of her sweet, smart and talented boy.

The way I would take a walk to the beach every day-after-Christmas and talk to myself aloud about all the things I had accomplished that year and all the things I could have done better. About the plans I wanted to put in place for the coming days, weeks and months. To walk my dog, Kasia, down there and let her run on the sand--something my mother said she was always afraid to do but happy I did--that was a beautiful tradition. That was a big part of me. And that has slowly eroded to a mere memory save for the fact that for a few more days I can walk down to the beach if I so chose.

And the food she made on the stove that used to sit in the other room was like nothing anyone has ever made. The fridge that used to preserve the magical food of which I speak but which I had to have removed because it had gotten so rotten from not being used--that fridge once held up twenty pictures or more of a full and happy life. And the sky above the pond in the back yard where I saw the brightest shooting star ever just as I was shaking my aunt by her shoulders and telling her she was talking crazy-talk after we came home from the hospital when they said to try to spend as much time with my mom as we could from here on in. And the pills I pilfered from her bedside in the room that's now empty where she would sneak off to when she got sick. And the urn that sits on the bay window that my aunt had to pick up at the funeral home because I was too out of it. The chair where she sat while I told her how bad I had gotten that's now been sold on Craigslist. The urn that holds her ashes that sits on the bay window next to my mom's and which I still haven't figured out what to do with yet.

And the price tags on all that is left.

The ad I took out in the newspaper for the estate sale.

The bags and bags of trash that have had to go to the dump.

And the walls that she started to paint but never finished.

All of these things are here. They are my connection--be they horrible or joyous--they are my connection to my family. And in a matter of nine days from now they will be gone.

And then they're tearing the house down.

I won't have this place anymore.

I won't have these things anymore.

I won't have this connection anymore.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

And there's a part of me that understands that this may be one of the last unexpected parts of the grieving process. Because I've had these walls and counters and have used them from time to time to remember. To remember how my mom moved around in her sun dresses and moo moos. How she would swing her pocket book around as she was getting ready to go out the door. And how I would hug her in the kitchen every morning when I was home, celebrating the simple fact that mother and son were together, could get along, and could see eye to eye. She put a lot of faith, worry, sweat and tears into me and I'm happy to know that as I sit here today writing this entry that I'm sure she would approve of my life choices. And that includes selling this beautiful mess of a house.

But all the memories that were made here in this place . . . in this house that I have been a part of for almost half of my life. All of these memories and ten thousand more are going to have to take its place. Because this life of mine has to move and it has to preserve and conserve. It has to keep its shit together and use its head and not keep something just because it makes me feel like I'm not 43 and without the women who meant so much to me.

Because my life will soon be more focused.

My life will be central.

My life will be stronger.

My life with Jodi is my life now, and this last vestige of my past--however sentimental, sanguine, maudlin or sappy--has just about come to a close and I'm just happy it's one of my own choosing and not from a stray bolt of lightning or other act of God.

I will miss this place.

I will miss this place.

I will miss this place.

But I will always have the memories until my mind begins to tarnish like so much Polish silver.

My aunt was right when she said this house is full of treasures.

And as long as I am alive I will enjoy the comfort they provide me deep inside.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Day two thousand and eighty one . . . The Dealers

I don't know when this all started.

But I think a few years back I started to try to double-bag my experiences.

That is to say, in an effort to derive more enjoyment from whatever I was doing, as well as to help remember it, I started making a mental note of its beginning. This way, when it was on it's way to the end I would have a bit of a marker in my head of where, when, and what it felt like when it began.

Because nothing ever feels like the beginning after it starts.

I did it last winter when Jodi and I went back to Costa Rica. We were in the pool of the first hotel out of five or six that we were to stay at on our trip. I said, "Remember this moment here on our first day. Because in a few weeks we'll be packing our bags and crying in our fresh fruit smoothie because we have to come back and face the snow and frigid temps of our New England weather." And while it didn't make leaving any easier I can still remember that moment on our first day and it helps put the whole trip in perspective.

I try to do it during concerts (after the second or third song). I try to do it during acupuncture (right after the last needle). I did it yesterday during my massage (within the first ten minutes out of 90). And I'm sure I'll do it again when I begin our first fall weekend trip (right when we cross the Vermont border).

As much as it may sound like it it's not an obsessive thing. Oftentimes I forget to do it. And a lot of the time it's not even applicable. I don't really think it prevents me from living "in the moment" (which is sometimes difficult for me, I admit). And I don't really dwell on it. But it happens and I think it helps me prepare for loss.

See, I understand that loss occurs every day for everyone on this earth. When we wake up too early in the morning because the dumpsters are being emptied next door, that is a loss. When we miss an exit on the turnpike because we were daydreaming of the sun and ocean, that is a loss. When we find our clothes don't fit anymore for either a good or bad reason, that is a loss.

And when we lose somebody we love that is, of course, a loss.

Five years ago my aunt died right here in the house I just woke up in.

Five years.

I can hardly believe it's been five years just like I can hardly believe I've been sober for even longer than that. But time takes no prisoners. It just leaves us to do our thing. It's busy.

And for five years I have been in possession of this house out here in Mattapoisett. "The House" as I called it back when this was all new to me and my blogs were something I felt were necessary for my sobriety as well as enjoyable to share.

But five years ago I had no idea that it would ever have an end--or maybe I didn't understand the concept of my mental marker--so I never really said to myself, "remember this moment." Because, you see, these little memory helpers can work for unfortunate situations as well as the happy ones. Even if I'm, say, waiting in a long line at the grocery store I'll often think "remember this moment because in ten minutes somebody else will be standing here and you'll (hopefully) be up there near the register waiting to be the next in line."

But as I wake up here on September 7, 2013 I realize that this five year experience is all coming to an end.

I'm not going to go into detail of what's going on because it's still in the early stages but suffice to say that the house is up for sale and we're hoping that this will be the very last fall we have it in our possession.

But that means that we've had to let in the antique dealers and the Craigslisters and the passers-by who "always wanted to see what the place looked like inside." Yeah, it's been a bit of a circus.

Growing up I always was taught that there was only one type of person to be truly wary of. And that was the antiques dealer.

My mother, aunt, and to some extent my grandmother all collected antiques. I'd go with them to the various yard sales and garage sales and church bazaars to try to find treasures. We'd always go way too early on a Saturday or Sunday to try and "beat the dealers there." Because my family was buying for themselves and for their house; the dealers were there to prey on the uninformed.

See, on average (and I realize everyone is different) the dealers try to find people who don't know what something is worth and convince them that it's worth even less than they thought. Then they take it back in their van or on their flatbed or pickup and put an overly-inflated price on it and wait for someone who does know what it's worth to make an offer. It's a game just like any other game people play. It's business and it's their business and I know that this is many people's only form of income. But just like racism is taught at an early age I was taught to be very cautious around these people.

At this point we've sold most of the things in this big old house. Over the past five years Jodi and my eBaying skills (and sales average) have grown exponentially. We've become well versed in the intricacies of Roseville Pottery, Gorham Silver, Maddox Furniture, bean pots, oil lamps, vintage hats, books, records, plates, curios, tchotchkes, and trinkets. We've had an estate sale for half of the house. And we've had friends come by to take things they would like. And the rest has ended up at our house in Western Massachusetts where it will eventually find its way onto the internet where we put a price on it and wait for somebody to come along and make an offer.

Because we've become . . . The Dealers.

Strange how things work out sometimes.

But, of course, when my family was collecting these things it wasn't for their store or even my store. They just wanted some nice things to put in their house and they had to get up extra early to beat the people there who wanted to get to it first. But however it worked out this is where we've ended up and it does make for a nice bit of pocket change. My family would be happy with the way I've turned the clutter into cash and found new homes for almost all of the furniture. Because over five years there were so many times where something awful could have happened to this place and it didn't.

But five years ago I definitely didn't make one of my mental notes. I really never thought this would come to an end. I hadn't even met Jodi yet. I had only been sober for nine months and so much was new to me.

But I'm here now in this big house with the sun coming up full into the front windows.

It may be the last time I'm here by myself.

Last night could be the last time I get a jolt because I think I hear someone outside in the yard and then realize it's just the deer.

It could be the last time I say goodbye to "The Ladies" whose ashes sit in the bay window--the last time I tell them I'm doing the best I can do. It could be the last time I blow a kiss and tap on the Roseville jardiniere that my mom was so proud of saving from The Dealers that she wanted her remains to be put in. They'll be coming with me when this house is no longer mine.

And this could be the very last time that I set the alarm, lock the door and drive away by myself down to the highway that takes me two hours west back to my home in the valley.

So what I'm doing here with this little internet posting is making a bit of a marker so I can look back someday and see where the almost-end was. Because I'm fairly certain this will be the last time I write on this laptop in this house on a quiet road near the ocean, very close to where I grew up, grew older, and learned what I thought was enough to leave it all behind.

Five years ago when my aunt passed away and left me in charge I had no idea what kind of a road I'd be traveling down. And while it's had a curve or two that threw me I've managed to keep on going in the right direction.

And just like the Mass Turnpike lets me know I've made it halfway home from here there's a part of me that wishes there were no signs to tell me how far I've come.

That way it would just kind of be a surprise.

Thanks for reading.


And, of course, this is dedicated to Lynda Jean Johnson (Dec 15, 1947-Sep 7, 2008).

I love you. I miss you. I'll see you again some day.