I wrote this entry in a time of turmoil. Your house was
suddenly ours. Mother was still in the nursing home. My employer was still
settling into a new office building and adjusting to a new leader. There were frustrating
family issues. As I publish this, a good friend is in the hospital, dying, there
are still work frustrations and family frustrations. There are still bills that
I’m trying to figure out how to pay. In all of this, a friend of mine wrote
today, it might be best to “go full Vulcan.” That is, to turn off our
feelings, like Mr. Spock could on Star Trek, and just make all the right
intellectual choices. I think you would have considered that an attractive
option. Well I wrote this response to you seven months ago, and I still think
February 20th, 2019
I remember you, red in the face, angry at me about
something, demanding “What’s so damned wonderful about having feelings?” I was probably 15 or so.
I didn’t know what to say at the time. Now I do.
We’ve come to a crossroads. Is that the right turn? Maybe
it’s a fork? Anyway, we’ve decisively chosen a path.
The document begins, ” – Witnesseth – That for an in
consideration of the sum…”
It continues on to say a lot of other things, including,
“Beginning for the same at a nail now set in the center of a thirty-foot-wide
right-of-way of the county road known as Simpson Road… “–a description
of the landmarks and boundaries that define the 13 acres that you bought 53
years ago, we believe for sum of $18,000.
In short, it says that Renee and I, as of yesterday, own the
house on Simpson Road, with Mother as holder of a life estate, meaning that she
enjoys the use of the property until her death. Well, sometimes perhaps
“enjoy” is too strong a word…
Our first full year without you has come to an end. 2018
was, well, an adventure, I suppose, as every year is. It’s become popular on
social media to declare an entire year a “fail,” or an “epic
fail,” meaning that that year is somehow cursed, and that either the
population of the universe should be given another year to replace it (the
logistics of this are not discussed), or that it should be wiped from the
history books. Such declarations usually begin on about the 2nd of January. I’m
sure, somewhere on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, someone has already deemed
2019 to be a dud which should be cast into the waste bin reserved for products
that failed quality control testing.
Facebook, Twitter, Instragram… you probably don’t
recognize those terms, although they were invented during your lifetime. You
would have had no time for such foolishness. You also, I’m sure, never
participated in water cooler conversations in the office. I’ve no doubt you
considered water coolers unsanitary, to begin with–sharing water with all of
those other people, whose mouths had been Heaven-knows-where doing
Heaven-knows-what! I know you didn’t drink beer or whiskey with the rest of the
boys on Tinian. Indeed, you gave all your allotment of whiskey to the flight
crew–a year’s worth at one time–and they burned down a Quonset hut.
I was talking about the basement, and the accumulation of
STUFF. Most of that stuff is gone now. Here’s how that happened.
You were still alive and mobile, albeit diagnosed with
Alzheimer’s, when the cleanup began. After making some inroads in the house (literal
inroads–pathways through the mountains of junk), I told Mother I wanted to do
something about the basement and the garage. She said something to me like,
“I wish you’d do something about the storage place. It’s costing us over
$700 a month.”
You were paying more than my first house payment for a garage bay storage unit that was about 10′ by
28′. Yes, that needed to go away.
It’s officially Winter. Actually, it’s not. Winter comes in
nine days, I believe. But the days of below-freezing temperatures, frost on the
grass, aching muscles and leaving the water trickling in my kitchen (old pipes
near old farmhouse walls tend to freeze) have begun. Mother had her first oil
delivery of the year and was astounded at the bill for over $500. I explained
to her that I paid $250 every month last year, and over $1900 in August to make
up for the rising cost of oil. Her response was, “Yes, but my oil bill was
The furnace is heating the house nicely, though. No more
space heaters. No more blankets and curtains in every doorway. The whole house
is warm and usable.
I was explaining to Renee last night why this house always
had oil tanks, when the furnace wasn’t active until last year. She had
forgotten the Sears Oil Stove in the basement.
Tonight I’m cleaning up the basement a bit more. Still
working in the train room, as I’m calling it now. “We have a train
room?” Christian asked me recently. “I’m just so amused that our
family has a house with named rooms. Do we have a skinning and tanning
room?” (He may not have said “skinning and tanning.” It was
something just as absurd. It may have been “taxidermy.”)
In all these weeks, I don’t believe I’ve discussed, in
depth, how the basement came to look the way it did when you left us—the way it
had looked for decades before that. I believe I mentioned the dreaded trip to
the Sacred Heart Hospital in Cumberland, but I don’t think I told the whole
story. So here goes.
I once played a squirrel in a school play, in fifth grade.
Nutty the Squirrel. I would say that you would recall it, but I don’t think you
made that performance. The show was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,”
an operetta written in 1938. It was released a year after the Disney film, and,
as I recall, was trying hard to cash in on Disney’s version without paying them
royalties. Hence the inclusion of my role as a furry animal companion not in
the Brothers Grimm original.
I remember auditioning for the part, in the same ballroom at
Glenelg Country School where Renee and I later held our wedding reception. I
don’t know if the gray sweats and bushy tail I wore as Nutty would elicit as
much comment today as the white tux I wore to the wedding, but I do recall
being asked why I thought I would make a good squirrel. I believe I said I was
small and cute like a squirrel.
Well, it’s November. Was it November the last time I wrote?
Maybe. It’s been a very hectic week, and I don’t remember.
Last night was election night—the 2018 midterm election, and
the one in which Maryland picks its governor and Howard County picks its executive.
Our incumbent governor, Larry Hogan, is very popular. His competitor, Ben
Jealous, is a Californian who was running on what he said was not a socialist
platform, but which his deep-pocketed West Coast backers declared would turn
Maryland into a “laboratory of democratic socialism.” Predictions
said he had no chance of winning, and predictions were right.
But predictions also said that our County Executive, Allan
Kittleman, had a double-digit lead over his opponent. Those predictions were
wrong. Allan lost by about 6,000 votes, or about 4%. I’ve spent the last six
months or more working Allan’s campaign. He’s an honest man and a solid leader,
and I think the County was better for his being here. He was endorsed by the
police, the firefighters, the Baltimore Sun and an independent ethics
committee, not to mention our very popular governor.
It’s sad, but I guess that’s politics. Politics is a very ugly game right now.
This morning I insulated the well. I’ve written about the
well before, and how you and your father installed the pump yourselves all
those years ago. I believe I also said that the supervisor on the job of
replacing it this Spring reflected that he had seen designs like yours many times…
The supply line that draws water out of the ground comes up
out of the ground, at which point it’s galvanized steel. It makes its
connection to the house line (also galvanized steel, I believe, because the
Verizon crew was able to find it easily with a metal detector) above ground,
and then the whole thing goes underground again to the house.
While writing this, I realized that I had no idea what
galvanization actually is (other than
a word that is drattedly hard to type correctly on the first try!). I know galvanized metal when I see it,
and you taught me the word. I inferred that it was a protective process. So I
just looked it up, and I was correct in my assumption. Galavanized pipe is
steel pipe dipped in zinc to prevent rust. I learned something else, courtesy
of the American Vintage Home website, which seems to specialize in talk about
old houses in the Chicago area.
I won’t lie, I’m not very happy with you right now.
“He’s been in his grave for 18 months,” my mother
says. “You’re not going to hear back from him about it now,” my
And yet, 18 months in your grave, your idiosyncrasies are
still coming back to, pardon the expression, bite me in the ass.
It was a list of simple tasks that I set out to accomplish
today. No grout, though the pink bathroom still has need for grout, and no tile-mounting,
though it still has one bare wall. No building enclosures or fences, or hanging
doors. Just cleaning the chicken coop, putting in fresh pine shavings and
straw… the chickens are very impressed by straw–damndest thing… making a list
of the kinds of things we have in the
garage that need storing, putting the drawers in the computer card cabinets
into alphabetical order, according to their computer card labels… and getting
the old window air conditioner out of the window in the family room.