Looking back with a laugh

Published 10:44 pm Thursday, October 2, 2014

My eldest brother is currently traveling through England to visit and document my mother’s side of the family. It’s been an interesting trip, via emailed photographs, of familial homes both impressive and modest, from Devon, the original homestead, now in ruins, all the way to Northumberland and South Shields.

This is one reason I’m glad I never had children, besides the fact that all infants scream when I hold them, probably because they think they’re being cradled by Ichabod Crane. I mean, “there, there,” doesn’t really work when a baby is suspended several feet up in the air.

But I’m glad there will never be any individuals, through blood history, that will feel compelled, later in life, to get a grasp of where their family originated, places they worked or lived.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

They’d be ever so disappointed.

Starting with my childhood home, once a pleasant, middle-class, brick ranch in Georgia, that fell victim to the excesses of the past decade and was reconfigured into an enormous ‘McMansion’ (which always makes me wonder if the faulty foundation, which may have been the cause of the basement flooding with each heavy rain, was ever addressed). There is no sign of the little paddock and two-stall barn, my father built, complete with hayloft, that not only did my sister fall out of onto a kitchen knife she’d taken with her to cut the strings on a bale of hay, but was the gathering spot of numerous pre-teen sleep-overs that generally had my friends and I, after one too many grisly ghost stories, running for the safe haven of the house at 2 am.

If anyone had the inclination to follow my life after this, they would be forced to travel to West Hollywood and the studio apartment whose only claim to fame was that it was one street over from where F Scott Fitzgerald died. If he had the same brick wall view out the kitchen window, I can completely understand his early death. And the first thing my children would say, upon entering, would be,

“Evidently, she kept cats.”

Because even if one steam-cleans with a fire hose and sprays a silo’s worth of Febreeze in 200 square feet, you’re still going to walk in, a decade later and say, “Did a cat spray in here?”

I had been enormously grateful to grab the studio in that rent-controlled apartment at $275 per month, but as I gazed around at the 1920s molding and mantlepiece, was horrified to see a cockroach, large enough to be hired out to kids’ birthday parties for rides, make its way calmly across the ancient, orange, carpeting. Needless to say, there was very little sleep on my futon, that night.

A few years later, I made a move across town to another studio that remains a happy memory. You would have seen the building’s twin sister in the Christopher Walken film, ‘Communion:’ all turrets and courtyard- romantic and, again, Art Deco glamour. I loved the built-in vanity and mirror, wreathed with lights, beside the surprisingly large bathroom with its period green and black tile. Charming french doors opened into the creamy yellow galley kitchen and the white plaster mantle piece was ridiculously ornamented with grapes and bare-breasted goddesses. It even had a Murphy Bed! As usual, however, there was only street parking, which is why, today, I can parallel park my long-bed Dodge anywhere, anytime, in no more than two moves, thank you very much. But to this day, I miss that little second story flat and being able to walk to both the museum and countless restaurants and bars.

Once I met Paul, we moved into a series of duplexes, leaving two of them because of an insane, upstairs, neighbor. I mean, seriously insane. I mean, police arriving in the middle of the night to make an arrest, insane. And in the third duplex, we were woken in the wee hours by a loud hammering on the front door- an eviction notice was being nailed and within hours we learned that the landlord, who lived across the street and had been slowly adding lavish additions onto his own house, had been taking our rent for months and instead of paying the mortgage on the place, was using it to fund the renovations.

Which leads us back to the south and Upstate South Carolina, onto this farm where I expect I’ll be buried, or more likely, my ashes flung across the fields by manure spreader. My non-existant children and grandchildren might hesitate at burial sites of horses and wonder what they might be, but hopefully will feel the same charm as do I, looking out from the front deck of the house onto a sea of green. And should they venture inside, I imagine they’ll muse,

“Kept cats here, too.”