The Oldest Thing I Own

What is the oldest thing you own and why?

I was at a dinner party recently where the hosts used a question game to keep dinner conversation moving. Everyone at the table drew a question from a basket and shared their answer with the group. My question was something about what I do on my days off. But this question – what is the oldest thing you own and why? – has stuck with me.

I thought about it on the drive home and woke up thinking about it the next morning.

I first thought of my grandmother’s ring that I wear everyday. It is old. Then I thought about my Uncle Jim’s turquoise bracelet, it is old too. On my way into the garage to leave for work I saw the oldest thing I own. It was sitting in the garage waiting to be moved into the house.

At the end of summer, my Daddy delivered a cabinet to my house that belonged to my grandmother. For as long as I can remember it lived in her bedroom. She kept lots of things in it – VHS tapes, trinkets, or blankets in the windowed shelves. In the drawers were cancelled checks, mementos from trips, scarves, and gloves. I remember waking up as a child in her bedroom and seeing that cabinet first thing in the morning. I know the feeling of the cabinet doors catching as I opened and closed them because the door frames are no longer even. This cabinet was part of her house, part of the experience of living there. It was a fixture. I used this cabinet when I moved into her house in 2006, after she was gone. I used it in the same room and in same ways, minus the cancelled checks, for the next five years.

On the way to work, I called Daddy and asked him about the age of the cabinet? It was older than I thought. It originally belonged to my great-grandmother and according to Daddy it could date back to the 1920s or 1930s.

We talked about what it is made of and whether the glass was original. It is likely that the glass has been replaced and that it wouldn’t stand up to much stress. The back is particle board and it has been stained and painted and repainted many times. He said, “That is why that cabinet is only valuable to you.”

So true.

Attachment-1

The cabinet’s current home in Indiana.

I thought about the why, why do I have it. It wasn’t that it was given to me, I asked for it. I wanted it more than I wanted the darkly stained regal-looking claw-foot cabinet that my sister has in her home. Comparing the two this one is not much. It is the same green color it has been for the last 40 years and lined with the same floral paper my grandmother put in it 20 years ago. And until its arrival in Indiana it probably had never left Buchanan County, Virginia.

It has stood watch in her house for many years and if it talked it could tell many stories – births, deaths, holidays, and everything in between. For many years it was positioned against the wall across from where she knelt every night to pray and was the first thing she saw every morning. It was something she touched nearly everyday and when you open the drawers today it still smells like her house. I can’t look at it and not think of her or her house on the mountain that at one time or another was home to every member of my immediate family. You can’t buy that.

I own it because it is a tangible memory – something to rekindle the memories that fade with time. A precious heirloom. Because, in the words of Hazel Dickens, “there are some things memories can’t bring home.”

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Why Asking for Help is So Hard

I just never know when the next ah-ha moment will happen.

Weed Eater

The man from the landscaping company came by to talk to me about some rocks.

We surveyed the backyard together. As we did, I apologized profusely for the condition of the grass along my fence line; as if the condition of the yard was some reflection on my character. I was embarrassed and explained that I had run out of weed eater string and was working on how to replace it. I assumed this would be the end of that conversation.

I do not know how to replace weed eater string. In fact, I did not even know that the string was designed to destroy itself. Yard work is not one of my gifts.

He smiled sweetly and said “I’ll do it for you.” I, of course, said something like “oh no, no I don’t want to bother you with that.” He insisted.

I stood and watched, uncomfortably, as he laced the string into the weed eater. I apologized for using his time to do this for me. I apologized for not knowing how to do it myself. Really, though, I was apologizing for needing help; I was worried that he would judge me because I could not do this myself. I explained, apologetically, that this is the first house I have lived in where I was responsible for the yard. In the past I hired someone to do it and growing up my Daddy always took care of the yard. As I gushed, needlessly, I wondered why I needed him to know why I did not know anything about weed eaters. Why would I?

He repeated sweetly and genuinely that he did not mind. He said that he was happy to do it and that “it makes us feel needed.”

It makes us feel needed – I thought about that comment for a couple of days. He did not care that I did not know anything about weed eaters; he did not expect me to and did not judge me for it. He enjoyed helping.

He liked being needed as much as I did not want to be needy. It’s clear to me now that when I refuse to ask for help when I need it I am depriving someone else of the opportunity to feel the joy of being needed.

Turns out, needing help is not a character flaw either. It is an opportunity to give someone else the gift of being needed.

The Definition of Home

My Daddy says that home is wherever I am. Is it? Is home just about me?

Since I moved to the Midwest I find that trips home are bittersweet. Each visit usually ends in tears. I cry until I reach the Virginia/Kentucky state line, about twenty minutes. The difficulty leaving is directly proportional with the length of the stay. My last visit was especially rough. I cried all the way to Ferrell’s (pronounced Fur-ells) Creek, Kentucky, that is at least forty minutes. At a red light during this part of the drive I posted the following on Facebook: “I hate to leave.” And I do.

The Facebook post prompted some unexpected responses. I received a phone call from an old and beloved friend from my hometown. She thought I might be sad and she called to cheer me up, so sweet. She felt the same way when she had to leave her family in our little town. As she put it “it sucks to like your family.” Yes, it would be so much easier if I did not like my family. If I only tolerated them, as many do. Next I received a message from another dear friend who grew up two towns away from my hometown. He told a similar story – he struggled with leaving home after visits too. He described the difficulty in explaining to his parents that “it is harder on the person leaving than it is on those who stay behind.” It is. I agree. My family gets to stay there in the known, while I have to go back to a place and a thing that I haven’t completely figured out or found comfortable.

Mommy & Daddy's HouseI, like these two friends, have an intense connection to home, the place and its mountains. I feel that where I am from is very much a part of my identity. You can hear the mountains when I talk. The culture of the mountains is apparent in the music I love, the food I eat, my behavior and the choices that I make. It is more than just a place.

Sunset on the HollerI also have a remarkable relationship with my family (Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother-in-law, The Princess and the Benevolent Dictator). We aren’t perfect. But we do like each other, genuinely. I call it remarkable because I have had friends who are surprised that I talk with my family almost daily, we vacation together and, as one ex-boyfriend put it, “you all know a lot about each other.” And we do. We enjoy one another’s company whether it is at home watching 12 hours of nonstop college football coverage, walking around a Disney park like it’s a job or driving through California in a minivan. We have fun. We are also a fiercely loyal bunch. No matter what there are at least 6 people who will always be on my side. Where else do you find that?

Of course, I am sad to leave them. I am sad to leave a place that I know so well. A place where nearly every mile contains another story, another memory. So, when I leave I cry.

Sunrise near the state lineI never cry when I leave Fort Wayne. It is a nice place. I love my job and my little house here, but that isn’t enough to induce tears. It is not home. Home, for me, isn’t about where I am. Home is the people and place that you cannot wait to get to and cannot bear to leave.

Home isn’t something that follows me. It is something that I return to, again and again.

Home Ownership Lesson #12

I am no Suzy Homemaker.

I do not enjoy housekeeping. I know people who love it. I have enjoyed having had roommates who love to clean. I have friends who enjoy the satisfaction that comes with completing a task or enjoying the break it provides from their normal routine. These things do not appeal to me.

I am neither good at cleaning nor do I wish to make time to do it (I work at work, I don’t want to work at home – I want to read and watch more episodes of The West Wings on Netflix). When I mop it seems that there is always something left lingering on the floor. My “clean” house never seems to look as good as other people’s “clean” house. I clean because I must. I clean to maintain a reasonably healthy home and to prevent dog hair, laundry and gluten-free crumbs from swallowing my house. Or, guests are coming over. Guilt is an effective cleaning motivator.

I am very grateful for my dishwasher.

I am very grateful for my dishwasher.

People have asked me why I don’t just hire someone to take care of it. Why? Because I am a walking contradiction. I hate to clean, but I am ashamed to hire someone because my house is so small. It seems spoiled of me to have someone else come clean my 1600 square feet that I live in with only a dog, especially since I really only use about half the house. So, I cleaned.

Recently, much to my delight, a friend was looking for some side work cleaning. This was perfect – I wasn’t so much trying to pawn off my work on my little house, I was helping a friend! No shame in that, right? I quickly let her know I’d welcome the help. Everyone wins.

Then, after the deal was done, I started thinking. Actually, obsessing might be a better word. In order for her to clean she would have to come into my house. Usually visits are preceded by me dusting, vacuuming, and clearing all the flat surfaces of laundry. The situation begged the question: should I clean the house before she comes? Of course, I would pick up the dirty clothes off the floor, put away the laundry hanging out on the dryer, and clear the door handles of bras and jackets. But should I really clean before she comes?

I surveyed the house. It needed dusting. The floor needed a sweep. The mirror in the bathroom was dotted with toothpaste splatter. The windows had not been touched since I bought the place. I reasoned that these are the very things she is coming to clean. This is normal. Then, I thought of the microwave. Ahh, the microwave.

I do not buy paper towels (I prefer using cloth rags). Also, I do not own one of those little domes to cover food in the microwave. Now take a moment to think about what the condition of the inside of the microwave might be when you use it for months, without covering food up, or cleaning it. My mother is cringing with embarrassment right now. I hope my Brother-in-Law is sitting down. It was not good.

It took me two days to decide whether or not to clean the microwave. In the end, I decided that I would prefer to endure the shame of someone seeing the inside of it rather than cleaning it myself. Telling, huh? I just hoped that my friend would pray for me rather than judge my housekeeping skills (or lack thereof).

The cleaning day came and went. I arrived home super late that day and was welcomed by the smell of cleanliness (lemon scent with a touch of Clorox, very nice). It was wonderful. The house looked great, including the microwave. I checked it first since I needed to know if she knew.

In a note to my friend later thanking her for the help I apologized for the state of the microwave. Yes, I was fishing to see how awful she thinks I am now. I am just a wee bit of a people pleaser. I am sure you could not tell. To my apology she responded “I actually said ‘woah’ out loud when I opened the microwave!” I thought for a moment of asking how hard it was to clean but I decided to spare myself more self-induced humiliation. I had kind of hoped she would say it was not so bad; clearly, where the microwave is concerned I do not live in reality. It was bad and I knew it. But, I am very happy that it is clean now and that I did not have to do it. I think my cleaning age is around 17.

The lesson? Until I can make it to a box store to buy one of those dome things I am using a paper plate to protect my microwave from my dinner. Promise!

If you are no Suzy Homemaker it is best to just get help.

Home Ownership Lesson #11

The amount of the subdivision annual assessment is directly proportional to the effort expended to treat the subdivision’s streets. In this instance less is not more.

In the mountains, more specifically the holler, there was no “authority” responsible for treating the roads when it snows or is icy. There are no subdivisions back home. You either live on the mountain or near the river. Flat land is at a premium. Usually, Cousin JW would whip out the four-wheeler with a snow blade and clear off what he could. The road to my family’s house is one-lane between a steep hillside and the creek. When traveling it Daddy’s advice was “ah, go on, just go slow and aim for the ditch line, not the creek. You can only slide so far if you are going slow.” So we went.

Here in Indiana, the flattest place on earth, subdivisions are the rule. So, for the first time I am living in one. When I moved into my soul-less garage with three bedrooms in suburbia I knew that I was responsible for my driveway (and that is another lesson altogether). However, I figured that my annual assessment would cover a scraping and little salt for the streets in the subdivision. It, after all, is around $200. That should cover some salt, right?

Wrong.

Two weeks after the last snow fall we still have a few inches of ice on the primary roads of the subdivision. I have slid to a stop at the turn for my street several times. When passing a vehicle going in the opposite direction cars nearly have to stop to do it safely. Not cool.

Icy Road

At the time I bought the house, I specifically remember thinking that the annual assessment for my little starter neighborhood was very reasonable. Some other neighborhoods with more expensive homes had much higher assessments. Now I realize that the more you pay, the more services you receive. I am not sure how this got by me. This was my first time, cut me some slack. Lesson learned.

I regret that I feel a little bitterness when I drive by the grown-up neighborhoods and see their nice clear and dry streets. Sad. However, I am somewhat comforted by the fact that most other folks I have talked to are dealing with the same thing. It seems that my situation is the rule and not the exception. Of course, that does not stop me from being annoyed and indignant about it.

It looks like until upgrade one day, I will be driving slowly through my neighborhood. As you know, you can only slide so far if you are driving slowly.

Home Ownership Lesson #10

Shut up, accept and be grateful for help.

When I bought my soulless house in my little subdivision I never expected that it would see a real holiday event or celebration. Why? As I have said many times, holidays only happen at my Mommy’s house. Turns out, that is not true any more.

Sister, Brother-in-Law, The Princess, and the Benevolent Dictator decided that they would spend Thanksgiving 2012 in Vegas. My parents opted out of Vegas and instead they packed up half my Mommy’s cooking supplies, various ingredients (bring your own homemade cranberry relish), a giant sack of canned goods, and the dog and came to Fort Wayne.

Have canned beets, will travel.

Have canned beets, will travel.

On the surface this was the perfect plan. The parents still get to do a little traveling but we get to have a home-cooked traditional Thanksgiving feast (including a 17 pound turkey for 3 people). For me? I get to not drive to Virginia until Christmas. Everyone is happy. The devil, however, is in the details.

Five days, three people, two dogs, a small house, and no cable. Do you see where this is going now?

The dogs missed cable as well.

The dogs missed cable as well.

The key problem here, upon reflection, is the lack of cable television (meaning no Thanksgiving football). This forced us to talk, walk the dogs, burn things, then we resorted to rummy. I think the rummy could have gone on longer had I not beat the parents unmercifully and bragged about it (a trait I get from my father). As the rummy showdown wrapped up I went to the bathroom. When I returned my father was standing in the kitchen with the ladder. That is how long it takes. Why? He bumped his head for the second time (gasp!) on the low hanging light fixture in my kitchen. It was too much – he could not take it any more. By “it” I mean not having anything to do, but he probably meant the ill-hanging light.

Winning!

Winning!

Enter gratuitous holiday home improvement.

Now, in my family every group project is an opportunity for a fight. I am surprised my parents have remained married for 43 years. This little project lived up to those low expectations. I was irritated because I really had not planned for electrical work and this was not my idea. Mom went along with it, my guess, because that is easier. I have not gotten that smart, yet. So, at this point he is frustrated because I am irritated and not helpful. For instance, I refuse to go turn the power to the lights off because I don’t want to do it wrong and electrocute my father. I’m a total grown-up.

Me being unhelpful. Note my Mommy's little feet standing on my kitchen table.

Me being unhelpful. Note my Mommy’s little feet standing on my kitchen table.

Daddy the electrician

Long story short, 30 minutes later – after having to redo the entire wiring once because someone (who shall remain nameless) forgot to put a washer back on – the light is up and working. The end result is a huge improvement – no one can hit their head and it looks better (even though the fixtures are ugly and I want rid of them).

So, who feels like giant a@! now? Me. But you know what, it was a holiday and somebody has to be “that person.” Might as well be me. Hopefully I won’t win that prize at Christmas too.

Thanks to my Mommy and Daddy, who still love and are willing to continue “raising” their willful, independent, short-tempered, and high-strung 35-year-old child.

Happy Holidays!

Home Ownership Lesson #9

Buying a new dishwasher is kind of like having a baby. Once you get the new one you conveniently forget the pain (cost) of getting it.

It was a lovely Tuesday afternoon, sometime between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., when the Sears installers arrived. They promptly pulled out the old, gross, and mineral encrusted dishwasher. As they did, installer #1 let me know that they did not include the mandatory “install kit” with my order. Um, okay. I looked at him, with what must have been a face of panic, because he responded “don’t worry we keep them in the van.” Super. Oh, but it’ll be $15.00. Of course. Fine. What’s $15.00. Then they carried in my brand new shiny Kenmore Elite dishwasher. A beacon of freedom from using the same three dishes and one cup over and over again and soapy water.

I wrote installer #1 a check, to him (which was odd), signed the installation form and said farewell to the fellas. Note: they were very good, clean, respectful. Then I had a moment with my new equipment.

It is a beautiful thing and its arrival could not be better with Thanksgiving next week. As I gazed at the shiny stainless front, new adjustable racks, stemware holders, and removable silverware tray the thoughts of the cost of such a luxury slipped away.

My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance. —Erma Bombeck