Monday, July 8, 2019

A Sunday Walk

 I walk through quiet Sunday gray, my neighborhood awakening around me. A newspaper flutters on a front porch, a vestige of times gone by. I wonder how many papers are still delivered in West Seattle.

Tom sat at the kitchen table each morning, the newspaper spread before him. I complained about the stacks of advertisements collecting on the floor, about the newsprint dirtying the tabletop. He switched to The New Yorker, The Smithsonian. Now he reads his phone.

The black and white cat sits preening herself on the block she owns. Fearless and proud, she expects traffic to stop for her, pedestrians to pay her mind. When I walk my daughter’s dog, I avoid this block.

We never had cats, not even a barn cat to control the mice. Always dogs, but what good was a dog for catching mice? My mother – or was it my father? – didn’t like cats. Now I am not fond of them either.

A motorcycle roars down Charlestown hill, a slight slow at the stop sign, no stop at all. The bright red streak flashes before me, shaking me from my morning musings.

The hill where Dad once flipped his Harley. Going up, not down, on ice. The hill high school graduates paint every June now reads Class of 2019 in colorful joy. What did it read the year my father graduated?

Madison Middle School towers on the hillside above me. The 2005 renovation to the stately 1929 building began the year after our daughter moved on to high school. I trace the track and circle the building as I climb, catching my breath under the giant tree at the top of the hill.

Images of Erin and her friends float by, teenyboppers full of youthful sass and energy. Getting into trouble, finding their way out of trouble, discovering who they were, who they would become.

I continue walking and soon West Seattle High School looms large along California Avenue. Built in 1917, the Neo-renaissance building retains much of its architectural charm after an extensive remodel, completed in 2002. A year later, Erin followed her grandfather’s footsteps by attending his alma mater.

I see my father in faded photographs, football tucked under his elbow. He wears a leather helmet and a cocky grin, a dark curl hangs forward. Black and white photography does no justice to his brilliant blue eyes. I wonder if the trophies bearing his name are still on display.

On the opposite side of the street a new building takes up the better part of a city block. The tile work – what looks like large subway tiles – on the exterior of the new four-story structure was completed more quickly than my small bathroom.

Was it fair of me to leave the house so early, to make an escape from the dust and noise of our remodeling project? I left as my husband tested the table saw and measured his first cut of the day. I left before the confrontation with the contractor over the unacceptable tile job. I left before more tears of frustration and anger.

I wind through the gentle silence of Hiawatha Playfield, under enormous oaks, past the tennis courts and the community center. The wading pool forlorn and empty. Does the Parks Department still fill it each warm summer day? Check the water quality every few hours?

Did I take Erin often enough as a toddler? Was it a welcome summer escape during earlier remodels to our small West Seattle home? She began swimming at the YMCA so young, she seemed to outgrow the wading pool overnight. She grew up overnight.

I follow the graceful curve of Walnut Avenue. Mid block, I pause before a house my father once remodeled. A house where I lived as a child too young to remember. A house whose interior I know only through family lore and longing. It is the only house my father remodeled, preferring to build from foundation to rooftop.

I hear the echo of Tom’s angry words from the day before. “It would’ve been easier to tear the damn place down and start over.” Maybe. “We’ll get through this,” he said as I left the house. Although it is hard to believe his words of comfort, my morning walk settles my soul. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Six Weeks and Counting

So much activity and emotion, so many decisions crammed into six weeks, it’s difficult to hold the images. My overloaded brain struggles to keep up, to form short-term memory and retain it long term. I find myself making endless lists, consulting the calendar, counting the minutes, hours, days.
We began remodeling in early May, a week before my last reading at the Issaquah Library. When asked about my work-in-progress, I responded that my next memoir titled The Ex-Mexican Wives Club would be released in late summer. I naively believed I’d be able to continue editing the final draft in the midst of chaos. I was wrong.

It’s a slow-going project, reminiscent of my childhood – I was raised in an unfinished house my father built up around us. Since my husband and I bought this little house almost thirty years ago, we’ve remodeled several times. Drywall dust, the pounding of nails, the ragged whine of a table saw are not new to me. That doesn’t mean I’m accustomed to any of it or that I like it. I like the progress, I like peeking in at the end of the day and seeing what’s been accomplished, I like to imagine the finished project.
Remodeling is not unlike building a book. Both require endless hours of dedicated hard work punctuated by moments of creative glee and others of deep despair. Both offer the promise of a completed project that I’m cautiously certain will have been worth the effort. Yet throughout the process, the noise and chaos (both internal and external) as well as the endless choices and decision-making drive me nuts.

So I take a deep breath, try not to be angry that the tile guy is over an hour late, and remind myself that our remodeled bedroom and bath as well as my next book will both be completed, each in its own time.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Retracing Life's Steps

Retracing life’s steps is key to writing for a memoirist. One of the joys of this for me goes beyond making sense of the past, but offers the possibility of recreating the present and future. What can be found is something new and wonderful. Such was the case last weekend when my husband and I went to Grayland, WA for two nights of early spring camping.

My father built three small houses on the Grayland beach, and my parents lived in the third for the last few decades of their life together. Dad died in that small house, and my mother refused to leave until dementia made staying impossible. Grayland was the place I visited my parents, later only my mother. In my mind, it was never a vacation destination. Until last weekend.
Tom and I camped in a yurt at the Grayland State Park. We ate loads of wonderful fresh seafood, explored the area by bicycle, and watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. Last weekend, Grayland became a new place for me.
Next Friday, I’ll be making another trip into the past. This time to Issaquah, the town where I grew up. It’s not a first visit; there have been others. Each has shown new facets of the place and her people, some of whom I’ve known since grade school. I look forward to sharing Mom’s Last Move at the Issaquah Library and to the conversations I’m certain will follow. I hope you can join me!
10 W Sunset Way
Issaquah, WA 98027
Friday, May 10, 2019
5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.