I couldn’t do math to save my life, still can’t. I didn’t get those brain cells. But my mother did. She was a business woman and book-keeper, who believed that her daughter should be able to navigate the world of numbers by some miracle of genetic biology. When that failed, she hired math tutors – lots of them. They were dead-on serious people, who sat in over-lit rooms arranging columns of tiny numbers so they fit in miniscule boxes. They used rulers and charts and made up non-sense stories about a person traveling to Cleveland going twenty miles an hour – and how long did it take if they stopped for a coffee and donut on the way, and how much longer did it take, if they had to stop at their Aunt Lizzie’s house as well, who lived thirty minutes from the interstate? It seemed a lot easier to stay home or have Aunt Lizzie visit them.

In seventh grade my mother decided I should forgo the usual horseback riding, baseball games, manure fights, fort building and hiding out in the woods, so I could devote my entire summer to…you guessed it…math!

She got up each morning to drive me into the city, like I was going to the hospital to get urgent care. I tried to comply but couldn’t. Two whole days passed before busting out. I knew she wouldn’t take it well, so we continued our morning routine. I’d give her a long-faced troubled look to avoid suspicion, then wave good-bye before catching the number 10 bus to the swimming pool. That summer I perfected my skill on the high boards doing swan dives, the jack knife, half-gainer, half-gainer with a twist, double flip and the ‘look out, here she comes’ cannon ball. Work on my suntan and social skills completed the day.

This went on for an entire glorious month before coming to an abrupt halt. I no longer remember if it was the lack of report card, a school visit or the fact that my teacher had no memory of any student by that name, that finally alerted her to trouble. But one day, I returned from the pool to find her standing on the front steps of the school, smoke coming out of her ears. She was so angry she couldn’t speak, and what little she must have said, I’ve thankfully repressed. I do remember those eyes in the rear view mirror as they glared at me on the way home. I sat wet and humbled in the back seat. Her eyes full of anger and disappointment, but mostly a kind of hopeless exasperation about what to do with her ‘problem child.’


There were no grown-ups in our world, except the out of breath cook, who climbed steep stairs with our food tray in hand. His was a hurry-up job. Here is your food, be good.  He carried prime rib, mashed potatoes, vegetables and homemade pies from the restaurant below. Sometimes we ate it, more often we had food fights. Dishes crashed as we climbed on the table, eager to perform on our make-shift stage. We made wide-armed gestures like the ones we’d seen on television; sang, danced, created costumes, swirled and laughed.

Look at me. Look at me. I am Cruella DeVille.

My oldest brother picked up his guitar, my youngest brother beat out rhythms on his drumset. We all shrieked with delight, often peeing our pants with laughter. We were five kids raising ourselves.

A raccoon ran up and down the hallway, a cat with new kittens nested on fallen coats, and a crow rode my sister’s shoulder like it was born there; even an occasional chicken witnessed our performance. The raccoon was a mainstay, until he bit my father’s balding head, we never saw old Coonie after that.

No one survived very long in that house, especially not housekeepers or babysitters. We constantly fought one another, but became a unified force with outsiders. Those with an idea toward reform or discipline stood no chance at all. There is one vivid memory of a babysitter cornered in the music room. She was literally backed against the wall, as five of us threatened like predators. My brother thought we should have done the – pail of cold water over her head from the second floor trick – but I wanted to give her a fighting chance. She left and never returned, one of many defeated by the Banfield savages.

A Russian woman came once a week, leaving stacks of clean clothes, folded and neatly balanced on our beds.  Put these away, she instructed. During the week the stacks were knocked to the floor and walked on, like everything else. There was no one to notice, no one to care.

The playroom was at the far end of the kitchen and housed a rarely changed cat box. I remember it being cleaned when a dance teacher arrived. We pointed our toes and slid them back and forth in the hope of learning first and second positions. Ballet did not stick, nor did tap dancing. The horses, ice skating, swimming and backyard baseball games did.

My father’s mother was trouble. She was serious about rules and best avoided. We had a small white cottage near the pond, where we escaped when she came. The cottage was safe, since she refused to venture across cornfields to further her point. Lucky for us, she didn’t visit often, or we could have been civilized.

written 9-4-08


 There was a tree that stood old, crooked and tired by the pond.

A run through the cornfield brought us from pond to shelter when spring hail pelted our exposed backs. I don’t know what kind of tree it was, but it stands clear in my memory as witness to our childhood. It’s the landmark I look for still when I return home to examine the evidence that remains from another time and place.

I am a detective on my trips back in time. Some part of me believes that I will turn over a rock or stumble on a tree root that will expose or reveal a childhood treasure, some thing that waits for me, some thing that lives just out of view. Some part of me believes that the past exists in it’s entirety behind a veil and if I can chance upon the opening, that I will once again step into that untouched place.

The only thing left of the farmhouse I grew up in is a corner lot, two paved driveways and a single cement step. A lilac grows abundant and unchecked near the entrance. But was the bush on the right or the left of the path? There are only clues.

What do I need to do?

Smell the lilacs?

Enter the trees?

Walk along the pond’s edge?

Find a key buried in the dirt?

Maybe the barn swallows can lead me back. Maybe they know the path to the rafters and the pungent smell of fresh mowed hay.

I know it’s all there.

I know it’s all waiting for me.

I can feel it and taste it. Almost touch it.

There is my Aunt locking the screen door because she has just mopped the floor. There I am, banging on the latch to get in, unwilling to be separated.

My grandmother is asleep in the upstairs bedroom ~ or ~ looking out through lace curtains as my uncle plows the field below.

This place lives in me, so it must live out there as well, but how do I get to it?

How do I get back?

That time belongs to me, as surely as my skin and bone, but I can’t find it anymore.  I have lost it.

Where did it go?

I am the daughter of that time and place.

I am the daughter of the land.

The rest has just been story.

 written 5-7-08

Hot Chocolate


I grew up near 7 acres of ice.

In the evenings the rural community came together outside, lit a large fire and sat on handmade benches lacing rows of ice skates in unison. Mine were baby blue with fur skirting the top. Very fashionable.

Each person grabbed a snow shovel and pushed on to the ice, clearing a path shoulder to shoulder with neighbors. We rarely cleared all 7 acres but always cleaned enough to skate with ease.

Snow shovels made trails and roads under moonlit nights and a few generator-fed spot lights. There were no closing or opening hours that I remember, just a kind of consensual, instinctive, community knowing that said it was time to clear the dinner dishes, pick up your ice skates, and head to 7 acres.

To warm ourselves we made hot chocolate, steaming cups of sweet brown liquid topped with little square marshmallows. That was my childhood delight.

Hot chocolate today leaves indigestion and an Oh, what did I do that for conversation. But not then, not in the time and place of my childhood. At that time, the warm comfort moving through my chest and into my belly was associated with exercise, laughter, rosy cheeks, races and not wanting to surrender my outside pleasures for a too warm house and bed.

written 2-27-08

Miracles Happen

 Her hand is extended in friendship. The gesture is genuine and wanting. I place my hand in hers, taking it ~ touched by the gesture and the sisterhood implied. But another part of me is cautious, not because of her. I am cautious because of the courage a real friendship requires. I am a coward in this area, afraid of what will be asked of me. Not asked, maybe but demanded. I must be honest, dead honest to be close. I am so easily hurt and the sting is lasting. It feels so hard to say, “When you did that, I felt this. It felt ungenerous. Did you mean to hurt me?” I have chosen instead to be distant all these years.

My oldest sister did mean to hurt me. She schemed and planned. It was her occupation and she was masterful. How can we leave Karen out, she wondered. How can I get rid of her? She formed groups of exclusion. Oh Karen, we were just talking about what we were all going to do, and we all decided that we did not want you to be part of it. We think you wouldn’t be of much use.

What was it in her that needed to destroy me and why? This older child who hated me was my care-giver and only available parent. We’re old women now, but the relationship remains, except I no longer engage in opening or extending. She still waits coiled and ready to strike. I ask in gestures and words. Can we stop this yet? Can we give this up? The answer is, No. Her position is set.

 What I had not fully realized is how this relationship has colored my ability to reach towards others. How quietly and subtly I have folded my hand behind my back or deep inside my pockets, when the thing my heart needed most was to extend forward, placing the warmth of another’s willingness inside the courage of my own. Honesty is required. I must speak and not be silent to create what I desire. I must risk that my words will fall on gentle soil.

Why does love require such courage?

Love should wash over us naturally and with ease the way the sun rises each morning or the way water laps gently and consistently against the shore.

Maybe love is that way after all, once our fears are put to rest and our wounds healed. Maybe in the end, it’s all that easy; but for me, I’m thinking probably not. For me, I will need courage, honesty and willingness. Maybe I can do that more easily now. Maybe miracles do happen.

written 7-27-08

My First Rocket

 I grew up in the middle of nowhere. Red barns, tilled farmlands and simple, mostly uneducated people. A boy named Egghead used to hang around my aunt’s farm. His brother’s name was Jughead. No kidding.

Egghead’s mom used to grab him by the ear, shove the rounded end of a bobbie pin inside its narrow well, and pull out a bounty of orange earwax, while poor Egghead fought for release like a fish on the end of a hook.

There was an escalator-type conveyor belt that carried hay into the highest part of the barn. Sometimes it carried me and Egghead too. One day he told me he had a surprise for me, so I followed him up into the peak of the rafters where a void of light filled a hot summer day with a sense of moonless midnight.

“Close your eyes,” he instructed, as he guided me to a bale beside him. The blackness of the moment made closed eyes redundant.

“Now give me your hand,” he continued, reaching his rough fingers across my own. “Here, feel this.” I felt something tall and hard and warm. Oh my God, I thought, it’s the boy thing he pees out of. Gross!

I wish I had yelled at him. I wish I had knocked him backwards and yelled, “Egghead, you are gross.”

But, true to form, I got up scared and quiet. I got up pretending it never happened and did not want to play with Egghead anymore. Not ever.

If I could do it over, I would have knocked him on his butt, but then I would have hugged him and said, “Egghead, don’t ever do that again because it scares people. You don’t want to scare people because you need friends. Your life is hard enough already!”

 written 4-23-08

The Hospital Room

White coats and surgical coverings, sharp shining silver tools designed to invade, ether masks filled with gagging head splitting recovery. Alone, alone, alone, in dimly lit rooms where I wake full of pain, and half conscious awareness. Wheeled to other sterile rooms with metal beds lined up in rows. Jokes from a waitress who visits to explain that my mother is too busy to come. Are those pork chops you’re having for dinner, she asks, looking at the tube of liquid dripping into my arm. I smile feeling some responsibility to both appreciate and amuse her.

Later my mother comes with new pajamas, little rose buds living in creamy soft flannel. She smells like fresh air. The outside world clings to her clothes, the scent of the day lingers in her midnight hair. I want to eat her up, whole. I want to take her inside me to satisfy an unspeakable appetite. She tells me about the restaurant while painting her lips in fire engine red. I want to grab those lips, ask her to swallow me. I want to live within her body. Take me home, I want to scream. Take me to another place, eat me alive, but don’t leave me here.

Visiting hours are short, her schedule is full. I am one of the lucky 5. I am sick, so I get to see her. I have her undivided attention for about half an hour. New pajamas and the memory of sunlight playing on her ear-rings stay with me long after she closes the door. Now it’s me and nothingness. Tomorrow the janitor will mop my room. I like him. He comes everyday. The floors are not dirty. I don’t know why he comes. He has bags tied balloon-like over his shoes, as he mops clean over clean.

written 3-11-08


I love singing the arias of my youth. No matter where I am in my life, no matter my age, or what is happening around me, I can open my memory and access the vocal acrobatics that take me back to being a girl.

I stand on years of singing around the piano with my brothers and sisters, lessons from a full-faced teacher with a large gap between her front teeth, and finally off to boarding school, where all that love of music was nearly extinguished by a German voice teacher named, Madame Schinera.  There were recitals, performances and pressures, plans to study opera followed by the Mozartium in Austria.

I sing the arias of my youth perfectly, as I was taught to do. I am a vocal gymnast doing double back flips to amaze an audience. A single melodic phrase can return me to all of that. I congratulate myself on my exceptional training. The money, time and effort invested, that stopped when I married, as abruptly as a car hitting a telephone pole.

I remember. I am transported, and always, without fail, wished I’d studied instead with a large black woman; a woman who wiped her hands on a threadbare dish towel; a woman heavy with kitchen smells and children. She was the teacher I sought, when I was too young to know what I knew. I wanted her large embodiment of spirit to teach me the blues, I wanted to find jazz in her bloodstream. I yearned for a musical mama with her feet in the dirt; not an academic, who asked me to measure classical tempo, like teaspoons of baking power in a centuries old recipe.

written February 13, 2008

The Hallway

I am the wall of the upstairs hallway. I run the length of the house, opening into bedrooms, kitchen, playroom and living room. The restaurant is below. I take a sharp angle in the north end of the house and head east toward the music room and sun room. Seven people live here. They run up and down my linoleum; so do cats, dogs, raccoons and the occasional housekeeper. I am the spine of the house. It is my job to hold this family together.

The children in this house are sad. They listen to arguing, the flare of tempers and knife-sharpened words. I try to take their loneliness and absorb their pain, but there is too much. I don’t know when the hate started but it has seeped deep in my structure, a kind of rot I can not get rid of.

The children need care. They have one another, but no one is teaching or guiding them. They are starved for attention and love. Where are the grown-ups?  Mom and dad work in the restaurant below. They trail down about 6 am and come back after midnight. The father is the first to return, his voice filling the stairwell. He is often angry, yelling and wanting revenge. Sometimes he crashes into me, looking for a way out of his life. He acts out his pain and drowns it in alcohol. He has too many children, too many responsibilities, a love gone sour.

The littlest one, the father’s favorite, the one he calls Smiley, is trying hard to please him. She carries her mothers dreams on her tiny back and works to make her father happy. She has noticed that grown-ups do not fight when they are laughing. She decides to make them laugh. She is doing well in school because she longs for structure and rules. Rules give her hope in an unsure family. One night, when left alone, like every other night, she leaned against me wanting to be cradled. Tears ran gently over her rounded cheeks and dropped in wet little circles on her pajamas. She held a blade from her dad’s Gillette razor and ran it slowly, methodically up and down her soft pink arms. Lines of blood trailed her flesh like little pained highways, beginning and ending in short bursts, going no place special, just like her life.

I have a sad job, which has lasted 30 years. I’ve done the best I could, but even I want to crumble and collapse from all I’ve seen and heard. The mother leans on me too. She comes late at night after the restaurant closes and the children are asleep. She gives me her tears; she gives me her pain; she holds on to me when there is nothing else. Sometimes she brings her make-up to cover the violence on her cheek and the swollen shades of midnight around her eye. She doesn’t ever want the kids to see this, she doesn’t want them to know.

The oldest child has swallowed her fathers rage, she has taken it in, whole and complete. She has become treacherous and secretive. She rides the land bareback on a golden horse, long black braids falling to her waist, a black crow clinging to her shoulder. She’s made herself tough, and as intimate as a rattlesnake. Because she’s the oldest, she has the job of keeping the other children away from their parents. The parents have to work. The children are an interruption. They must be held back, the needs of the children are like a damn holding too much water, threatening to burst open and ruin everything.

The middle child resists authority. She needs her mother like she needs air to breathe. She pushes her older sister back and forth between my walls, hurting, crying, and pulling. The oldest wins, her knee pushed deep into the soft folds of the middle child’s stomach as she pounds her face with determined fists. There is so much anger, so much to release. The fighting goes on and on until the middle child escapes into her room, pushing heavy furniture against the door. Sometimes the middle child wins, but there is no victory. She fights her way down the stairs and into the restaurant, finds her mother and clings to her dress, but she is scolded. They are both scolded. They must stay away.

There is no one to care in this house. No one to intervene, no consequences doled out with a stern voice or pointed finger to siblings or neighbors causing harm. Life simply goes on and on, day after day, until fighting, hiding and protecting become ordinary and routine.

And there was the flu. The children, alone as usual. The youngest boy vomited as he came around my corner. The next child ran into it, slipped and fell. They all had the flu. They all threw up that day in the hall, like little islands of misery, devastated and abandoned, so busy surviving, they couldn’t reach towards each other. They fell asleep leaning against my walls, vomit drying in their hair.

The oldest boy joined a gang. I don’t see much of him. He has run away several times, but the highway patrol always brings him back, back to his personal hell. They think he’s a bad kid, but he’s not. None of them are.

The youngest son arrived much later than the others. He is favored and fussed over, but his life won’t last. A car accident will finish him long before he reaches manhood. The other children think he’s lucky. He escaped.

And the neighbors? They think this family has it easy. They have a large restaurant and motel, money to spend, vacations to take, and nice clothes to wear. They think the kids are spoiled.

Nobody knows what I know. They don’t see what I see.

I could go on and on, page after page, story after story, but I won’t. These dark things are best laid to rest. They belong to the shadows of another time, just like me.

Best to cast light on the good things, only for me, it’s hard to remember what those were. I hope those little ones turned out okay. I loved them all and held them the best I could.  I witnessed those dark hours and I remember.

 written July 21, 2008


I was playing on a steel framed hide-a-bed as Sunday morning stretched into a lazy afternoon, just tipping back and forth, back and forth. I was young, bored and testing. To my surprise the bed gave way and came crashing over, its metal frame embedded in my nose. The blood gushed, poured over my cheeks and landed in big red blotches on cotton pajamas.

My father was in the next room deep inside his easy chair. He looked up from his National Geographic as I stood stunned in the entrance.

Jesus Christ, what did you do now?

Nobody went to the doctor in our family. There was only one to serve the whole county. You could wait all day long in his office without any guarantee of treatment, so families dealt with emergencies by themselves.

My dad laid me out on the table, put ice on my seven-year-old nose and gave me a shot of scotch from the cabinet. When my skin and emotions were numb, he grabbed a needle from the sewing basket, sterilized the point in a flame, and added black upholstery thread.

This will just take a minute, he said. Longer if you can’t hold still.

I watched the point of the needle move back and forth, back and forth toward my eyes in my father’s careful hands. I made it though three stitches and could do no more.

That will hold, he said. Better lay there until you’re strong again.

I studied the ceiling tiles, the molding that joined the cabinet to the wall and finally the blood that smudged my hands.

I don’t ever want to do that again, I decided. I need to be more careful.

written April 30, 2008

The Tablecloth

One of my earliest memories is the billow of a red and white tablecloth drifting slowly to the ground under the broad sheltering leaves of a maple tree. I had been riding on the fender of my uncle’s tractor, my young fingers grasping its rounded lip in hot dusty compliance. I had listened intently to the terrible things that befell children who could not hang on tight as the tractor lurched forward. I was determined not to be one of the maimed or injured.  I held on with aching hands as everyone else gathered hay bales, tossing them high and hard to my cousin, who stacked them on the long flat wagon, his black hair sprouting from a white sailor cap, while pieces of hay stuck to his bare chest and oil-stained jeans.

My aunt crossed the fields in her worn cotton dress and long apron, high temperatures slowing her gait as she forged through noon day sun. Small drops of moisture escaped from the strands of gray that curled near her ears and forehead. She wiped at them like pesky mosquitoes. It was the arrival of the picnic basket to the welcome shelter of the tree, and the wave of that red and white tablecloth floated slowly from air to earth that signaled an end to work.

Lunch on the farm tasted different, because the food was laced with sweat, hard work, long hours and welcome release. The men moved bone-tired from the fields or slid from the wagon, eager to yield to the pull of gravity. They pushed back their caps, wiped their brows with bold red handkerchiefs, and dropped like heavy weights under the tree. Lunch meant tall pitchers of iced tea or lemonade poured over fiery throats, ham and cheese sandwiches on homemade bread, and pies made from whatever berry was in season. Each ingredient was colorful and dense, so rich or sweet, it seemed to explode with each bite. The men relaxed, ate and told stories, their easy laughter filled the air.

clouds over wheat field

Being outside made life real and significant. I was significant too, but not because of anything I learned or had become. I was important simply because I existed and belonged. I was made real in the broad honest smiles of the men, and the way my uncle grasped the wheel with the two fingers that remained on his leathery right hand. I was made real in the flour and sticky sugar that clung to the corners of my aunt’s apron. I was the chatter box on the fender who was my uncle’s ‘niece little nice.’ In that place, I was embraced and included for all that I was, and all I was not.

I belonged to the farm. I belonged to the scent of fresh cut fields, the cows in the mud, acres of corn and sun-ripened berries along dusty roads. I belonged to all of it and it belonged to me. Going inside hid me from that. Buildings kept me safe and sheltered, but separate.  In open space, I knew myself through and through. I filled my lungs with the definition of life. I felt real and liberated.

All my finest memories are out of doors; the memories I am eager to forget live behind darkened walls and in caged rooms.

written July 19, 2008


I remember piles of broken china and figurines half buried in mounted earth near the small shed by the front porch. I used to sift through them with my young hands, each shattered piece a treasure of discovery.

The farm house was my safe place. I would wake from the chaos of my home, go to the stables, saddle my horse and ride six miles through unfenced terrain until I reached the welcome land that defined my aunt and uncle’s farm. The pond was the first to come into view. It lay quiet on my left, like tea in an unmoved cup. Herds of cows milled behind barbed wire fences on my right, as bright red barns with tall silos beckoned me forward.

I was going away to boarding school. This would be my last visit for a very long time. I was terrified to leave the land and move into an English academy in Vermont, where my days would be alien, structured and organized. I was being sent away for my health. When I neared the barn, I saw my aunt herding cows toward its shadowy interior. I stripped my horse and set her free in the field.

barn door

Aunt Ethel, I shouted, I’m leaving for boarding school this week-end.

She barely looked up.

I don’t know when I’ll be back.

She fingered the cloth hankie that slept in the pocket of her apron. Her red print dress hung above black rubber boots, a splash of mud marked her forehead below short curly hair. She slapped the rump of a cow into the stall and motioned me inside.

Don’t go givin’ yourself airs now, she said, Just cause you’re going to that fancy boarding school. Don’t come home callin’ horse shit, manure.

My heart ached at the thought of leaving. I did not want to be ripped from the four a.m. mornings, when we turned on the radio and danced around the barn together; me balanced on my uncle’s boots, Aunt Ethel squirting warm milk into the mouths of the barn cats, who were lined up waiting and mewing. I did not want to leave the symphony of clocks that ticked and chimed in every room of the house. I wanted to keep smelling black tea served in blue willow cups that warmed my fingers each afternoon. I wanted to keep seeing their reflection in the polished silver sugar bowl that sat on the large oak table.

I put my arm around her.

I’ll come back, I promised.

No, you won’t, she said. Once kids go away, they’re gone. Too bad though. You were the best of the lot.

I lifted the handle on the egg basket and walked to the hen house. Warm tears splashed against soiled brown eggs, as I carefully lifted each one from the safety of its nest. I fingered their fragile vulnerability, as I positioned them layer by layer inside the cold metal wiring of the basket.

written April 16, 2008

Are you coming?

We weren’t supposed to be there. The house was condemned but I could not resist. My best friend, Roberta lived in that house. We snuggled together in her bed, played on the floor near french doors and stood at the double sink resenting each dish her mother told us to wash. The place was a palatial estate in a depressed Appalachian way. It sat up high on acres of land next to an equally large barn supported by thin layers of slate. The land was bordered by rutted fields and deep woods. I told my husband I wanted to visit but it was more a dare than expectation. I was surprised when he pulled our rental car up the dirt driveway and opened my door.

I stepped out into tall wet grass feeling brave and criminal. There was no evidence of a path as we moved through weeds growing in tangles around our knees. We climbed rotting stairs near plywood covered windows, listening to sounds of the wind fluttering autumn leaves near the large yellow poster that hung on the door. Stay Out, No Trespassing, Violators will be prosecuted ~ the usual threats. The house was weather-beaten grey and pulled me so powerfully into the past that I expected to see myself there. The door hung crooked on rusted hinges and would not close. My husband was immediately uncomfortable and wanted to leave, but I was entranced. If anyone comes, I told him, wedging myself through the door, I will simply explain that I was Roberta’s friend, and they will give me news of her. Of course, I had not seen or heard from her in 50 years, but in such a small town someone would know.

Inside we found hundreds of boxes covering the floors in various stages of decay, looking as if someone had prepared to move, thought better of it, and simply walked away. The frame of the double sink pulled my attention to the kitchen. I remembered cleaning eggs from blue metal dishes speckled with white, and eating bowls piled high with sweet frozen cream from the ice box. The double sinks stood alone and erect in an otherwise gutted room. I continued to walk into what used to be the parlor, where I found the piano we once gathered around to sing. I walked over more rotting boxes and pressed against keys that resisted touch. The tone that whispered back was distant and sleeping, as if it were trying to remember its voice after a half century of silence. A sadness filled me at its loss. It stood in its splendid German casing holding firm to its place in the corner.

The french doors opened between the living room and the parlor, each rectangular glass still whole and intact, except for one near the floor which was completely missing. I remembered that cracked pane because I played next to it as a child, watching sunlight dance in its disfigured face. Those days stretched and grew into endless hours. Now all that remained was covered in dirt, with musty smells clouding water stained walls.

How amazing, I thought, to visit a house from my childhood. How astounding to find it standing with many of its contents unmoved, while real estate in my world was unaffordable and scarce.  This would have been torn down decades ago in the west, with dozens of houses erected on the land. My life in Oregon seemed a dream away. Here I expected to see Roberta’s father dressed in dark trousers and boots, and hear the sound of his ax striking logs for the fire, as he piled his arms high, the smell of fresh cut birch in his path.

On the other side of the archway stood the family’s china cabinet, the wooden doors askew, the drawers toppled and crooked, the wood still rich with studied craftsmanship and quality, like a war-torn ship that washed ashore from another century.

My husband followed in my footsteps eager to bolt. Let’s go Karen, he pleaded. There’s nothing here but decay and junk. Let’s leave. But I could not pull myself away. I was following a thread from my youth like a determined detective.

Yes, dear, go, I answered. I’ll be right behind you. But I lied because I could not stop. As he turned to leave, I pulled a fallen door from my path and climbed up uncertain stairs until I had a view of the second floor. My eyes drifted across the room, and up to a glimpse of pale sky. The structure was all brick and lath, exposed beams and foundation lumbers. No boxes up here, just decades of neglect and a past taken down to the bones. I recognized the hallway and could see into the empty spaces that use to house beds, handsewn quilts, wash basins, and chamber pots. For a moment I saw the girl I used to be in her flannel pajamas, bare feet and dirty face, her blonde hair springing free from the tight french braids her mother labored over each morning.

Are you coming?  my husband asked again. Where are you Karen? This is so unsafe. Don’t go up there.  And so I listened, turned and left, thinking as I walked away, that the house was forever changed and at the same time unchanged, just like myself.

written September 30, 2008

Morris Minor

I bought a Morris Minor when I was eighteen years old. It looked like this one, only mine was a baby blue convertible, had a black racing strip and mirrors on front fenders positioned to show my hair at all times. I saved my waitress money until I got five hundred dollars, plopped it down at the dealership and drove away. Well, sort of drove away, but not really, since I never took it for a test drive and had no idea how to drive a stick shift.

The car was a point of contention with my dad. I’ll buy you a car, any car, but not that thing.  You’ll never get parts. Buy a Chevy. I’ll help you. Those foreign cars are crap. Turns out he was right, but I didn’t care. That ‘thing’ was what I had to have. The salesman waved and honked on his way home from work two hours later, as I sputtered along on the shoulder starting, stalling, and stopping. What the heck do I do with this clutch? He pulled over and gave me a lesson.

Most people don’t know what a Morris Minor is, but my husband knew. Turns out he had to have one when he was a teenager. He and I have the same birthday, the same karmic patterns, and the same taste in cars – one of many bizarre parallels that run through our lives.