The chickens have officially crossed the road.
A green ceramic chicken nested on my grandmother’s kitchen counter for as long as I can remember. She and my mama bought the fowl on their once-in-a-lifetime trip across the border to Old Mexico, as my grandmother called the colorful country she wanted so much to visit.
When my own mama and I took one of our many jaunts to Mexico’s beckoning sun and surf, I bought a similar yellow chicken in San Miguel de Allende. The chicken sat on my mom’s table before she told me to take the bird for my own chicken-themed kitchen.
For years, the yellow hen was stuffed with crinkled and wrinkled receipts before online banking and smart phones made balancing the check book with register and calculator obsolete. “Put it in the chicken” was a reminder to my family to deposit those pesky paper receipts. Now, my mama’s and my grandmother’s chickens are roosting, side by side, in a kitchen hutch; a reminder of my family’s rural roots and humble beginnings.
These past few weeks, I have been making a new kitchen mine, alphabetizing the spice rack and trying to find the damnable missing Tupperware lids. But with this ceremonial unpacking and placement of the chickens, I am “outing” myself and letting all know that we have almost officially moved. There are still a few hangars dangling in closets and a stack of dog-eared boxes marked “donations” waiting to be hoisted into the trunk of the car, but the old house is almost empty; this new one almost full.
We bought the old house when we made the decision to take on the full-time care of my mom — or my little mama — four years ago. We sought out a big house with plenty of room to merge households; plenty of room for visits from extended family; plenty of room for friends. We sought out a big house so my mama could maintain her privacy and dignity, and we would have room for our daughter to entertain friends and where, we too, might maintain some semblance of a social life. Funny thing about illness and disease and dementia and dying. It kind of makes people uncomfortable. Visits become quicker. Soon the doorbell stops chiming.
You see, I always wanted a bigger house where I could host dinners and parties and those holiday cookie exchanges with the cute take-home bags. With a bigger house, I’d be the one to host the family reunions. The relatives could come visit anytime, and we’d stay up late and play Scrabble and trade “remember when” stories. I wanted a bigger house where I could have The Ladies over to play Pokeno or host a book club meeting.
I have always loved houses; been fascinated by the stories they tell and the history and secrets they harbor. As a pony-tailed 8-year-old, I was obsessed with an abandoned Victorian in my small hometown. My friends and I would ride our bikes through narrow back alleys, stash them in the hedges and sneak into the creaky, creepy old house though an open basement window. We’d live out our princess fantasies in the rounded third-floor turret room. A visit to my hometown always includes a drive past this beloved dwelling. My mama captured the house on canvas, presenting the painting to me on a long-ago Christmas morning. It remains one of my most cherished gifts.
Houses have always been my fascination. I started collecting tiny ones on various travels. Friends added to my diminutive dwellings and these tiny houses remind me of people and places that warm my heart.
My husband says he can always tell when I have been out house hunting by the tell-tale smudge on the end of my nose. An empty house enthralls me, and I am grateful I have not been arrested for peering into curtain-less windows and pressing my nose against dusty, rusty screens. I like to envision what a little paint and elbow grease might accomplish if I somehow held the keys.
Yes, I wanted a bigger house, and yes, maybe, because I bought into all the hype. Yep, I drank the Keep Up With the Jones’ KoolAid. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to want while we’re chasing this American dream of bigger and better? Make more, spend more. Want more, buy more. Have more, impress more. We invite people over to ogle the granite counters, the stainless, the La Cornue range, the big screen, the Kalamazoo grill.
As I have spent the past four years caring for my mama, I have also spent four years carting box after box after box after box of my mama’s life’s worth of possessions to Goodwill, Salvation Army, Mission Arlington, the DAV. I have spent four years, in a big house, full of stuff, empty of people. I have become painfully aware, that someday, my own daughter will be thrust into this horrible nightmare of dismantling her mama’s life. What will she choose to keep of these objects I have collected these many years? Will she be burdened as I am with the enormous guilt of stuffing clothes into a gaping box or trying to decide which well-loved books to dust off and add to her shelves? Which pictures? Which china? Which mementos? What will become of these tiny houses that whisper stories of my life?
I have come to the stark and sterile realization that while we are surrounding ourselves with “stuff” and buying bigger houses to put it all in, when all is said and done, none of it will matter. We come into this world with nothing, we will leave with nothing. I catch glimpses of Death lurking in the sneaky shadows of my mom’s room, watching, waiting. I know now, none of it matters. None of it. Not the big house. The nice car. The designer clothes. Not the status handbag, the fancy china. the crystal goblets. The Yeti.
Looking for ways to simplify my over-complicated life and the juggled and jangled days of work, care giving, and dwindling time with my little mama, yes, we have moved. We have, as they say, “downsized.” I have purged my possessions, my complications, my expectations. I have foisted furniture and out-of-date fashions on friends; carted books to the library for the city’s annual sale; struggled with decisions like whether to keep the paisley place mats and plastic tubs filled with my now 21-year-old’s childhood scribbles and macaroni art. I have finally learned that, for me, yes, less is more. I have learned that just because you have a big house, it does not mean the people will come.
In a few days, a “For Sale” sign will go up in the yard and slow traffic on the busy street. The rooms are empty now. The big house I wanted so much echoes with silence. I have packed our things, but more importantly, I pack with me memories made in that bigger house I wanted so much.
I will think of my mama’s mornings at the kitchen table, watching birds outside the window. I will think of my smart, studious daughter, sitting cross-legged with her laptop, homework papers splayed across the coffee table. I take with me a cozy image of my husband stretched out on the sofa, our Lucy dog curled beside him, her head nestled against his chest. I will remember the flag waving on the front porch on July 4th, us marveling again over my husband’s baked beans and how he finally mastered my Daddy’s Southern potato salad recipe. I’ll think of fireside naps with my little mama; watching her doze across the room, flickering flames casting her sleeping profile in a golden glow. I’ll remember nights after the family was in bed, the house quiet save the hum of the refrigerator and the periodic thunk of the temperamental ice maker. Curled under a plaid blanket in the stillness of a dark and sleeping house, I marveled at the twinkle of tiny lights on our Christmas tree, warmed by memories of holidays past.
I have come to realize that where I live and the house I occupy is not as important as who I share it with. I am grateful for my family — and the true friends who have stood by me when life got messy and complicated and unfriendly and unsociable. Thank you to those who have been on this journey with me and my little mama — and have offered care and compassion, support and encouragement. We are taking a new path now, and some of you will not follow. Our travels take us down different roads. My address is changing and with that, I am sure some will not bother to transfer me to the new Christmas card list. I was included because we lived in the same zip code for a time. It’s okay. I’m learning that the people who are supposed to be in our lives will be. Others are just passing through on their rush to Somewhere Else — that bigger house perhaps. Godspeed to all, wherever you roam and wherever you call home.
I’ll be in a quirky little house in an “iffy” transitional neighborhood. It’s not in a gated development and for me, it doesn’t have to be. The houses that appeal to me most are filled with love and laughter, take-out pizza boxes and a fridge littered with children’s drawings held up by magnets from the PTA, the vet, the neighborhood dry cleaners. The houses that appeal to me are comfy and cozy, a cat curled in the window sill and life’s clutter making it unfit for magazine covers; a house where friends are welcome and you aren’t afraid to drop a few crumbs on the carpets. The houses that appeal to me are Homes, made real by the people inside who are busy living and learning and loving and taking all that life throws at them with humility, gratitude and sometimes, a little humor.
Yes, I have a new address. My family and my pets and my carefully chosen “stuff” that reminds of people I love and the places I have been will be with me in this new/old place that will now be home. My home is humble and simple and my mama’s and grandmother’s chickens are proudly on display in a kitchen that is purposely void of granite and stainless.
If ya wanna stop by, I’ll turn the coffee maker on, if ya don’t mind our chipped coffee mugs and that our old-style drip machine doesn’t do Frappuccino.
Yes, the chickens have crossed the road.
They made it just fine…….