Saturday, September 25, 2010

Leaving Home

The smell of new carpet has faded, and fresh paint on the walls dried. Except for a stack of framed pictures awaiting rehanging, renovations are complete.

My eighteen-year-old home feels new once again. I plan to enjoy the newness, the HGTV-dicated updates, for a few more years. And then I'll do the logical thing, the sensible one. I'll put the house on the market.

As a recent and single empty-nester, selling this two-story, twelve-room house should seem a foregone conclusion. Yet that logic is swayed by sentiment. In my mind, this remains the dream house my former husband and I designed and built--when our marriage was still intact and our children still toddlers. It's the house where I raised two boys to manhood. It's the only childhood home either of them remembers.

Memories lurk in each corner of the house, linger in every inch of the yard. How will I follow through with letting it go, on the day I finally move away?

As I glance at the front porch, I'll recall the home's early life: its rising wooden frame beckoning us all toward the future. The image of my towheaded two-year-old, his Fisher-Price tools clutched in his mittened hands, remains frozen in my memory. "I build the new house, Daddy," he announced with a proud smile, his plastic hammer rapping on a four-by-four board.

Wandering around to the back yard, I'll admire the pine tree. It was nothing more than a stick when Son #2 brought it home from his preschool Arbor Day celebration; now it nearly reaches the rooftop. The back lawn and mulched flower beds somehow survived years of Capture the Flag and pick-up football and baseball games. Our back yard also served as the setting of many teary-eyed funerals for tadpoles and hermit crabs and guinea pigs, who did not survive the years.

The wooden deck appears weathered and worn after countless barbecues and birthday parties. I smile, remembering the neighborhood concerts held here too: the exuberant voices of eight-year-olds, who fortunately still lacked the self-consciousness their teen years would bring, as they belted out the Backstreet Boys to an audience of parents and neighbors.

I'll roam through the house, wandering into the dining room, where we hosted holiday dinners for nearly two decades. I will stroke the sleek surface of the long mahogany table, which will likely not find a place in my new, smaller home. At the adjacent piano, my two young sons once played a duet for their great-grandfather, just a year before he died.

Peering down the basement, I'll recall my sons' tiny fort beneath the stairwell. Only the rough-hewn wooden door remains. The fort has sat dormant for years, eventually vacated for more grown-up occupations. But once upon a time, it held the rapt attention of several flushed-faced young boys wielding hammers and saws, building a place to call their own.

Finally, I will pass the upstairs bedroom which once held our last baby crib. If I close my eyes tightly, I'm sure I can still imagine the sweet scent of baby powder.

Is a house simply some physical structure in which portions of our life play out? Or is it more? Is it our memory-keeper, our field of dreams?

On the day I leave here for the last time, I will commit this all to memory--the images of our lives which took place in every room, every hall, every inch of the yard.

And once I know I can take all of that with me, I will tell myself I'm ready to move on.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Top Ten Musings While Dog-Walking

10) If we installed outdoor dishwashers next to grills, would all these guys do the dishes too?

9) Shopping List: milk, cheese, bread, beer, George Clooney lookalike.

8) OMG! That cloud looks exactly like Sarah Palin hoisting a shotgun!

7) Six kids at once on a trampoline? If people needed a license to have kids, how many would be revoked?

6) Scientific Observation: The volume of a dog's bladder corresponds directly to the exact number of fence posts and bushes he passes.

5) And now I have to pee, too. Wonder if anyone would notice if I dropped trou right here on the path?

4) If was wearing makeup, black spandex shorts and a sports bra, I would totally look as good as that woman who just sprinted past me for the third time.

3) Hate heat! Hate humidity! Hate rain! Hate wind! Hate cold! Hate snow! Rather enjoy complaining.

2) I'll bet some of those women on Wife Swap secretly wish they could keep their temporary family.

1) Park levies would be more likely to pass if parks provided margarita fountains.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reigning Cats and Dogs

Each morning, I rise and survey my kingdom. "All hail Sherry," I proclaim, "Queen of the Castle!"

And then my cats convulse in laughter.

Who am I kidding? Surely not my household menagerie. I haven't ruled in this house since I brought home my first set of feline furballs thirteen years ago. Just a year later, in yet another characteristically weak moment, I welcomed two more.

Early on, it became clear the crown of royalty belonged to Tiger. Sure, Cubby fought a helluva political race. But hers was a dirty campaign--filled with threats, intimidation tactics, and empty promises.

Tiger showed us he'd rule with a combination of strength and kindness. He kissed the babies, learned to make peace with potential enemies (AKA the new puppy Ringo), and remained stoic and calm amidst the most turbulent and combative conditions. As a result, he was loved and respected by all.

World leaders could learn much from Tiger.

When Tiger passed on to the Great Litterbox Beyond, the kingdom fell into chaos. Who would lead this nation of pets, along with their subservient vendor of food, treats and soft beds?

Neither in the second set of cat twins (AKA the Scaredy Cats) were contenders for the throne. So would it be Ringo, the affable Golden Retriever-Mix? Certainly he had the edge in size and physical power. But he had learned the pecking order in the cat colony from early on in his puppyhood. Besides, it's difficult to muster respect for someone whose idea of a dinnertime delicacy is frozen poopsicles from the back yard.

Cubby's green eyes glinted with anticipation of her impending power. Surely the crown would finally be hers.

And then the new furball arrived.

The newcomer evoked sympathy from those who knew his sad background: an undersized orphan, living on the streets, surviving on hand-outs. A timid outsider who could voice his needs only through a passive squeak. He simply needed to be understood and accepted in order to be a participating, though clearly subordinate, member of this society.

Some leaders, like Tiger (God bless his feline soul), are elected. Others are self-appointed.

It took us only months to realize that the crown in our kingdom had passed--unwittingly--to little Lennon.

Ironic, of course, that we named the kitten for a songwriter who embraced world peace. Lennon the Cat's view on peace was distinctly different from his namesake's. And his leadership style proved to be distinctly different from his predecessor.

Oh, how the other cats now cower and run in his very presence! He delights in their fear. He revels in their vulnerability. He basks in his hostile dominance--especially of Cubby.

If I could only rename this tiny kitten. "Napoleon" comes to mind.

Somehow, despite his frightful dictatorship, he's managed to acquire a single comrade. Ringo the Dog adores him. And the adoration appears to be mutual. They're cuddled together, on the couch, at this very moment.

Strange, this alliance that's been established in our little kingdom.

Yet maybe not so surprising, Ringo's taste in best friends.

After all, his taste in backyard dining isn't so impeccable either.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Birthday to Truly Celebrate

I have a birthday next month. It's not a big one. I had a big one nine years ago. I have an even bigger one next year.

At this particular age, I view birthdays as being "had," not as being "celebrated." Even so, my mother informed me this week--more than a year in advance--that she and my sisters plan to throw me a party in 2011. The unspoken assumption was that I'd attend.

I politely declined. I told her I'd rather take a raincheck. One that could be used, say, forty years from now.

So, let me take this moment to cordially invite all of you to my ninetieth birthday party! Please save the date--October 25, 2051.

No need to RSVP. It's likely I won't know if you're there or not. I may not know where I am either, but I plan to have one bodacious good time.

If you don't recognize me, just look for the four-foot-tall, prune-faced woman in the strapless red dress and eff-me heels. Or else in a floral shift and bunny slippers. I'm ninety. I'll wear whatever I damn well want, thank you.

No gifts, please. Instead, I ask that all guests purchase Xeroxed copies of one of my unpublished manuscripts. These will be personally signed by the author, of course, although I may need some assistance with the inscriptions. ("What was your name again, honey? Oh, yes, you're one of my children, aren't you? Uh-huh. And what is my name?")

I can't spend my entire evening signing autographs though. I will be too busy doing tequila shots. At ninety, I figure I can rekindle all those bad behaviors I left behind long ago in my wayward youth. If someone passes a doobie, I'll probably take a hit or two.

I will eat an entire bowl of dill pickle potato chips and two pieces of chocolate cake for dinner. No one will blink an eye. If anyone dares to, I will growl, "What the hell's wrong with you, sonny? Quit staring and go get me another tequila shot!"

I will kiss all the babies and all the good-looking men in the crowd. I may invite the hottest guy there back to my private room--in the nursing home--later.

Who knew there was so much to look forward to, in our golden years?

If you want in on the festivities, please leave your name in the comments section. My mom's already compiling the invitation list. She does like to plan ahead. She promises to bring enough tequila for everyone. But the dill pickle potato chips? Those are mine, and I'm not sharing. I'll be ninety, and I shouldn't be expected to share with anyone.

Bring your own damn chips.

Wow, ninety is so totally liberating.

And I bet I'll look great in that strapless red dress and a pair of bunny slippers.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Contemplating Happiness

We hadn't talked--not really talked--in a long while.

Much had transpired in both our lives.

We relay our stories, in between drinks and admiring glances at family photos pulled from our purses. As we each listen to the other's tales, we nod. Some stories elicit grins. Others cause one to draw in a breath and grasp the other's hand.

Life elicits a myriad of responses. Years condensed into one dinner outing encompass them all.

"So, are you happy?" one finally asks the other.

"Happy? I don't know." A pause. "Are you?"

The one simple question grows into an hour of contemplation. Because what is happiness?

Does happiness mean we wake each morning, eagerly anticipating both the expectations and the uncertainties of the day?

Does happiness mean our everyday activities provide us satisfaction?

Does happiness mean our loved ones bring us joy?

Does happiness mean we bring joy to others?

Does happiness mean we feel productive and somehow valuable?

Does happiness mean we can manage to laugh?

Does happiness mean that, amidst anything else, we retain hope? Or faith?

It's a broad and vague term, this idea of happiness. Meaning such different things to different people. Its connotations change even for ourselves, at varying times in our life. Something we once thought would ensure our happiness isn't, one day, enough. Something we never before dreamed might bring us contentment can unexpectedly make us sigh, and say, "Yes. This is good."

"Are you happy?" Neither of us truly answers the question tonight.

But before we leave, heading back to the comforts and the challenges of each of our lives, we smile and embrace each other. It is good.

And we realize that, maybe, happiness should be measured by an accumulation of single moments like this.