Monday, October 10, 2011

Musing on home and other things

When Shawn and I moved from our married-student-housing apartment at the University of Minnesota to our first apartment in central New York, and then from that apartment to our first house, it was surprising how the continuity of "stuff" created a sense of home. Constant through all these moves was an old basement sofa my parents had donated to us when we first married. Olive tweed, long, sturdy, it lasted through my mother's married life and much of mine. Currently it sits in our garage, awaiting a ride to the dump. The upholstery is shot, but it is still as sturdy and well constructed as ever. I wish I knew how to reupholster. Every time I open the garage door to put something into a recycling bin, I see that old sofa and I feel a pang. Memories are hard for me to dump.

There were a few things... certain wall hangings we received as wedding gifts, that sofa, the WWII army footlocker that we used as a coffee table for so many years. We'd get to a new place, and we'd unpack these things, and suddenly it seemed familiar, "ours."

Shannon's new apartment is like that, somehow. Her room at home is different now, but with her bookshelf and her desk in place, her apartment feels homey. We also took her the dresser she used when she was a little girl. Someone had donated it to us, and Shawn and I stripped it, stained it and replaced the hardware. It was one of our projects, back in the day. At a certain point we replaced it, but I kept it in the basement and filled it up with craft supplies. In honor of Shannon, I cleaned out the drawers and packed it along to her new place. It's a little piece of the olden days, standing in the corner of her bedroom.

It felt good to be at Shannon's a week and a half ago. It felt like home, like another home, another place in the world where I actually belong. I think feeling at home has something to do with being allowed into a refrigerator. You are not truly at home unless you can open up the refrigerator and get out the makings of breakfast or lunch.

Recently, Shannon wrote, "I catch myself calling two different places home, now. It's kind of odd - almost like a mental break. I still have home programmed into my GPS as New York, and I can't bring myself to change that. What do you do when going home means two different things? I think it's just out of convenience that I refer to this apartment as home. It's faster than saying 'I'm going back to my apartment.' People seem to understand."

That resonated with me, caught as I am in New York while never having stopped feeling that Minnesota was my home. In today's world, "home" becomes so fragmented, a splintering concept that disperses in all directions as family members move farther and farther from one another.

When Shawn and I arrived at our first apartment here in CNY, it was July and we didn't have much more than a shower curtain. A day later, the moving truck pulled up and we arranged our stuff, made it home, and settled in.

I remembered our first NY apartment while we were at Shannon's, because they have not turned on the heat on in her building. This reminded me that they didn't turn the heat on in our first apartment building until (I think) October 1. Maybe it was November 1. We froze.

Shannon had been freezing in her apartment, too. It was about 57 degrees (inside) the evening we arrived. Her apartment handbook says, "The heat will be turned on in the early fall and off again in the late spring." I'm not sure what constitutes "early fall" but I suppose they are purposefully vague. We piled on the blankets that night and awoke to a nippy morning which we combated with hot tea, hot coffee and hot baths. Oddly, the pipe to the shower-head doesn't seem to pull much hot water, so you are better off's a fantastic, giant, cast-iron tub. Shannon has the blue checkered shower curtain that graced the kids' bathroom upstairs until we remodeled this past year. Another shout-out to familiarity... I love familiar things.

Later, Shawn and I left Shannon studying for her organometallic chemistry exam and went for a walk. The day had warmed up to about 80, and I found myself shedding layers as we clipped along.

We decided we'd better tell Shannon to open some windows and let the warmth in, so we headed back up the hill. In front of a large gray house with curving concrete steps, a gray squirrel busied himself ravishing an oak tree. There were so many acorn treasures, he was quite overcome with joy. He leapt along with a huge tuft of oak leaf sprouting from his mouth; curling green foliage sprigged up one side, and a nutty brown cluster of acorns hung down the other.

Back in the apartment building, icy air hit us like a blast of air conditioning. We helped Shannon open up the windows. By then the afternoon sun was shining in too, so before long we warmed up luxuriously.

We walked to our favorite burger place for dinner. To get there, one must cross a town square. Through the center lies a grassy village green, and along the west side (or maybe the north side?) three churches stand in a row -- modern, liberal, main-line churches. Along the road, buses continually pull up in front of the churches to pick up and drop off riders. The many park benches, presumably placed for the convenience of bus riders, overflow with tired, sad, economically-depressed people. Some people get on and off the buses, while others huddle together beneath newspapers, trying to find some comfort in a wearisome world. Belligerent, grammatically and vocabularily challenged youths cavort on skateboards and do their best to block foot traffic. And just beyond all this, a pricey wedding spilled out of one of the churches. Formal black tuxedos, posh golden bridesmaids' dresses and white, feathered flower arrangements, a bride and a flower girl adorned with the latest and greatest NYC fashions, all posed for photos among distinguished family members and friends. The party was beautiful, and so were the church and the park. I am sure that the photographer strategically aimed her shots away from the buses and the street people. I thought how different the photos would look from the view we got as we walked down the sidewalk. A photo frame is a powerful thing.

In the restaurant, business was hopping. Since every table was full, the host invited us to sit in three chairs around the corner of the bar. Of course, this infuriated the bartender, as we had no intention of buying drinks. But he sucked it up pretty well and let us have water and Coke while we watched Notre Dame kill the Air Force Academy and waited for our food. A solitary lady next to me spread out her reading material and picked at her plate, a colorful melange of lettuce, tomato and other unidentifiable but eye-catching substances. She approached her glass of beer with infinitesimal sips. Her elbow crowded me, and I wished she would hurry up, finish her dinner and leave. But then I realized that it was a Saturday night, and she was all alone in the middle of that loud, crowded place, all alone dragging out her meal while pretending to read newsprint. When the bartender took away her not-nearly-empty-but-stagnating plate, she folded up her reading material and got out her phone, proceeding to read through old text messages and emails until she couldn't make the beer last any longer. And then I felt sorry for her. I was so happy to be with Shannon and Shawn, laughing, catching up, trading stories.

The next day we went to church, and then we did some shopping. Back once more, our arms loaded with packages from the store, we approached the steps to the apartment building only to see two squirrels cavorting in the sunshine. One was a normal looking squirrel, big and bushy. The other one was tiny. Are there baby squirrels around in October? The big squirrel ducked into the shrubbery as we approached, but the little one stood on the step, quivering, nervous, hopeful. I have never been so close to a squirrel before. His face was as wistful as Schubert's. Shannon thought he must want some food and sent Shawn in to get a piece of bread. The little guy peered up at us, as cute as a puppet or a cartoon drawing (and if you know anything about my hatred of rodents, you know that this one was excessively cute if even I thought so). We could see the varied colors in his facial hair--brown, gray, white--his small black eyes, and his upside-down Y of a mouth. His feet and hands were huge in relation to his body, with long fingers and finger-like toes. But they weren't icky the way DJ says the rat paws are in the lab where he works. They were innocent and almost duck-like, maybe because they were just so huge in proportion to his little body. Anyway, now I understand how squirrels climb across power lines. Our little guy couldn't quite decide what to do. He seemed frightened but not terrified, shaking, hopping towards us a half-a-hop and then finally darting away into the shrubbery after his companion. Shawn said that perhaps someone else has been feeding him and taming him. I hope there are no cats around those apartments, or he'll be a goner very soon.

So that was our visit to Shannon. We left DJ and Jon alone and Jon got locked out of the house for the better part of Sunday, but I am not going to write about it. It ended OK, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

I felt at home at Shannon's. She has a black futon rather than our old tweed sofa (the one that awaits its demise in our garage), but the futon makes a much more hospitable resting place for Shawn and me. It folds down into a very comfortable bed. And home is also a place where you can get a good night's sleep.

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