Thursday, July 31, 2008

"In my mother's house..."

"...I am
A prodigal daughter
But in my wandering
I have found
There is
A wideness in mercy
And there'll always be
A place for me
In my mother's house..."

-     Kate Campbell

I've written quite a lot this summer about my camp "home", not because it is more important, but because it was easier somehow.  But there is a place as deep as the sea and as full of history as the Smithsonian for me.  It is in my mother's house. 

My mother doesn't live in the same house I grew up in.  Anyone who has read this blog knows that I have lived in as many houses as the number of years as I have been on this planet.  Fifty-four houses in fifty-four years, and although my mom grew up on a shady street in a wonderful old family home in Bergen County, New Jersey, she too has moved constantly since I was born. 

But no matter how many houses she has lived in, no matter how different their styles, layouts, number of floors or  bedrooms, my mother's house always feels
exactly the same to me.  My mother's house is always my favorite place to be.

This summer, after more than three years of her living in a town that was not easy to get to…although we would see one another at my sister's more centrally-located home…my mom is back in the mountains near Denver and, more importantly,  is on my path from here to camp and back. 

She moved just before the girls and I were to drive out to camp this summer, and we were so excited to be able to go and stay overnight with her on our way.  We arrived just before midnight after driving for over 13 hours, and although the girls practically stumbled into their little "beds" in the loft, I was unable to sleep.  I was so happy to be surrounded by my childhood.  The Russian nesting dolls I hadn't seen for three years, the jar of assorted antique silver spoons by the tea kettle, the quilts and satin ribbon-bordered wool blankets that had covered us as children, were all there. 

My mother's house carries the scent of lavender and almond oil, cedar-stored wool and old photographs.  Her bathroom, just like the bathrooms of each of her daughters, is filled with treasures from long walks along the ocean…jars of beach glass, translucent shells, and walls painted in shades of sand and sea. 

And however much I love the warmth of her kitchen with its cobalt blue and white dishtowels, pottery from Provence or Portugal, and thick mismatched hand blown Mexican water glasses…waiting to be filled with lemonade, ice tea and sprigs of fresh mint…it is my mother's bedroom that captivates me and pulls me in.

My mother's bedroom is a treasure trove of childhood memories.  Each of her eight children, and eleven grandchildren, are equally represented by photographs, hand-made cards, and letters written on yellowing sheet of manila paper covered in crayoned images of dogs and cats and houses with lollipop trees and rainbows that span dozens of cerulean skies.  Each of us can find our own photo album filled with grinning grade school snapshots, hideous prom dresses captured on deckle-edged kodachrome, and the faces of forgotten old boyfriends whose names no longer bring tears of heartache.

As the oldest of eight, my mother's bedroom was a sanctuary I ached to share with her as I was growing up.  Time alone under patchwork quilts and plumped up eiderdown pillows cased in linens so soft and cool they felt like the silky skin on the back of her hand, was a gift beyond measure. 

That night though, she - and her bedroom - were all mine.  After I let my white cotton nightgown float down over my shoulders and joined her between crisp sheets under layers of quilts…the mountain air wafting across us as we smoothed rich lotion on our feet and elbows…as she had done - and taught us to do - each night as long as I can remember, I felt happy and at peace.  I was at home in my mother's house.

We talked about nothing and everything.  We looked through magazines…Oprah, Real Simple, Coastal, old issues of National Geographic…pointing out to one another a pretty paint color on a wall in a photograph or a mouth-watering recipe, an upholstery fabric on a chair or a beach we'd like to visit someday in Fiji.   It didn't matter that it was three in the morning and I was on my way to camp where I would be working 24/7 for the next four weeks.  I had mom and her bedroom all to myself…it was enough of heaven on earth.  I could sleep some other decade.

Sometime between the deep darkness of four AM and the soft blue of dawn we both fell asleep, magazines open on the quilts between us, our reading glasses somewhere catawampus (my mother's word) near our eyes, and our white hair blending on the soft white linen pillow slips that smelled of lavender and almond oil.

There is a statement, found in an article called "Place" that has been attributed to Mary Baker Eddy, "The place you are seeking is seeing you...". The attribution has long been disputed, but the statement remains a favorite of mine. I love that idea that the very place that I am seeking me. It is looking for me to come around the corner and snuggle down into it's warm kitchen and spread my arms and dance on its wide front porch. But I especially love thinking about how blessed any "place" is to have my mother unpack her boxes within its rooms and hang her photos on its walls. That "place" must say to itself, "I hope she stays forever...I've never felt so loved...I've never looked so beautiful..."

I made two more trips back to my mother's house before driving back home across Kansas this summer.  Each visit was like a balm from heaven.  Every moment spent surrounded by her sense of color and pattern, the scent of old photographs and cedar-stored linens, the softness of her skin and the sound of her laughter was a much treasured gift to an oldest daughter who
always wanted one more moment alone with her at night when the house was quiet and the rest of the children were asleep.  This summer I got three whole nights…what a blessed girl I am.

I love you momma…


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