This house contains the things that I have collected and care about, or think I need. It is not too big or too small, though if I had less, I would need a smaller house. What I have collected is not all of my choosing. I have my mother's collections (antique quilts and French Quimper), and some of my mother-in-law's collection (hand stitched flannel baby quilts and Scottish china), and some of my husband's aunt's collections (souvenir silver spoons and commemorative Christmas bells). I house my son's baseball card collection, although he no longer lives here. His room is in tact, as he visits often. I have organized and stored my husband's enormous hat collection, along with his collection of golf related items: balls, tees, divot repair tools, old and new golf clubs. My daughters have removed some of their collections of things, though there are still boxes of photographs, records, books, and memorabilia in the basement and attic. So what is here that is mine? There are many see-through plastic drawers that hold yarn and needles, both knitting and crochet: yarn of all colors and textures, although there are more pastels represented, more light weight soft baby yarn. There are shelves of knitting books and magazines, and notebooks full of patterns organized as to type – more child and baby than adult. I have a large collection of books, organized according to type: books on child raising and children's books, books on poetry and spirituality, novels (both fiction and non-fiction), financial books, books on travel, Kovell's antiques and collector books, health books, and books on writing. I have various collections of antiques: toys and dolls, banks, and vintage kitchenware, and textile weavings.
My family consists of my husband, three adult children, and two dogs. My extended family includes my oldest daughter's husband and her five children, my middle daughter's husband and her three children. My son is single. My children, for they will always be my children, all live no farther than two hours away. I am grateful to be surrounded by my family. My parents and my husband's parents are dead. My older sister shares a summer home with me. My oldest sister died when she was three, before I got to know her. Still, she was always there with us, a shadow or an ache in the room, you couldn't quite touch, but knew was there. Family defines who I am, those present and those gone.
My work life began as a second grade teacher. I taught for two years before my first child arrived. After that I was a stay-at-home mom, but still managed to keep one foot outside the door, by fostering newborn infants. My focus, though intensely homebound, never failed to take note of the misery outside my door. It seeped in through the nightly news, the telephone, my open front door, and begged to be taken in. It took it's toll, all this reaching out and scooping up, but at no other point in my life did I feel such deep personal satisfaction: warm, satiated bundles of wiggling wide-eyed love. ****** Family dynamics change as children become adults with children, as elders become more child-like. Needs are just as great, but differ in intensity, and are multi-layered with the years lived and more complex, as the number of people multiplies. One daughter wants things never to change, the other wants things just the same. Are the memories accurate or fabricated to meet each person's individual need? Does all this looking back matter in the present? How do we build for the future, without dragging the past behind us? Is it possible to lighten the load?
I spent many years employed as a respite worker for families with children with disabilities. Now I was a part of someone else's family, a family in great need of extra help. I slipped in as an outside care provider and became a trusted member of the family, close enough for tears to mingle in an anguished embrace. I washed and cleaned, sorted and folded, toileted and exercised, taught and mourned. Two of my little ones never saw their third birthday. Then the day came when I was no longer needed; I experienced a loss of another kind.
The house is quiet most of the time now, except for the dogs. God bless the dogs. They bark and whine and jump up with instant joy and anticipation, even the old one, Angel. She limps on her lame back leg, howls at the bottom of the stairs at night, no longer able to climb the stairs and sleep with us. I cradle her 60 lbs in my arms and lift her onto the sofa. I stay with her, alone in the dark, and stroke her back, until she stretches out in complete relaxation, then mount the stairs and go to bed.
Work is writing. Work is loving and caring for my grand daughter each week. Work is weaving the two and everything else together, not giving up one for another. My life's work is a crooked, imperfect woven tapestry that has clothed and fed me well. But it has rough unfinished patches I still need to tend to. It has holes I need to fill.
This house consumes me, eats me for dinner at night. Each day I carefully care and feed it, clean and organize it, shop and buy for it. At night I fall into bed, lessened by it. A mere morsel of myself arises to begin the process again the next morning. I string my beads with no knot at the end.
My family doesn't ask that much of me. Not now. It is I who make the assumptions. It is I who offer all of myself up on a platter. "Here, this is all for you."
Marcia Cook © 2009