We are now a month into a major transition at our house. My son has started college at UMSL (University of MO-St. Louis) and has moved into his dad's house, which is a stone's throw from campus (and only about five miles from me). He moved for a variety of reasons, including spending more time with his dad, needing to feel like he was really "going away" to college, and needing to be close to campus in the probable event that his 14-year-old car breaks down.
I suspect that his father's much more lenient approach to household rules also played into his decision. I don't blame him for that. In fact, I was the same way at his age, itching to get out of the house and away from my mother's ridiculous rigidity, but just because I understand it doesn't mean I was willing to back down and let him stay out all night or throw loud parties in my basement.
The move has been amazingly more complex than I would have imagined. He moved some things to his dad's house, left some things in storage in the basement here, and together we packed up a lot of stuff for Goodwill. Of course, I cried through a lot of that, and even today, when I walk past something in the grocery store that I would not buy for myself but that he loved, I can still get a bit teary.
Now that his move is done, the other part of the transition has started. My daughter, who had been away at college for four years and who we expected to be moving to Los Angeles has unexpectedly (and delightedly, for me) decided to stay put in St. Louis for a bit. She is a writer (here is her blog), so she has settled into her brother's room to write her first novel. Until he had finished moving out, she was living partly in my room, partly in the basement, and partly in the dining room, so both moves have resulted in a much less cluttered home, and the joy that brings me is not insignificant (and just in time for the fall holidays too).
I had fully expected to be living the life of an empty nester this fall, so these changes, unanticipated a year ago, have led me to rethink a few things. For one, I'm eating more of the foods I like since I no longer have to spend so much time cooking for a teenage boy with limited culinary interests. For another, I have a young roommate who has grown out of the habit of cleaning up after herself (four years of college living will do that to you) but who likes to watch the same kinds of TV and movies I do and, even better, likes to talk about them afterwards.
I also have a desk to sell, but that requires a bit more storytelling. When my daughter was three years old, I quit working to be a stay-at-home mother. I was very excited about this big change in our lives, but I was also worried about losing my intellectual and professional self to be a full-time mommy. I planned to do a lot more writing, so what was needed, I decided, was a desk. A space of my own. I started looking in the newspaper ads (this was the pre-Craigslist era) and finally found one for $75 that sounded like it would meet my needs. I went to look at it before borrowing a truck and rounding up some mover friends, and what I found was actually quite amazing.
The desk was huge (and heavy, I admit, five moves later), but the woman selling it had an extremely familiar face, one I had seen recently. On the phone, she called herself Mona Thurston, but as soon as she opened the door, I blurted out: "You're Mona Van Duyn!" Mona was a local poet and I had seen her give a reading just two weeks before, so her face was fresh in my memory. This was 20 years ago, and she was old then, but a few months after I purchased her desk (how could I not!), she was named Poet Laureate of the United States. She was the first woman to hold the post (and actually only the sixth ever, the post being somewhat recently established - see the link for more history) and the second St. Louisan, after Howard Nemerov. (This region has a long literary history - both T.S. Eliot and William Burroughs were born here - and a strong, world-renowned community of poets so the St. Louis component should not be surprising.)
I'm sure Mona was as surprised to see a poetry fan at her door as I was to see her opening the door. As we were moving the desk out a few days later, I mentioned that I was starting a new stay-at-home career and that I hoped to do more writing, and it seemed to please her that her old desk was finding a new home with a another writer. I never saw Mona again - she died in 2004 - but I have felt her spirit with me over the years, and her desk has stayed with me and inspired me, even though it has been a monster to move and has largely, in recent years, become a magnet for clutter. However, at this point in my life and writing career, I do most of my work on a laptop computer, in a rocking chair, so it's time to let another writer's spirit find a home with my and Mona's huge, old, green metal desk. I'm sure she would approve. I am posting a picture here, but buyer be warned: My garage is overrun with STUFF, so getting close enough to get a good shot (again) was impossible. From the picture, it looks like there are some rusty spots so it may need to be painted, but seriously, if you will give me $5, and move it, it's yours!!
These last two items are heavy (the buyer must remove them) and I don't expect them to produce enough revenue to buy dog food, but it is important to me that they find a good home, that I get to move on, and that I do not have to move them again.
I also have two or three 20-gallon tubs full of record albums. I have great taste in music so you will find some amazing things in this collection. Alas, the covers may not be in great shape, but if you've always wanted an original copy of George Harrison's orange, boxed "Concert for Bangladesh," look no further.
So, if you're interested, send me an email: email@example.com, and I promise not to talk your head off about the history of these items (that's what this post was for) or my kids or politics or movies or anything else other than the stuff I have to sell.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
In exactly a week, I will attend my high school reunion. It is our 35th. If that seems like an odd year to celebrate, you should know that since our 20th, we have met every five years. Apparently, we genuinely like each other.
People who have moved to the St. Louis region from other parts of the country seem stymied when they are asked where they went to high school. Contrary to popularly expressed opinion, I don’t think we ask this question to assess each other’s socioeconomic backgrounds. I think it’s because we tend to connect with others starting with which football team we cheered for as teenagers and continuing with how many kids we have, where we like to vacation, and which coffee shops we frequent. For St. Louisans, asking a new acquaintance about their high school is a starting point in a conversation about community.
I realize that for many people, high school is a memory they would like to obliterate. To be sure, there were popular kids in our school who were both resented and admired. As time has passed, however, those distinctions have become largely lost to memory. As for bullies, I’m sure they existed, as they always have, but I have no idea who they were. I tend to think we were nicer to each other than my children’s generation is, but that too may be a measure of diminished memory.
I sometimes wonder if the era in which my classmates and I started our high school education had something to do with how well we get along today. It was 1972. We grew up seeing war and riots on the evening news every night. Social unrest was the language of our childhood. We were literally the children of the 60s. Martin Luther King was more than just the name on a holiday to us.
We entered high school just as the racial issues that had plagued our school district were dying down. We spent four years together, walking the halls, sitting in the quadrangle, going to homecoming dances and football games, and generally just being kids together. When we graduated, our class was down-the-middle, 50/50, black and white. It never occurred to me that our experience was not the norm, but it has influenced my belief that integrated education is the best way to overcome our nation’s racial divide. Spending my formative years in such a diverse environment taught me to see race very differently from the way my parents’ generation did. When I see a black person, I just see a person.
When I entered middle school (when did we stop calling it junior high?), the first real friend I made was Janice Hollis. She was the smart, funny black girl who sat in front of me in math class. She has recently reminded me that we first met at the bus stop, where we discovered we were both “new” kids on the block. I had come from a Lutheran school, so this was my first public school experience, and she had come from another school district. We have now been friends for 41 years.
Just as so many other Americans have done, many of my classmates (Normandy High School, Class of ’76) have reconnected on Facebook, but even before our generation stole that social networking goldmine away from our kids, my high school classmates were getting together every five years. Janice has spearheaded many of those reunions, including this year’s, because in addition to (still) being smart and funny, she is also a great planner.
So, in a little over a week, we will get together at Cardwells in Clayton to eat, dance, and be merry. We will show off pictures of grandkids this time around and talk about our empty-nester vacation plans. We will welcome many classmates back who have moved to faraway states. Hugs and cameras will be everywhere. We will take a minute out of our reverie to silently remember the classmates who are no longer with us.
The ties that bind us, fused in an era marked by assassinations and protest, connect us, but they are not all that we are. New generations, 35 years of history, a changing world, and personal stories of loss and growth too intricate to explain in paragraphs, are part of who we are too. And it’s all part of the conversation that started so many years ago and that continues when we reunite next week, as a class, as a community, as friends.