Sunday, January 10, 2010

1: A Message at Midnight

My father's mother was a wealthy woman with stocks and bonds, a new car and blue hair. She had been born just before the turn of the last century and died in the mid '60's when I was 21.

We called her Mother Catherine.
Last night, I awoke from a dream with detailed images of her house fresh in my mind. I laid in the dark, retracing my steps through each room. Something about the rooms seemed to be significant and it took me a while to figure out what. I recalled the oriental carpets on hardwood floors, the mahogany furniture, the meticulous cleanliness and tidiness to a fault, but none of those things quite measured up to the unknown significance that I knew was locked in my mind...somewhere.

About the time I gave up and rolled over to doze off again, it hit me. It was the simplicity, though not in a modern, minimalist sense. Her fabrics were heavy brocades, her carpets expensive orientals and her George III furniture, though not fussy, was a long way from sleek. It was a matter of the little 'decor' things she had, or more accurately, didn't have. Two small paintings, purchased on a trip to Italy, hung over a small sewing cabinet in the entry, a moderately large print hung over the sofa. On the mantle was a clock with a mirror above. The dining room buffet displayed a soup tureen and two candle sticks. Her bedroom contained a double bed with a cedar lined chest at the foot and matching bedside tables with a clock on one, an upholstered, slipper-style rocking chair and a side table. There was a tall chest of drawers and a long dresser.

It reads like a list from a furniture store and one would wonder what in the world was remarkable about it. What kept nagging at me just below the level of consciousness? I thought of the furniture store displays of bedrooms with their lovely throws draped casually across the foot of the bed and mountains of pillows. I thought of the ornate boxes that sit upon dressers and the books set askew on bedside tables and the decorative vases and massive floral displays and knick knacks and framed photos.

But that was a furniture display. It was not Mother Catherine's. Above her bed was a painting, on each of the tables, a lamp. The dresser was adorned with a silver hairbrush and comb and hand mirror and that was it...not just for the dresser but for the entire room.

I thought about that for a while in the darkness of my sleep-disturbed night. I thought of other bedrooms I had known half a century beat friend's parents when I was 12, my favorite aunts (and there were many). I thought back to my own room when I was first married and realized that it was not a 'Mother Catherine' thing at all. It was just the way 'it' was.

Back then, money was spent on things that would last, on sturdy furniture of good woods and fine or at least sturdy fabrics. Our best dishes were china. Our glasses were crystal and our candlesticks were actually silver. There was a pride and a permanence, not only within our homes but within ourselves. It's not that life back then was simple. Life is always filled with the unexpected, but it was uncluttered, tidy and clean. We knew who we were and what we stood for and our homes were a reflection of that.

As all this rolled around in my head, I sat up and turned on the light. There on my bedside table and across the room to the dresser was all the glitz and busy-ness of today's furniture store displays...a few things of sentimental value mixed with massive quantities of meaningless items that just happen to be the right size or color to complete a vignette.

I laughed to myself knowing that dusting is a nightmare and I can't remember the last time surfaces were waxed. But I remembered my delight at finally having everything 'just so'...and then I realized that, in no time at all, my perfectly decorated 'this' and 'that' had simply ceased to exist for me. It's like moving to the beach or to a place with heavy traffic noise. For a while, the sounds seem so loud they keep you awake at night but in no time they become so much a part of your environment that you don't notice them at all.

Today, I'm struggling with the meaning of my midnight foray. Is it that I need to divest myself of so many 'things' or that I just need to dust more often?

I'm reminded of a time when 'things' put my family in jeopardy. The economy had turned sour and my job was tentative at best. Then joblessness actually hit, not only me but for 10% to 20% of the nation, depending on location. We were out west and I would have moved home to Florida but couldn't afford to ship our significant quantity of 'things'. I decided we would camp for a time in a neighboring state, less affected by the recession, while I made some employment inquiries.

In our absence, as we were camping in a tent, everything we owned was lost to fire. It was a horrible thing. I cried. The children cried. And for months after, we would be brought again to tears when we would remember yet one more thing that was lost to us forever. As the shock of our loss began to settle in, I realized that our belongings had held us captive and the fire had set us to get on a plane and go home, a recognizable starting point so that we could begin again.

I thought I had learned a valuable lesson from that period of unemployment and loss and homelessness and that I would never look at 'things' the same way again. I thought the fire had taught me true value and that I had mentally prioritized the important elements in my life, my children and health topping the list. Yes, that was 30 years ago and perhaps my relapse happened gradually over a great deal of time. But I lost the lesson, none the less.

And now I know why I had the dream and why my mind would not let go of the curiosity and of my wakeful wandering through the memories of Mother Catherine's house. Last night, just before bed, my youngest daughter and I were chatting online and I asked her if, considering the eclectic nature of my blog, she thought it might be appropriate to begin a series on preparedness. It was just a question in passing and her answer was, "Why not?" I had been thinking about preparedness because I live in the Florida panhandle, just a little north of the Gulf where a volcanic flow of oil is still erupting and we are, after all, in hurricane season. I live in the woods and our weather has been fire-hazard dry. Prices are going up and my income remains static.

Even so, my mornings begin with a relaxing cup of coffee on the porch watching and listening to the world around me come to life. Birds begin their twittering, squirrels their scampering and from somewhere in the distance, a mystery rooster crows his own "Good Morning." My day is filled with ordinary thoughts and ordinary tasks. I do not think the sky is falling or lose sleep over some unidentified, impending disaster. For 30 years, resting comfortably in the back of my mind has been the knowledge that I learned my lesson well and could and would survive just about anything. Now, I realize that once again, I've allowed myself to be held captive by 'things'.

If there were a fire, what would I save first? How long would it take and where would I find it? Treasured photographs are all over the place. Are bank and insurance records more important? Good grief! What has happened to me? For 15 years in Alaska, I could answer those questions. I was prepared for almost anything, from a sudden earthquake to an approaching forest fire, even to living semi-comfortably with no electricity.

I began with a midnight visit to Mother Catherine's house and ended with the realization that I need to get my own house in order. I need to revisit my preparedness plans. As I do, I will post them on the blog.


Cheap Web Hosting said...

SL killed that link when they shut down OnRez. You can find a list of other mirrors in the first post of the sticky template thread in the texturing tips section of the SL forums. Just ignore the first one since it's that same dead OnRez link. You can also get 512x512 versions from the downloads section of the SL site.

Alerts Burnett said...