Monthly Archives: January 2018

Reflections on a Life

The first time I saw her she was 5-and-a-bit, exactly the same age as I was. We’d just moved out of the apartment on Mountain Street and into our new home on Heine Avenue. I didn’t pay much attention to her at first. She was just there. It wasn’t until the trouble years started that I began to take more notice of her.

The trouble years started when I was about thirteen. I was always a volatile child, at least as far as I remember or what I was told. But once I turned thirteen it got much worse. My parents laughed about it in later years, although the laughter always seemed to be tinged with caution. They never knew when I would fly into a rage, or what would set me off.

I don’t remember what made me go to her that first time, but I remember standing in front of her, talking to her about whatever (seemed) injustice I’d just been dealt. She had stories too. Her mother was demanding (so was mine!), she had few friends (me too), her father didn’t understand why she loved to read so much (same with me).

I’d look past her, though her doorway, into her house and think how much more calm and quiet it seemed. She said the same about mine.

Maybe her mother was not as demanding as mine was. Maybe we could change places, just for a while, just to get away from the anger (our own and the anger that was directed at us). Would anyone know? Would anyone care?

The first time we exchanged places it was like stepping into another world, at least for me. I don’t know what it was like for her. I saw her mother, who looked like my mother, in a different way than I’d ever seen my mother. Maybe it was because her mother was a stranger to me and strangers don’t yell at other people’s daughters.

The house felt brighter, more dimensional, happy, carefree, loving, kind.

That first time, we didn’t stay long in each other’s houses. We looked around, we talked to each other’s mother and young brother then returned to our own homes, refreshed, calmer than before the exchange.

Through the following years we did the exchange/switch scores of times, each time staying longer and longer in each other’s world even if we hadn’t just had a fight with our mothers.

Eventually, gradually, we no longer needed to switch. The fights with our mothers slowed down, our brothers quit annoying us so much. We got jobs, went to college, moved out of the house on Heine Avenue, and moved away from our hometown.

We forgot about each other. We forgot about our trips into each other’s lives. We became adults, married and had children.

One day, maybe 30 years after that first exchange, I was back visiting my childhood home. Something made me remember her (perhaps my own teenage daughter’s presence) and I started thinking about the switches.

Then I told my daughter about my time as a teenager, growing up in the house on Heine Avenue. I told her of the fierce arguments I had with my mother. I told her about the girl in the mirror. I explained how we switched places: the girl and I placing our foreheads together, then our fingertips, then pushing through to the other side.

Had we ever switched back that last time, whenever that last time was? Was I living the wrong life? Was she living the life I should have lived?

I decided to visit her again, to see if she could remember if we ever switched back that last time, if she remembered that last time. I walked to where I always met her…

She was not where I last saw her. I asked my mother where she went. What had she done with her? My mother heard me say, “Mom, what happened to the big mirror in your room? Did it break? Did you get rid of it?”

My mom replied that she’d only moved the mirror to the back of her bedroom door. She seemed to sense panic in my voice, but didn’t ask why.
“Thank God,” I thought, as I went to the bedroom, “she is still safe. I can still see her.”

We still looked alike and her house still looked more real than my own childhood home. She didn’t remember if we’d changed back, and asked if it really mattered. Weren’t we both happy right now?

She was right, I was happy. I had a husband and two children I loved very much. My daughter and I were much closer than my mom and I had been, and while my son had inherited my volatility, he was growing out of that (very long) stage.

Despite being a grown woman, each visit to my mother’s house after that trip included a visit to her bedroom mirror to remember the child, the teenager, the adult who looked just like me but was somehow a better version of me, who lived in a better place than I did.

We never considered changing places again, but I always still wondered what life in that other world would have been like and if it was really my life in there.

After my mother died, I assumed her mother died too; but did she die like my mother did, slowly forgetting words, places, people, how to walk, how to swallow? I hoped for both their sakes they were spared that nightmare.

Six months after my mother’s death I visited the mirror again while gathering memorabilia from my childhood home, but could not look directly at it, could not say goodbye to my friend from fifty-something years ago. I noticed she was absent too.

On the way back to Bethesda, hauling a U-Haul loaded with furniture, boxes of photos and childhood memories, I felt a pang of regret in my gut that I’d not taken the mirror with me. We surely could have found room for it in our house and it would have been safe. It would have been comforting to have her with me all the time. (You might be thinking that she’s in every mirror, but there you would be wrong. She is only in that one mirror. I have never seen her in any other.)

More recently I visited my childhood home for the last time. It was empty, the estate sale agents had done their job well. It was void of everything I knew from my childhood and teen years, from my visits as an adult. It was missing the people I loved, the furniture I sat in, the art on the walls. I walked around, taking pictures for a possible blog post. I went into every room, opened each closet, and peeked into drawers and cabinets. I expected to feel sadness, but instead just felt emptiness.

On the way home, this time on an airplane, I realized that when I was in that empty house, in my mother’s empty bedroom, I forgot to see if the mirror was still there on the back of the door or if the estate sale agents had sold it to someone wanting a sturdy mirror. Either way, someday someone else will look in that mirror. Will they see the shadow of a lonely teenage girl, angry at her mother about this or that injustice? She’s still there, I know it. I just wonder if it is me or her.

Declutter 2018: 32 Dan Bern posters

I went to see Dan Bern on Saturday. (That’s my head on the left!) Before I left I thought about the pile of Dan Bern posters [1] that were sitting under my office sofa. I didn’t need more than one each so I decided to take them to the show and give them away.

I placed them on the merchandise table. The table had a sign to pay what people wanted to pay for the items there, so hopefully Dan made some money on the posters.

Declutter 2018 count 50:

  • 32 Dan Bern Posters
  • 2 crystal unicorns, broken
  • 9 letters from Sue
  • 1 Loon Magic sweatshirt
  • 1 shedding scarf
  • 1 pair of fingerless gloves
  • 1 wool underlayer shirt
  • 1 birthday poster from Sue
  • 1 baby shower thank you card from Chris and George
  • 1 Christmas postcard from Auntie June and Uncle Harold
Notes:
  1. many years ago I volunteered to put posters around town advertising Dan’s shows — I was a very bad rep since I had so many left over []

The Hopp Family Christmas Card from 1969

My parents were friends with Tom and Marlies when I was growing up. Tom was an artist and Marlies was from Germany. They had two daughters, I think.

In 1969 they sent out a very unusual Christmas card:

The card was folded into several rectangles. Here’s the front:

When you open the card you see this greeting:

Open it again and you see this:

Then this:

Finally, a 24″x28″ poster of the Hopp family in 1969 is revealed.

A Happy (?) Family

At some point in my early life — back when I still lived with my folks and brother — I made a chain of paper dolls labeled “A Happy ? Family.” Judging by the shirt my brother is wearing, this was probably created after his skiing trip to Colorado. I was too old, by then, to be making (really badly drawn) chains of paper dolls, but my lack of artistic talent has been written about before today.

Left to right: Mom, Dad, Dona, Kevin

I cannot figure out Dad’s sweater. I don’t recall him ever wearing a red sweater like that. Or plaid trousers. And I might be on the far left in brown instead of next to Kevin in green. Dang, I should have labeled them when I drew this.

 

 

Declutter 2018: 3 pieces of correspondence

Today I went through a box of letters. I found three that I could toss. One was a birthday greeting from Sue, one was a Christmas postcard from my Auntie June and Uncle Harold and the last was a thank-you card for a baby shower gift from the first friend of mine to have a baby [1].

The correspondence went into the fireplace and burned in a glorious blaze.

 

Declutter 2018 count 18:

  • 2 crystal unicorns, broken
  • 9 letters from Sue
  • 1 Loon Magic sweatshirt
  • 1 shedding scarf
  • 1 pair of fingerless gloves
  • 1 wool underlayer shirt
  • 1 birthday poster from Sue
  • 1 baby shower thank you card from Chris and George
  • 1 Christmas postcard from Auntie June and Uncle Harold
Notes:
  1. A note on that last one — I saw her a couple of years ago at my high school reunion. She was in a wheelchair (fuck MS) and she and her husband had just moved in with the child whose shower I attended in 1977. []

Declutter 2018: 4 pieces of clothing

Clare left a few days ago and took with her some items of clothing that I could have kept, but also was also okay giving to her.

  1. Loon Magic Sweatshirt — bought years ago, possibly in Wisconsin, because I loved loons. More recently I discovered a fellow bird-loving Twitterer, blogger, Facebooker had the same sweatshirt. Even more recently I learned she died and whenever I put the sweatshirt on I sadly remembered that I’d unfollowed her on Facebook because she was a little annoying.
  2. Shedding scarf — I bought it at Traditions in Olympia. Most of the items I have bought there have either fallen apart or were otherwise less than perfect. When I wore this scarf I wondered whose dog I’d brushed against because my black trousers were covered in long blond fur. It turned out to be my scarf from Traditions. Thank you Clare for taking it away.
  3. Fingerless gloves — Also purchased from Traditions in Olympia. They were fine, but they did not have fingers. I didn’t mind giving these away at all.
  4. Wool bottom layer from REI — I went to the new REI store in Bethesda/Rockville during a sale. I was buying clothes for my upcoming trip to Olympia  where I worried I would be wet and cold. It was November after all. A sales person showed me a sale on Smartwool bottom layer clothes and I almost bought them, but worried about the wool layer being next to my skin. I wandered around and found another bottom layer long-sleeved shirt and decided to buy it and a turtle neck of the same brand. It was not until I was about to fly to Seattle that I realized that, not only did I spend a lot more on the bottom layers than the items offered in the Smartwool sale, but they were also wool and meant to be worn next to your skin. Someday I will tell you about my abhorrence to wearing wool next to my skin in cold, wet weather when there was a possibility of someone smoking nearby and if my hair might not be washed. Oh, I guess I just told you that. Never mind. Clare wanted an undershirt so I gave her the wool bottom layer.

Declutter 2018 count 15:

  • 2 crystal unicorns, broken
  • 9 letters from Sue
  • 1 Loon Magic sweatshirt
  • 1 shedding scarf
  • 1 pair of fingerless gloves
  • 1 wool underlayer shirt

Declutter 2018: Two broken unicorns

Back in my youth I collected many things including crystal unicorns. Most of them were broken in an incident involving a bookshelf, a child and a stool.

Dean just had Clare go through her many boxes of memorabilia in the attic and she pulled out two crystal unicorns, both broken. I am pretty sure she pulled them out for me, not her, but I don’t want them anymore. I don’t care about crystal unicorns and these are broken.

They are sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be tossed tossed in the trash [1] as long as Clare doesn’t want to keep them.

Now that I look at them, they resemble the Moonlit Merry-go-round horses a bit.

Declutter 2018 count 11:

    • 2 crystal unicorns, broken
    • 9 letters from Sue
Notes:
  1. they cannot be recycled, can they? []