The House

Only Day 2, and I’m already tempted to drop out of Writing 101.

Yesterday I had all day. I started early, ignored the instructions and wrote what and how I wanted, and took my time doing it. Fine.

Today I had both morning and afternoon meetings, and now I’m as tired as I was when I had an eight-to-five job. In addition, I don’t like the topic. There’s no place I want to beam up to right now except bed.  I’m trying to get my sleep patterns straightened out, and I can’t do that if I stay up writing.

Furthermore–and this the heart of the matter–I don’t like doing descriptive writing. I’m not good at it. When reading, I often skim or skip. I miss a lot of great prose, I know, but I prefer to get on to what the characters are doing. A professor remarked that Hemingway‘s description of the scenery during a drive through the Pyrenees in The Sun Also Rises was some of the finest writing in the English language. We had just read the novel. I tried to look as if I agreed about the quality of the description I hadn’t noticed.

 Now that I’ve expressed my discontent with the topic, I’ll move on to a place I memorized:

My great-grandmother’s house two blocks from the house where I grew up. After you cross FM 20, the street angles off toward the left, and the one house and the foliage between hid Grandmama’s house from ours. The houses weren’t far apart, but when you crossed the two-lane road we called “the highway,” and the street made that little jog you felt like you were in a different part of town altogether.

 My great-grandmother died three years before I was born. When I was a child I called it “Aunt Ethel’s house” for the great-aunt who lived there. When my uncle inherited it, it became “Donald’s house.” My father, who, with his four brothers, had lived there as a child, after his mother died called it simply “the house.” “I’m going up to the house,” he would say. No one ever asked him to explain.

 It sat on the corner a block from Main Street, a white frame house with a big front porch. At each end a door led to a bedroom; the door to the living room was in the middle. Queen’s crown growing up the brick supports (pillars and columns sound too grand) and provided shade in summer and sometimes a measure of privacy. Inside there was no privacy at all: there were lots of windows, and most rooms had french doors. That they had sheers was little comfort. When we spent the night there once, my mother commented it was like living in a fish bowl. Surrounded by trees, it was hot in summer. On winter nights, when propane space heaters were turned off, it was absolutely freezing.

While my father called it “the house,” my mother called it “Grand Central Station.” Two of Grandmama’s sons lived across the street. Their children and grandchildren were in and out all day. Some walked in through the front door, stopped in the kitchen for a glass of water, and walked out the back without saying Hello. (I always said Hello.) When there was a funeral, four generations met there for lunch, sitting in the dining room, spilling out onto the front porch and the back yard. Those who lived there gathered there in the evenings. Mother offended my father early in their marriage by saying she’d rather stay home and listen to Jack Benny on the radio.

 By the time I was out of high school, things had changed. For the first time, I knocked on the door before walking in. The house was no longer a gathering place. Later, it passed out of the family, and none of us went there at all.

 Several years ago, I was invited back. An estate sale had been scheduled, and the auctioneer, knowing that many things there had been in my family for years, allowed me to come in for a pre-sale sale. I bought an old china cheese keeper that my mother had coveted, and some demitasse spoons from what had probably been Grandmama’s first set of flatware, and a place setting of the flatware used daily when I was a child, entirely utilitarian and, in my opinion, about the ugliest pattern imaginable.

It was strange being back after all those years. I remembered huge bedrooms, huge living room and dining room . . . Everything had shrunk. Except the porch. There was still room for several card tables of domino-playing ladies on summer afternoons.

For years, I felt as if that house belonged as much to me as to the great-aunts and the uncle who lived there. When it passed into new hands, I was sad. But it was a house. People had made it special.

The house was sold. My memories were not.

*****

Recently, the house was sold again, this time to a friend. I’m pleased to know it’s in good hands.