Home: A Collection

 

Red House First Snow 110613
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

If what my dad says is true, I descend from a band of traveling, singing figure skaters. I imagine them –dark-eyed and wild-haired– wandering with their skates and bright scarves through dark Bohemian forests into the gracious little towns where they stopped to make their living. According to my dad they were fed and welcomed. Maybe once, as she carved loops and circles on the frozen lake, one of my ancestors locked eyes with a local carpenter and thought about him every day for the rest of her life. Maybe another dreamed of staying in one of those towns for months or years. Still, my ancestors didn’t make their home in the towns, they made it by traveling together. Home was on the road and on the ice and in their voices. Home was their togetherness.

 

From second grade through high school, I moved back and forth every Monday between my mom’s place and my dad’s. I took the bus to GramBea and Grandpa Thacher’s house after school once a week, I spent four or five days in Lonsdale with Grandma and Grandpa Skluzacek a few times each year, I spent a month every summer at Camp Lake Hubert. When I think of home, I don’t think of a single place. Home is something I have collected.

 

Mama's Cranberry Bread 112614
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

My mom and step-dad believed in orphan Thanksgivings. They invited all of their friends who didn’t have family in town and made a different kind of turkey and stuffing every year. I could smell onions, carrots, and celery sautéing in butter as I came downstairs Thanksgiving morning. Before the turkey went into the oven, Mom and I made cranberry quick bread –lemon and pumpkin too, if we had the time.

 

As the sun went down around 4:30, Steve built a fire, Mom and I set the tables, and friends started arriving. They brought wild rice casseroles, garlic mashed potatoes, cranberries with orange zest, sweet potatoes with pecans and brown sugar, apple tarts and pumpkin pies. We brought out the turkey and stuffing, the breads we had made and bottles of wine, and stayed at the table for hours. Sometimes we got lucky and it began to snow out on the marsh while we ate. As everyone left, full and connected, the woodsmoke curled up to the starry sky.

 

My time with Dad was more private, even secluded. The December after our second attempt at family had failed, my dad and I found ourselves alone again in the house on Malibu Drive. I was sixteen. My stepmother and her two daughters had left without a word one weekend when I was with my mom. I was fine with it. I remember bubble lights on the tree, the sharp, blank smell of snow. Each night, when my dad had had enough time alone in his shop and I was done with homework, we sat together in the family room. He lounged in his black Eames chair, looking out at the deck he had built with his own hands a few years before. I lay on my stomach on the floor, drawing or dreaming or writing (bad) poetry.  We didn’t talk … we didn’t need to. As Walt Whitman said: “we were together. I forget the rest.”

 

When I think of home, I don’t think of a single place. Home is something I have collected.

 

When Mom had orchestra or Guthrie Theater tickets and Dad had to chaperone a high school hockey game, I took the bus after school with my cousin Jessica to  GramBea and Grandpa Thacher’s house on Cooper Avenue. Jess and I slept downstairs in twin beds with turned wooden posts and yellow quilts. Before we lay down, we rose high on our knees in bed, facing the pillow and pulling the covers around our shoulders like capes. Grandma and Grandpa were frugal and let the house get chilly at night from October through April. Clutching the wad of blankets at our chests, we fell down onto our pillows, turning just our cheeks to face each other in the dark.

 

Once GramBea had kissed us good night, we played games in stage whispers. Our favorite involved taking turns creating elaborate configurations with our hands and trying to copy the other’s exactly. Lying in the darkness, only a narrow stripe of golden light  at the door to our room, we twisted and laced our fingers in intricate forms.

 

“Can you do this?”

 

Jessica made an attempt, seeing neither her own hands nor mine in the other bed. “Like this?”

 

“No, like this.” We could never do it right and we never would– it didn’t matter. What mattered was hearing another voice in the dark.

 

I need a solid place, a single place, to feed and welcome those who pass through and decide to stay.

 

Grandma and Grandpa Skluzacek’s house was about an hour south of my house, so when I visited them I stayed for several days at a time. My memories of that house are all taste and scent.  Grandma Betty fed me Malt-o-Meal or scrambled eggs in her basement kitchen while she did laundry and made filling for kolachkes. When I was finished eating, she tied an apron two or three times around my waist. Then she cut dozens of squares of dough with her knife — she was done before I could finish washing my hands–and pulled a kitchen chair up against the counter for me to stand on. We worked well together: she dropped a spoonful of poppy seed or prune filling on each piece of dough and I pinched the corners together to enclose it. When she served the rolls that night for supper, she told Grandpa I had made them all by myself.

 

Grandpa liked to drive us the four blocks to the Lonsdale corner store in his red Ford-F150, which  smelled of tackle box, tobacco, and sharp-sweet sawdust. He would buy me a tall bottle of Bubble-Up and pretend he wasn’t showing me off to his friends, who all knew he was. They sat at the counter together in a sturdy row of pinstriped overalls and workshirts,  rating tools and machinery, shaking their solemn heads over someone they knew who had fallen from a ladder. I perched on a stool at the end of the counter next to Grandpa in my cords and monogrammed sweater, forcing myself to finish all of the Bubble-Up. I knew what it meant to be included in this.

 

Until I had children, Camp Lake Hubert was the closest I came to having home all in one place. I spent eight summers there as a camper, experimenting with my character and learning to find my people. When I returned as a counselor after four summers away, I got dropped off one night in the upper parking lot without a flashlight. I walked all the way to Wrens cabin in that straightforward, thorough darkness I will always associate with the Minnesota Northwoods. I have a sense memory of that night, of knowing the trees and steps and buildings so well, understanding myself so clearly in relation to them, that I never even considered the possibility of being lost. I believed I would find my way so I found my way, on that night and others, both at camp and away.

 

Outdoor Winter Pots
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

 

Maybe I descend from a band of traveling, singing figure skaters who wandered from town to town, maybe it’s just a story. It doesn’t matter …I have never wanted to be one of the travelers. I want to be part of the town. I am not content to wander the way my ancestors did centuries ago. I am not a free spirit; I have always been in search of a place to land.  In all of my traveling back and forth between parents, grandparents, camp and beyond, I never stayed anywhere long enough to feel completely at home.

 

Home is togetherness, yes. Home is my collection of people, recipes, and remembrances. But I have learned I can’t carry that on my back –I need architecture around it. I need a solid place, a single place, to feed and welcome those who pass through and decide to stay. Home for me is a Thanksgiving table, a quiet room, a bedroom, a kitchen. Home is another voice in the dark.

 

 

Blessings

Chapel Path II

 

Henry’s prayer the other night:

“Dear God, thank you for my family and my friends…and my dead fish, who really did live with us for a long time [two years]. Please help the people who have a hard time seeing their blessings…even me, really.”

 

Sometimes it takes a nine-year-old (though his soul is so much older) to remind a rather crabby, complainy, self-pitying suburban Mama to be more grateful. Of course that would be ever-so-much easier if I didn’t have to clean up so much poop, but the lesson is still a good one.

 

We have had  at least 15 showings since our house went on the market and each one takes years off my life.  The laundry is done every day, the beds are made every day, I vacuum and dust and clean the glass every day. It’s unnatural.  I don’t think I’ve cooked a meal that really tastes like anything for over a month, lest the scent of garlic or spices linger and offend the delicate senses of a potential buyer. I caught Lizzie snoozing on the floor in her room the other day and when I asked her why she wasn’t resting on her bed, she said “I didn’t want to make any lumps.”

She’s four.

 

So I’m sure you understand why I want the whole shit show over with. Last night I thought it might be –there was a second showing scheduled from 7:00 to 8:00. I prepped the hell out of this place –dusted, vacuumed, threw the windows open, placed a big gorgeous hydrangea plant in the dining room to make it look like a plant could actually survive in there (it couldn’t), polished and yelled at my husband and disinfected and shrieked at my children and smoothed and cursed the assholes who hadn’t bought our house yet and shined and ranted about all the tantrum-throwing, women-hating jackasses poisoning our culture lately until the whole place looked gorgeous and I looked like Charlize Theron in Monster.

 

Sometimes it takes a nine-year-old (though his soul is so much older) to remind a rather crabby, complainy, self-pitying suburban Mama to be more grateful.

 

Then I went over to my mom’s house to drink and eat dinner. And wait. And drink. And do you want to know what those seven-o-clock-on-a-fucking-Sunday-scheduling assholes did? They chose someone else’s house to buy. Assholes. I hate them. Wait, what was I writing about? Oh yes…gratitude. And blessings.

 

I can acknowledge that I’m one of the people Henry is praying for. Well, me and the tantrum-throwing, women-hating jackasses –they can’t see their blessings either. I know blessings are a popular idea right now –rain is supposed to be a blessing, money and  newborn babies and starry nights and finding what you thought you lost are all supposed to be blessings –but I don’t think blessings are objects or experiences or even people.

 

I think blessings are the divine gifts –love, faith, hope, charity, gratitude, humility– that transform and give meaning to objects and experiences and relationships. They’re not really something you see, they’re a way of seeing, they are the light itself. Blessings are like flashlights, so no wonder they’re so easy to lose track of –who ever remembers where they left the stupid thing last time they used it? It’s easier to go out and get a new one than find the one you misplaced, except there’s really only one flashlight in everyone’s life. You ever noticed that? No matter which one I’m using, it shines the same light, made up of all the places and objects and people I’ve ever illuminated with every flashlight I’ve ever used. Flashlights, like all light, like all blessings, have shared memory.

 

Every time I turn on the blue Maglite we keep in our laundry room (I think), I see every path and field and dock and cabin at Camp Lake Hubert with it, every house I’ve ever lived in, every campsite in the Boundary Waters, every inch of the dark road to and from our cabins at Family Camp that I’ve walked with every one of my cousins at some point or another, the unfamiliar woods I traveled through with Mary last September when we went to art camp.

 

I think blessings are the divine gifts –love, faith, hope, charity, gratitude, humility– that transform and give meaning to objects and experiences and relationships.

 

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t have the blue Maglite then; it’s the light that remembers. That’s how blessings are –they connect you to your memories, your experiences, the places and people who matter most, and then connect them to each other.  “Seeing your blessings” isn’t really accurate; blessings are the light by which we see everything else. The term should be “seeing WITH blessings” and it’s a discipline, keeping track of that light and remembering to bring it with you.

 

I know this. I know that if I consistently shine faith and love and gratitude on these tense weeks, then I’ll be able to wander around the haunted house I’m trying to sell and see more than the shadows and ghosts.  I’ll see GramBea, my mom, my aunts and girl cousins sitting around my kitchen table eating brunch the day after Christmas; Brian and Caroline snuggled on the couch after one of Caroline’s EEGs, the glue still in her hair, a tender, slightly broken-hearted but still optimistic expression on her daddy’s face (he was right); Henry tucked into his parents’ big bed, a little sister on each side, reading them a book and asking thoughtful little questions (“what’s that? Yes, that’s cheese. Good! What color is the cheese?”); my dad playing tickle spider with my kids by the front door; Julie doing my dishes, helping me clean up, holding me on the laundry room floor when I had just come back from Kyle’s memorial service.

 

I’ll see all of that with the same light that comes from Camp Lake Hubert and Family Camp and all the other places I’ve called home and all the people who inhabited those places.  And I’ll see that even this dark house has given me some new light to bring with me, by which to see the next one.

 

Investment Strategies for the Only Child

Bridesmaids 121199

I, like Pebbles Flintstone and Cinderella, am an only child.

 

Everyone thinks only children are spoiled, but it’s not at all true; my parents bathed me in tap water and everything.

 

I do have to concede that I enjoyed some damn good birthdays and Christmases, though being the product of a broken home didn’t hurt in that department, either. I went to camp every summer for a month each time (my friends called it Camp Condo, but a lot of them were those freaks who like to wander around the wilderness carrying canoes on their heads, so you have to take their assessment with a grain of salt). My bedrooms were pretty, my clothes were pretty, and the places my parents took me on vacations were pretty. I regularly attended symphonies and plays and musicals, was encouraged at adult dinner parties to share my ignorant adolescent opinions on a range of subjects, and my parents never called me by the wrong name.

 

I would have willingly sacrificed the material trappings of only childhood (though not the privilege of pontificating at parties) for a couple of siblings.

 

But I was lonely –sometimes I’m still lonely. I had cousins with varying levels of interest in taking on sibling roles, step-siblings with absolutely no interest in taking on those roles, and truly remarkable friends, but if you have siblings (or, I guess, even if you don’t), you know it’s not the same. It’s not the same when you don’t have allies on the playground, it’s not the same when there’s nobody to tell you to stop wearing your original puffy paint sweatshirt creations to school in 10th grade, and it’s not the same when both of your parents lose their spouses from cancer in a year and a half and there’s nobody but you to love them (and yourself) through it.

 

I know plenty of Onlies who didn’t mind their solo gig and even a few baffling weirdos who seemed to love it, but I would have willingly sacrificed the material trappings of only childhood (though not the privilege of pontificating at parties) for a couple of siblings. Obviously, if my parents had only been ABLE to have one child, then I wouldn’t be whining right now (or would at least be whining about something else), but there were no real impediments to their conceiving another child other than the fact that they could barely stand to be in the same room at the same time. So okay, I understand. Anyways, by the time I arrived it was already too late, because I wanted OLDER siblings, not some annoying brat who would take all the attention away from my mediocre clarinet playing and practically inedible homemade éclairs. I know, I know, that’s totally something an only child would say –see what they did to me?

 

My friend Julie has accused me more than once of romanticizing siblings. Not true –why shouldn’t I assume that any big brother of mine would be a lot like Albus Dumbledore (only without the late-adolescence power obsession)? For my fantasy sisters, I’m less fanciful; Cate Blanchett and Nigella Lawson would do just fine. Really, all I’ve ever wanted was a brother who would tell me which of his gorgeous, thoughtful, brilliant friends to date and sisters who would share their amazing clothes and crush my enemies.

 

I have always thought of siblings as a kind of peer relationship insurance policy. It’s expensive, but you’re not denied based on your history of self-destructive, irritating behavior and someone will always make them pay if they try to opt out. Friends, of course, are more like stocks and bonds –the shortest-term ones are the highest risk, and all you can do if the bottom falls out is have a stiff drink and try to absorb the loss. Sisters and brothers can’t throw you away, even if they’re tired of your intensity or your whining or your complete inability to handle violent movies. They know they’re going to have to face you at Thanksgiving or Mother’s Day or at least next summer at the cabin, so they have to keep trying. They HAVE to.

 

I have always thought of siblings as a kind of peer relationship insurance policy.

 

I don’t have insurance; nobody in my life has to put up with my shit. My darling Julie did not have to come over and help me clean my house when I returned home after a weekend away at my cousin Kyle’s memorial service to dead flowers on the counter, laundry everywhere, dishes in the sink.

 

My cousin Jessica did not have to blaze all the way down to Mayo Clinic from Minneapolis to deliver a salad and giant piece of cake to Caroline’s hospital room, where I was stuck alone with my three-year-old, waiting for her to have a massive seizure so we could figure out where it was coming from. My friend Michele did not have to call my favorite bakery (which doesn’t deliver) and talk them into delivering a huge box of pastries (she made sure to buy only the stuff that would last several days) to my house before Caroline’s surgery.

 

My friend Mary does not have to call me every time things go radically south in my life and tell me exactly what she would do, step by step, to take care of me if she were living in Minneapolis. My friend Betsy does not have to sit on the phone with me every Thanksgiving and Christmas, going over the WHOLE menu, telling me the best way to roast asparagus, cook bacon (I can never do it right), or tweak the recipe for her mother’s chocolate cake, which is my perennial birthday cake, to make it exactly right.

None of them have to do anything (that’s not at all an exhaustive list of my phenomenal friends or the beautiful things they’ve done for me, by the way –if you weren’t mentioned this time, you can bet you will be eventually). They don’t have to keep me around, they don’t have to listen to me lecture and cry and long for the jerks who don’t care whether I’m in their lives or not. They just do because they want to, because they love me and they know I love them and usually try give as good as I get.

See? It’s not the same. If I had brothers and sisters, the insurance, they would be expected to take care of me by doing what insurance will usually do for you –the bare minimum. Maybe they would do more, but they could just as easily do only what they were obligated to do, resent it, wear me down, demand proof of my claim. Stocks aren’t like that — choose good strong ones and they’ll always pay because that’s how it’s set up. Once in a while, I’ll invest a lot of energy and heart into a relationship that seems good, strong, promising. But they get busy or bored and drift away, run away, throw me away. It hurts; every time it happens with a friend I really value, I wish I had the insurance. I wish they didn’t have the option to take everything I’ve given them and run. I wish I could MAKE them stay.

But I don’t really. Obligation is not a good insurance policy. I want my investments to value me as much as I value them, to strive always for loyalty and transparency and innovation. When they don’t, I have a stiff drink and absorb the loss. Then I call my stocks and bonds –a good portfolio has always been the best insurance.

My Camp

Camp Lake Hubert

 

If you know me at all, if you’ve known me for five minutes or more, you know how I feel about camp. I never shut up about it, nor am I fazed in the least when my friends roll their eyes at me and say something like “oh, are you talking about camp again?” Yes, I’m talking about camp again –because it’s my place, where I feel like my purest and best self, where I go expecting and wanting a certain experience, rarely get it, and still leave feeling like I got exactly what I came for.

 

Where I am right now — at Squam Lake Art Camp celebrating 20 years of friendship with my Mary– is very different from the camp where I spent 11 of my childhood summers. For one thing, we’re in New Hampshire, not Minnesota. You don’t think there’s a difference? There’s a difference. New England camps have a totally different focus and philosophy…I picture Walt Whitman nature walks and crafts centered around the reproductive cycle of some local butterfly.

 

When I think of a camp in New England, there are groups of peppy, earnest, intellectual girls in camp uniforms with the logo embroidered tastefully on the breast pocket (it’s in Latin). They sing songs, toast marshmallows, paddle canoes, and play cricket with neither failure nor emotional excess as an option. I have never been to a New England camp before, but I just know I’m right, based on movies I’ve seen and a few people I met when Mary lived in Boston.

 

New England camps have a totally different focus and philosophy…I picture Walt Whitman nature walks and crafts centered around the reproductive cycle of some local butterfly.

 

Camp in Minnesota is a little messy –it’s all pajama bottoms and sand candles. There’s sailing, horses, tennis and all of that, but it’s a context, it’s not the point. The point is always deep connections –with the place, with the other girls, and with yourself. You arrive with your duffel bags –or, if you’re from the South, your decoupaged, monogrammed trunk– full of clothes and gear and the first thing you do is hurl yourself at your friends like a mental patient. You make a scene, you laugh, you help each other up, and you start singing songs and talking over each other and telling secrets you would never in a million years tell anyone at home. It’s all very vulnerable and embarrassing, and it’s why I went back so many times.

 

This week the two kinds of camps are converging. We are physically at the camp in New England, where the walk to the dining hall requires rock-climbing certification and advanced orienteering skills. My flashlight is practically worthless, the darkness at night is so impenetrable I bet the little campers years ago had to curl up beneath a mushroom if they didn’t make it back to their cabins before dark. There is a dock next to every other cabin –I’m guessing pre-breakfast swims, to invigorate body and mind (however you say that in Latin)– were encouraged, if not required.

 

And we’re here with all women. There are a few men, who have been duped or coerced by their wives into coming to this, but they’re pretty shell-shocked and/or angry and neither speak nor make eye contact, so I’m not really including their energy in the general vibe. I can feel the girly, oh-I-LOVE-your-hat/dress/boots/handmade waterglass cozy kind of atmosphere and I can see who considers themselves the art camp power elites (you know and I know there’s no such thing, but we’ll keep that to ourselves…it seems so important to them).

 

I’m blown away by wisdom, beauty, perception, brilliance. I love when that happens because it means those qualities are everywhere; I just have to notice them.

 

There are women who are getting left out, which is sad but might help them shift their approach, and there are women who are chilly or just out-and-out mean girls. Mostly, though, it feels like my camp, where you smile and hug each other at breakfast, wait for each other to go to activities, and share your stuff when someone forgot hers or didn’t pack it at all. You can cry whenever you want because it feels good and girls usually know that and let you. And you can share whatever you want –what you say, what you make, who you are.

 

The best part for me, though, is that though I know I’m completely right about what New England summer camps are like, I’ve been wrong at least a dozen times about other women I’ve met here –I’ve sold several short in my initial assessments/judgments. I’ll think I have the measure of them because they said this one thing or did that other thing and then they open up about their paintings and the stories behind them and I’m blown away by wisdom, beauty, perception, brilliance. I love when that happens because it means those qualities are everywhere; I just have to notice them.

 

Of course the stone-faced Galleria goddesses and crabby Byerly’s patrons at home don’t generally make a habit of sharing their art with me, so it’s a little bit harder to access their wisdom, beauty, perception, and brilliance, but maybe I should pay closer attention to how they wear belts (I never get that right) or choose produce (SO tired of anemic cantaloupes). Who knows what they know?

 

So yes, I’m going to keep talking about camp and going back whenever and however I can as long as it has something to teach or remind me. This time it’s reminding me I’m an artist and telling me to go ahead and call myself one. It’s reminding me I know less than I think I do about the people around me and more than I think I do about art of all kinds. It’s reminding me that camp is still my place, which means now this camp is my place, too. Which means I’m going to have to pick up Latin. And a better flashlight.

 

Rainy Camp Night

 

 

I put my little duchesses to bed tonight while rain dripped through the trees outside the cabin windows–my favorite kind of camp night. They’re sleeping in the same room while we’re here, which adds to the nostalgic, summer campy atmosphere –I can picture them snuggled in camp beds in Happy Hollow or Orioles cabin a few years from now, listening to their counselor sing “Blue Sky” on a rainy night just like I did tonight. I can also remember myself tucked into those camp beds, and I can remember myself as the counselor singing. I have been all of those things, just as they may eventually be all of those things, including the mother imagining it all for her daughters.

 

That thought makes me dizzy in a happy way.