Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In Which the Caravan of Gypsies Arrives, Quietly.


It is now officially a week that FF and I have been inhabiting our new house, placing things, installing things, washing things that couldn't get washed before we left Tiny Town, throwing things that evaded throwing before. I can see already that inhabiting a house, a house that is our own, is going to be a drawn out process and, as much as we'd like to complete the job in the span of a few days and find ourselves in richtig gut order, that desire is inconsistent with reality. No, inhabiting a house will be a longsome thing, and the house's secrets will emerge but slowly.

The move from our "big, big bed in the tiny, tiny house, in the tiny, tiny town on the BI-I-I-IG RIVER" went smoothly because of the joint forces of FF and me (hard workers, persistent packers) and our three movers from the Joseph Holy Trucking Company. Joseph Holy himself is a rosy, golden haired man, boyish in fact, who claims with a rakish grin that he is much older than he looks. He was recommended to us by a friend who was moved by Holy to Greensboro and had nothing bad to say about the experience. The other members of the Holy Moving Squad, Anthony (who drove my car down) and Faluzzo (a dark brooding man with soul and evident smarts), were rhythmic workers who punched and kidded each other like schoolboys all the way South. They kept their deal, hauling us down to our new digs without breaking one darned thing, as far as I can tell.

I had imagined that our Caravan of Gypsies would lose a few items along the way. I imagined us, a cheery band, clattering down the road with pots and pans clanging on their iron hooks against the sides of the painted wagon, a few dishes slipping out the back and crashing to the road behind us amidst howls of (our own) laughter. But as so often has happens, when I fully prepare myself for the worst with a detailed pre-story, disaster does not happen. Not that losing a plate or two, or even my beloved, spindly bedside table that Mrs. Vega brought to me when I was bedridden in Harlem, or the blown glass bowl I gave FF for Christmas that looks like primordial waters swirling through the air, would have been a disaster. But it could have hurt a bit to see a favorite thing not make it to the new house, to the new life, to the Ark that will carry us going forward.

The Ark. Perhaps that will be my name for this place, but I am not sure yet. Not at all. Our petite Georgian brick sitting demurely on nearly an acre of peaceful, wooded North Carolina land, the lot spanning the distance between Monticello and Woodridge, has not revealed it's name to me yet. She is too occupied with adjusting her sturdy haunches to the inevitable added weight of our lives, accomodating us on her resolute floor boards and sturdy old beams. She is too focused on the settling that's going on to have casual chats with me about such apparent trivialities as names. But both the house and I know that names are of great moment, and that is why we have silently agreed to wait to find hers. Don't rush! I hear her warn. All in good, good time.

I know that just a month ago the Passage family lived here with their skibble of children and tiny collie dogs. And before them, Dr. and Mrs. Johnston were here and they installed various modern conveniences in impeccable good taste. And before them, there was Judy who was good friends with the next door neighbor, the neighbor who brought us a bouquet of flowers cut from her garden last Thursday, Judy who planted a sturdy hedgerow of arbor vitae right between herself and that very same neighbor. And in the prehistoric days, before ranch houses were built, there were others who left signs of themselves buried deep in these fragrant, wooden closets and walls, buried deep in the cool cement of the basement where simple cleanings and changings of the guard never dislodged them. In our house, for it is our house now, we will find notes, marks, pieces of yellow, brittle tape stuck inside cabinet doors, papers stuck between bricks, perhaps a toy. I will find signs of them in the garden, where trees were planted and beds dug, out there beyond the dog fence in what I am now calling The Uncharted Territories, an overgrown foresty part of the property where the surveyor says there is an old wood shed, a pump-house, and what used to be a formal boxwood garden. They are still here. I can feel them. I can hear them. I will find them.

You never pass anywhere without leaving a mark, whether it's in a house or a person's heart. I want this to be a fresh start, like my fresh start with FF. I hear myself whispering to myself as I place clothes in drawers, may there never be a cross word in this house. And like all hopes and pre-histories, reality will be different. But it is good and right to try, and if one must leave marks, may they be gentle ones.

As for this town, we do not know it yet. But we sense that it has big shoulders, a strong sense of purpose, and a purposeful desire to move forward in history with long, muscular strides. We also sense that it carries in its hip pocket a Southern past, like a well-used and sweated on notebook, a Southern past with all the graceful, awkward, very beautiful and very ugly parts that that every Southern town has. We are part of the spicy swirl of outsiders coming in, the mutt-mix of harsh and OK, foreign and American, seekers and settlers. Then there are those who have always been here with their soft accents, their dangling arms, their dogs, their quick smiles and their steady, milk blue gazes. Those are the ones I am keeping an eye on most: I am wondering what they have to teach me.

The Caravan of Gypsies has arrived, oddly quiet and unbroken. Treading lightly. Watching. Alert.

Photo: Bulgaria Magura Cave Paintings, flickr.com

3 comments:

SuR said...

i wish i wrote your meditations on paragraph 6+7.

renzo piano, one of my favorite architects was asked once why he used southern pine for the flooring for the demenil collection in houston (vs. sturdier materials), paraphrasing his answer "pine records gracefully ours and the markings of time"

Urban Exile said...

Dear SuR,

What a wonderful connection to and extension of my thought! I cannot help but love Renzo Piano's name and his conscious choice of the less hard material in favor of the material that gives.

Along this theme, there is something called Pumpkin Pine (it has a light orange hue) in PA that made the wide, knot-holed floorboards in our previous, pre-Revolutionary war house in Tiny Town. It takes a beating, showing marks and depressions from any activity more kinetic than needlework. It is not made for modern furniture. But it has allowed FF and I to engrave ourselves unconsciously on it with the naturalness of our comings and goings, and so we have left our mark in Tiny Town.

On the other hand the true Southern long needle pine, a very hard slow growing tree, is native to the Carolinas. Its life cycle involves regular lightning strike-induced fires which create just the right environment for its tough little seeds to germinate. Without the fires, I doesn't reproduce itself naturally. This native pine's environment and life cycle has been gravely interrupted by cutting for construction and the exploitation of its highly valued pitch, and its groves have been planted instead with the softer, faster-growing imported pine. People in this area who have houses older than 40 years or so (like ours) still brag about their "hard pine". You can read about this cycle in Janisse Ray's marvelous memoir "Ecology of a Cracker Childhood".

The hard and the soft both have their beauties. The water and the fire both bring regeneration.

Thank you kindly for your sensitive comment.

Ethan Smith said...
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