Perusing old Sears catalog photos a few weeks ago I tripped over this image and fell into a James Lileks-like nostalgia spiral. My childhood friend Donny had this exact bedspread, and you could measure my childhood by the longing it instilled in me for the working class normalcy of Perma-Press™ and Dacron. Also a room of one’s own.
My family pulled cast-off items from the “Free Box” in front of the Happy Belly health food store. This is to say I did the pulling, as my parents thought it entirely normal a 9-year-old should forage for his own clothes. Also, to line up his own rides to school hitchhike to town. Or walk up the hill to the cousin’s house to use their shower, hot running water not being part of our familial equation until after I left for college.
Growing up, I assumed Donny was middle class. NFL themed bedding! I was living in a plywood cabin. Anyone with plumbing and electricity was doing well. But Donny’s father did shift work in a local manufacturing firm and adjourned to the corner stool at Al’s Redwood Room at 5 pm until his wife collected him in the Ford Pinto station wagon when his money ran out. Their house was a 2br rental. Donny’s room was a sectioned off area of the garage with faux wood paneling. He had a Nerf basketball hoop suctioned cupped to the wall. We created our own hybrid sport with Whiffleball bats, a nerf ball and a twin bed as a trampoline. After he and his sister moved away, his parents downscaled to a trailer. When his father drank himself to an early grave, his mother returned to her people in West Virginia. I liked her. She gave us graham crackers after school and a vat of chocolate goo we could smear across them like cream cheese. Somehow we remained skinny little beanpoles, the both of us. His were Sears people. I came from Free Box stock. Nobody was fat then, despite our best efforts.
A few years later I saw Randy Weaver’s cabin on the news and realized I was looking at my parent’s house, only with the politics 180 degrees in reverse. When I think of 14-year-old Sammy Weaver dead on the ground, I know I would have done the same thing: run to defend my fathers fenceline. Boys are hardwired for that. Piss that away and a father can wander the blasted heath like Lear.
In Boomer fashion, my father pissed it away, and a small fortune as well, yet wandered not, lived his life as selfishly as he began. In one of God’s delicious ironies, he finds himself in his seventh decade caring full time for my mother whose memory is composting by the week.
You only remember the bad things, she used to tell me when I visited. Now she and my father have dialogue like this:
Whose wine glass is this?
That’s your wine glass over there.
That’s my wine glass? Whose wine have I been drinking?
The wine in your hand.
I have two wine glasses?
You have three glasses going.
So which one is mine?
They are all your glasses. You keep starting new ones.
Since I left, the original plywood box (mounted six inches off the ground on buckets filled with hand-mixed concrete) has expanded horizontally and vertically in a style that can be characterized as Mendocino Gothic Ad Hoc. They just kept adding rooms, then redwood siding and decks on three sides. A massive solar array. Bizarrely, a Steinway grand piano. If you think there are building permits involved here, think again. Note the crumbling rock barbeque pit in the foreground. This was our kitchen for the first two years in the country. Yes, that was the plan, to the degree anything was planned.
When they realized they couldn’t have sex in the same room as their children, a bridge too far even for them, they adjourned to the A-Frame, a plywood annex. This was their bedroom for 10 years.
But now, necessity demands my mother have an ADA compliant walk-in shower, the slip and fall deathtrap sunken tub they’ve used for 25 years having become a hazard.
So my brother in law, my nephew and I, last week converged to build another non-conforming addition to the house, complete with rain shower. This is something I once promised myself I would never do. Yet there I was, laying tile, while the others installed new wiring and pumping and drainage and essentially replumbed the entire house. The parents paid for nothing. The moral of the story being the Boomers get everything they want. Except time.