The House Inside Each of Us

My little sister and me, rockin' it old school, circa 1981-ish, in the backyard of our new house.

My little sister and me, rockin’ it old school, circa 1981-ish, in the backyard of our new house.

Miles run today: 3.5

Bunnies spotted on my run: 4

Apple pies made yesterday: 1

Happy Fourth of July weekend, my friends!

Back on the Fourth of July weekend in 1981, my family moved to Atlanta.

It was hotter than three shades of you-know-what, and the new house my mom had fallen in love with sat perched up on a hill of red clay covered with straw to protect what little grass-lets existed underneath.

I would be entering fourth grade in the fall, so most of the rest of my summer was spent in daycare, going to roller-skating rinks that played Beatles songs interspersed with the Steve Miller Band.

Our new house was a classic four-up, four-down. I often wonder if the current owners have knocked out  the wall between the front living room and den/family room in favor of a more trendy open plan.

I only started getting to know our new house that first summer: my front bedroom that looked out over our creek with the weeping willows, the big picture window in the kitchen where my mom sat to drink tea millions of times over the years, and the scary basement that held boxes of our old shoes… for what purpose, I never knew. (The basement had an egress window, which I kept in mind in case someone or something tried to attack me down there.) We saw baby owls sitting on tree limbs not far from the window over our kitchen sink, snakes slithering through the woods in the side yard, and chickadees (the cheerleaders of the bird world) visiting the bird feeder near our kitchen table.

My friends and I danced to old Coke commercials and Cyndi Lauper songs in my parents’ bowling alley-like bedroom. My mom and I watched Friday Night Videos on one of the four stations we got, since it was certain we were never getting MTV. And I drove my sister crazy by littering our shared, brown-butterfly-wallpapered bathroom with discarded clothing options each day before school.

Our old house has haunted me over the years.

Every now and then, I still dream about it. People I used to know drift in and out of it, sometimes late for school, sometimes chasing me through it, sometimes mixing up the different areas of my life into one big, confusing mish-mash of fun of a psychoanalysts’ conference.

The house wasn’t perfect by today’s standards: there was no granite countertop, the windows weren’t double-paned and let in terrific drafts of cold in the winter, and my mom’s hanging pot rack over the kitchen peninsula clocked me in the head on multiple occasions.

But it was the house that set the tone for the rest of my life: close friends nearby, easy access to the pool, my own room, sheltering trees, a salmon-pink pantry that my mom and I painted just for fun. Our driveway even weeded out the faint-of-heart: its hilly curves and bridge over the creek turned away all but the ones who truly wanted to visit.

When a friend called attention to Miranda Lambert’s song, “The House That Built Me,” years ago, I understood. I wish everyone had the chance to grow up in a house with such a strong foundation. We carry these houses with us through life, the rooms and their memories still intact.

What about you? What are your memories about the house where you grew up?

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The Gatsby Effect

I couldn’t find a daisy.
My dad took this photo at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Miles run today: 4.5

Words written in my novel so far: 29,134

Live rats found under a lounge chair at the neighborhood pool: 1

Copperheads pulled out of pool the same day: 2

Thank goodness I’m not Gatsby, and I don’t have a Daisy. The yearning and pining and years of build-up are very draining, and I’ve got toilets to clean, darnit.

Our book club read The Great Gatsby this past month. For most of us, it was the second time, the first being in high school: the time of Romeo and Juliet and the Red Badge of Courage, Jane Eyre and The Scarlet Letter.

There is a reason teenagers read the classics.

I didn’t like Gatsby much the first time; the decadence of the era and superficial characters irritated me whether they were meant to or not. I didn’t have much hope for it the second time around.

This time, I ended up thinking Fitzgerald really knew how to write; who knew?

But I still didn’t like Gatsby much.

One of our book club members said, “I loved Gatsby as a teenager; this time around, I just thought he was sleazy.”

I think I might have had Gatsby tendencies as a young person and didn’t like the comparison my subconscious drew between the two of us.

1. I was big on yearning. Yearning without ever getting was kind of interesting. And funny.

When I was 14, another friend and I bought M&Ms (for charity!) and ate them as our lunch at high school. We made wishes on the green M&Ms and hoped for dreamy guys in letter jackets to come over and talk to us. They never did.

In retrospect, I was okay with it. We laughed and had more fun than if the guy had come over and sat with us. I mean, what would we have talked about? Letter jackets? Golf? The benefits of chocolate?

2. I coveted glamour. I know. You’re not supposed to covet. Give me a break. I was 16.

Gatsby had a sleek, covetable vehicle.

One of the girls at our high school had a red BMW with red painted wheels. A guy I thought was amazingly cute had a Jeep that he rode all open even when it was freezing outside.

I had a very large white Oldsmobile with a maroon top and plaid interior. Not many people rushed up to me to ask for a ride home.

“Tomorrow is another day,” I repeated to myself as I walked up from the junior parking lot.

I had visions of a future husband leading me out to the driveway, blindfolded. When I opened my eyes, there would be a beautiful, luxury automobile with a large red bow tied around it.

It may not surprise you too much that I drive a minivan today. Both sliding doors are currently low-functioning with non-existent outside handles.

3. People liked to be around me, and I didn’t even notice. The problem with coveting and acquiring glamorous goods is that you miss out on the opportunities all around you.

There was Gatsby in that great big house with the swanky clothes, yummy food and limitless party-giving capabilities. All these people showed up who he could have gotten to know. The only person he really wanted to know was Daisy.

I had all this great stuff: a quirky car, great ’80s hair, dinner with friends at Applebee’s and a family who loved me. Why did I bother looking across rows of cafeteria tables at boys who didn’t know I existed?

Enough with the yearning.

Life lesson: all you have to do is look at what happened to Gatsby.

And be grateful that you have toilets to clean, I guess.