Saturday, January 27, 2018

Beneath the Rotten Planks

It all started with Joel, whom my friend, Sally, claimed, was the guy who can rid of any home of rodents. “I swear,” she’d said. “He’s like the Rat Whisperer.”

“Your deck,” Joel told me in a text, “is bad.” Then, came a slew of photos of the rotting underneath. “I can put in a vent to block the opening under the house to keep the rats out, but your real problem isn’t rats. It’s this deck.”

It had been a party at night with the rats running up and down our walls back and forth in our attic. Wasn’t it enough we’d plugged every possible hole, sanitized and reinsulated our attic a few months ago? Now, the deck?

We’d been piecing the deck together with spit and glue for years, replacing redwood planks here and there and even shoring up some of the pylons. Every year, we’d paint on a layer of protection, but underneath it was a mess. “Like walking on sawdust,” our contractor told us.

No surprise that the deck we built on the side of the house twenty years ago was disintegrating. It feels as if we’ve been in this house forever. Our youngest, Joseph, now twenty-nine, was born two months after we moved in.  Early on, I kept looking to move again, even to another city. On business trips, I’d get the local real estate magazine and imagine myself in the West Hills of Portland in an older historic home with great bones, land, and no sales tax, or the sophisticated living of an apartment in New York like our friends who took their children to school in a yellow cab. In Chicago, I dreamed of living in a modern high-rise like my friend, Michelle. Or, being transferred to London, like Tom and Kim. It all seemed so exciting. Something new. Somewhere new. I was always on the lookout.

I knew it would never happen, though. Hank is so LA. How could he leave his precious Bruins? The Dodgers? The ocean? And his office just a fifteen-minute commute downtown? Nope. I wasn’t going anywhere, so I settled in and raised our children, fought the cross-town traffic and revelled in our incredible climate.

I took for granted my own family living less than an hour’s car ride (depending on traffic), or my closest friends mere minutes away. Also, that my children lived in a home that they knew and loved on a cul-de-sac where they could ride their bikes.

“Bor-ring,” my dramatic mother would say. “All you do is the kiddies.”

“Ugh, and in Pasadena, of all places,” she’d say, claiming the Westside was the only place to live in LA.

I shrugged off her comments. And never reminded her in later years when she’d beg to come over. “It’s serene at your house,” she’d say.

Still, in the back of my mind, I glamourized a move to a new city. Or, even a new home. Starting from scratch. Shiny new light switches - a “smart home” with all the bells and whistles, instead of living in an old home in constant repair or redo.

Yesterday, our contractor, Mark, called me outside to see the rotted redwood planks, but my eyes went to the area where the deck had been.  “Nikki’s dog bowl,” I whispered to myself as I scanned the ground. “Lucy’s dog toys, Allan’s tennis balls, Joe’s little baseball guys…”
 “Oh my gosh,” I told Mark, “Nikki was our first dog. And these toys and balls…it’s like uncovering an archeological dig of twenty-nine years of family life.”

I whipped out my phone and took a short video, sending it to the kids. Hilary was the first to respond: “Omg!!!This makes me want to cry!”

Allan, of course, wanted to see what it looked like without the deck. Anna, Allan’s fiancĂ©e, joked that all the tennis balls had to have been Allan’s and Joseph remembered the little red plastic cowboy. “Whoa, Mom…”

The following day, I came home to more finds. In the kitchen, on a paper towel on the counter, lay a chipped Christmas ornament and Joseph’s old Matchbox car.

“I keep finding things,” Mark said when I asked him about them. “Kinda fun, eh?”

“You forget all this stuff,” I told Hank when he came home that night. “But, you see it again and the memories come flooding back.”

I will probably never have that sleek, contemporary home with all the bells and whistles. I will never have that sophisticated apartment in a high rise or an old historic home on a hill, but life has a way of reminding you to step back and take a look at what you have.

To love it.

And be grateful…

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Day After

What is it about the day after a holiday? On Christmas morning, I was sipping coffee from a mug emblazoned with an old-fashioned Santa. Hank had Christmas Carols going from the Sonos speakers sprinkled throughout the house. In the living room, the lights on the tree sparkled. The ornaments glistened.

The next morning, the whole thing looked and felt like yesterday’s mashed potatoes. With the lights on the tree turned off, the ornaments lacked the luster.  There was a wad of gift-wrapping in the corner by the bookcase, red ribbon dangled from the armrest of a chair, and crumpled holly-framed cocktail napkins were scattered on the center coffee table.  Below, on the area rug, a trail of fluffy white stuffing from Tucker’s new doggie toy, led to its now-deflated orange casing.

Overnight, my view of our living room had transformed from “festive” into a gift store with too much Christmas merchandise. All I needed were the tags. Ugh, the magnolia garland on the mantle. It was all I could do not to sweep my arm across the whole damn thing and watch it gleefully fall to the floor.

It was the day after and the candles had flickered and dimmed. They always do.

Think about Halloween, those wilted, waxy carved pumpkins the morning after the trick-or-treaters.  Or worse, the day after Valentine’s, those sale bins at the store filled with heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, candied hearts, and leftover greeting cards…Valentines 50% off! In retail, the expression of love the day after is so OVER.

It took two days to get time to start with what I call “the take-down.” Out came the ladder, the boxes from the garage, and a fresh stack of cheap tissue to pack up all the Christmas.  After the job was done, I told Hank I felt lighter, as if the weight of the holiday was behind me. All stacked up neatly in boxes in the garage.

Backing my car out of the garage later, I eyed the boxes. Nope. I don’t have to deal with those boxes for three hundred and thirty some odd days. Or, maybe, I thought…

Out for dinner on the 30th, I told Hank that I’d decided to be ready for Christmas early next year.  Get ahead of the fray. “Instead of becoming a frazzled mess in December, I’ll be one of those – you know, those:  ‘I-finished-my-shopping-in-August-and-it’s-all-wrapped’ people. I’ll just float through the holidays like they must. And when it’s over, I won’t be in such a rush to take it all down.”

Hank looked skeptical. “Really?”

“Yeah, and I won’t pine for the day after and that euphoria I feel when it’s all over. Who knows, I might even enjoy the holidays!”

I took a sip of wine. “You think October’s too early to put up the tree?”

Hank gave a nervous laugh. He’s used to my whims. “At least hold off until the Thanksgiving dishes are done,” he smiled.


I picked up my fork to take a bite. “Next up is New Year’s Eve. The forced gaiety and all that, but somehow I don’t dread it.”

Hank looked up from his plate, the candle on our table reflecting in his glasses. “That’s because New Year’s Eve is an ending.”

“And the day after,” I replied, “is a beginning.”