i wrote the following about the house i grew up in a moment ago, as a note to my father, who has been a tremendous influence in my life. i realize also as i type this intro that the important ersatz holiday, “Father’s Day” is upon us in less than 48 fleeting hours. my dad and i have similar temperaments: hot, opinionated, quick and nimble. that’s not always good. i respect him more than almost any man in my life, other than my husband, to whom i will be married 18 years on sunday, Father’s Day. my dad has done what he could all his life to be a model of resilience; a member of a generation of doers, bootstrappers. he’s 80 years old and he still writes a weekly column for our hometown paper. my brothers and i say that he’ll likely expire at his keyboard (we used to say “typewriter”) moments before deadline. i think that would make him smile. he has said about our family that we speak in paragraphs where others might speak in sentences.
when we lived in the old house i refer to in the title line, i would call him at work, numerous times, especially as a child at 716-847-8732 which was his office number. almost every time i would get Alice or Barb, his receptionists. i think it was Barb. she was nice: she had blonde-white hair, harlequin eyeglasses and long teeth and a big ready smile. she had candy at her desk and she was always happy to see me and my brothers.
someone at my dad’s office had one of those chrome covers for the phone receiver – could it have been Barb? or my dad? anyway, Barb would patch me through and he’d pick up, usually in a lather because i had a tendency to call him Just At Deadline (he was executive editor of a morning newspaper in Buffalo) and he’d say, “Hi Hon-nee…. IMONDEADLINE. CANTHISWAIT?” and i’d usually have to say “yes.” i don’t know why i called him so often. i guess i knew that someone would pick up the phone, even if it wasn’t him. sometimes his work buddies would talk to me on the phone, Sally, someone named Mitch? and they’d chat with me while my dad dealt with a reporter or desk editor who wasn’t quite finished yet.
i think about the daunting task he had before him: all those section and desk editors. what… 40 people and then their reporters and photographers and then his copy editors and typesetters and copy runners and then the press room fellas. they had those vacuum tubes hooked up in his building that would courier messages from one person to another. i remember going there when it was quiet-ish and playing with them with my brothers. the entire office floor walls shared what i call Catholic Bathroom Green: a sea-foam, dinner-mint-creme green, awful shade actually, with a putty tone on the lower half. apparently archdiocese overbought the paint and sold it to the publisher.
when he’d come home to 679, he’d ride his car all the way to the end of the driveway, just outside the back porch. sometimes i would be in bed. other times i would be awake. sometimes i’d see his car and race it to the end, running through the house watching, keeping pace with it as he came to the end of the long concrete mini road and jumping up on the wooden counters to look out the window to see who got there first. if the weather was warm enough, i could hear the opera piping through the speakers of our gray volvo wagon. he would sometimes sit and wait until the end of the music he was experiencing before opening the doors. i knew after a couple failed attempts at greeting him during those moments to wait for him to get out of the car first. if there is one thing my father loves as much as writing, it’s music. don’t get between him and a Bach cantata.
no child’s life is perfect. no child lives in a frigging fantasy land; people make mistakes. if you are a parent: do the best you can. if you are a grown child, recognize that your parents are human. nothing has taught me more about the struggles of trying to be that Be All End All parent who shows up at soccer, chess, tennis, guitar, crew, basketball, musicals, plays, bedtimes, bathtimes, morning times and all the other times in between and the mind-numbing exhaustion from doing so, than looking back on the way my parents raised me. i was a tough kid to work with. i went into their stuff. i took their tools, their scissors, their crayons, their things — but that’s how life is. i can’t blame my own kids for taking my things when i did the SAME EXACT THING to my parents. now i know how they felt when i’m looking for something that isn’t there anymore because curious young hands and forgetful spirited minds borrow and don’t return. i am almost 45, my dad and i are adults together now. while i still carry with me the wistful “wonder what if…” moments, i have to give him and my mother the grace, the slack of being human.
anyway, here’s what i wrote to my dad about our old house, “679,” which has had an unyielding romantic hold on me for 31 years. it has never let me go … but maybe now i am free. happy father’s day, dad. thank you for all you did right and thank you just for trying when you might’ve swung and completely missed. i’m still here: that counts for something! 🙂 i love you.
the family turner in 1977ish.i was around 10.
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i dreamt about 679 again last night; today would have been our last day in it 31 years ago. that house calls to me so often in my sleep. memories, new adventures, ephemera, moments that seem to last days. they lick the fringes of my consciousness like flames around a log.
i dreamt specifically about the large mahogany pocket door in the dining room. i remember as a kid, i would pull it just a hair past the limit to look into the wall and spy the ancient lathing. wondering, as a young mind inspired by nancy drew might, if there were forgotten treasure in the walls. in the dream, the lathing was intact, as i’m sure it still is today. no treasure. just the house. that was treasure enough.
i don’t know what it is about that house. it has a soul, a spirit all its own. maybe the loss of potential, the sadness of never seeing all that water whenever we wanted, anymore. so much more than that i know.
the irony is that i was my current age in that dream. dan and i had bought it; it was going to be demo’d for condos or something. i remember distinctly asking about WiFi – isn’t that ridiculous? and wondering if a bathroom was ever installed on the main level instead just the one upstairs. i walked around it, marveling at how much of it had changed and looked out the window for my car: it wasn’t there. i looked for the pipestem i live on now that so safely and securely hosts my kids as they ride their scooters, skateboards, bikes and “harry potter quiddich” brooms. it wasn’t there. the big three lanes, open park and big water was all i saw.
i realized in the dream that i didn’t want to be there anymore, dad. that i wanted the life i have now. i feel like the dream released me, dad, that maybe those days of missing that house and wishing for different are settled now; released to their loamy beds to finally break down and nourish the earth.
those final days in that house were pivotal for us all. would that we could have moved the actual house, 487 miles south east, i suppose we might’ve tried. how can a house do that to us: hold us for so long -so long! 31 years!- after we’ve bid our final farewells? gah… my throat is tight just thinking about it. it protected us from blizzards and rainstorms and hail and wind, fierce winds sweeping off that water.
so many stories those walls can tell. so many things those windows have seen. so many conversations and dreams and memories within those doors. the new delft chandelier in the dining room; i remember when you brought that home. and upon our move out: pristine black walnut floors beneath those awful 70s pistachio-toned carpets. i won’t ask whose idea that was.
so i think you moved in after i was born, after the oft-mentioned apartment on park street. and then on june 15, about a dozen years later, mom’s bday we moved to virginny. through thick and thin, you and mom have made it almost 50 years – in 23 days, you will celebrate your golden anniversary – huzzah!
i’m reading this over and i think i’m gonna post this on my blog. one of my fb blog people friends is moving out of her own house soon; they just put it on the market. she has expressed a range of emotions over her own situation. i’m thinking she might like to read it.
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hey kelly, i just saw this comment… it was caught in my spam folder for some reason. anyway, i appreciate it. thank you. i also loved your post about your dad. be true and you, that’s how he wants it. (i say present tense because i believe they are still with us sometimes…) you inspire me. thank you. really. -mol
I wonder what it was about that house. It’s not in great shape anymore and you obviously wouldn’t want to live in the neighborhood. I don’t know the circumstances of your relocation, but it seems as if that move is when your mom really stopped living. I mean, they were so much a part of the fabric of Buffalo that it must have been such a loss for them to leave. Your dad managed to remake his career in DC, and you and your brothers obviously adjusted. Maybe your connection is a longing for the time, the community, I don’t know. I have dreams all the time that my parents are moving, and those dreams are deeply disturbing to me. Of course, either they’ll move some day or we’ll have to sell their house, and both of those options just cause me cognitive dissonance. I have such fond and safe memories of my time at my grandmother’s house on Parker Avenue that I never stepped foot in there after her funeral. Just can’t stand the idea that it is any different than it was or that others live there. When I can’t sleep at night, I can always get myself back to sleep by going through every inch of that house. I can smell the smells and remember every trinket, every piece of furniture, every picture. I still drive by whenever I’m in Buffalo, though I couldn’t bring myself to do that for many years. Funny how we construct the past and it inexorably impinges on the present.
Word. That’s about all I can muster. I am sorta blown away from the post. I think the days in that house were the last intact ones we had as a family. Your observations are keen.
Don’t know why I’ve been thinking about this, but can you imagine being as important and engaged as your parents were in Buffalo and then moving away to a place like DC? Especially when you are leaving your family, your friends, a community like Buffalo….when you didn’t really wholeheartedly want to leave? I can’t.
no, i can’t either. imagine your parents doing that in their 40s. in the end though, i met dan and alb met jen; things would be totally different if we’d stayed. i don’t think it would have turned out as well as it has if we’d never left.
Great family picture… Such a beautiful house and your description of it and growing up made me feel as if I were there. It amazes me how different my perception of parenthood has changed since having my kids.
Life takes the turns that it’s destined to take… We help create the lives we have by taking that next step…
I loved this post…
Thanks, Amy. It was majestic, the house. Like a castle with a back staircase and Tiffany globes and built-ins… There was a flour bin, it was massive. Magical, really.
Taking the next steps, moving was a necessity. It was good for us.
Thanks for swinging by. -molly
We still live in an apartment…and dont have kids….but I dream of owning a house that I have this much passion about someday! Growing up…we lived in a few homes. My dad always had to “Move Up” in the world and that meant getting newer and nicer homes. Hated that.
i’ve only lived in four houses my entire life. 679 then the one we rented in va (well, i should say five, but the one my parents bought in va was right across the street from the rental) my first marriage house (i lived at home until i was married, saved $) and now the one i’m in today which is about 10 miles from my first house as a wife and about 6 miles from the ones my parents settled into.
i can imagine how moving all the time would be hard; just when you settle in, it’s over. i see military people do it all the time and i couldn’t manage although they insist i could. i just like to plant my roots i guess.
yeah, 679 was more than a house or a home. it represented probably the most consistent time of my life. i think that’s why i miss it so much; what it symbolized.
thanks, scott. -molly
Just stumbled across this while doing some research and loved reading it. I am currently working on a book about the architect of this home. I’ve never been inside but hope to have that pleasure some day. It is always illuminating to read the rich stories that come with these old buildings. Sometimes, while digging through old newspapers to document dates, costs and names, we forget about these more illusive details. Thanks.
Thank you, Chris. I still dream about her. Last week in fact. There was/is something about her that haunts me. It’s ironic… Usually ghosts haunt houses, not the other way around. I used to know the name of the architect. I’ve read about him and some of the other houses and buildings he designed in the city. We don’t have many pictures of the interior of the house, and I understand the subsequent owners have been respectful of the design and period concerning its renovations. My brother visited the house a few years ago, he said it was much more modest in size now… We are in our 40s. I almost feel like going back in as an adult would ruin my perspective. I cherish the memories of it being my fortress. Good luck with your book. Let me know when you finish it! -Molly
My parents still live in the house where I grew up. I never liked the house much. And I feel tethered to it. I’ve written a fair bit about it privately, but I don’t post because my parents read my bog and I wouldn’t want to hurt them. One day that monstrosity will be my responsibility. I will revel in ripping up the carpets. I will love to tear down the wallpaper. I imagine the fibers will turn to dust in my hands. I can’t wait to pain every wall and burn incense.
I love the backyard.
I can’t imagine not sitting under that willow tree.
The houses own us, don’t they? I know what you mean re monstrosity and not posting publicly. My dad subscribes, but he doesn’t read me much, watch the time I really let loose be the time he reads me. So, as I posted today, I must maintain decorum, plus it’s a good exercise in editing, constraint and focus. Anyone can rant, but we must rant effectively… Y’know?!
Thanks for reading, I appreciate it.