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Nostalgia December 2015

Agelessly Yours

Holiday Homestead, No More

By Karen White-Walker

So I say, go light on the cleaning, forget the gifts and enjoy the heck out of one another, because someday we’ll all only be a memory to those we’ve left behind. But we get to pick what kind of memory that is, something to either smile or shake about.

Doesn’t it wrench your heart to drive by your grandparents’ old homestead and it either has unfamiliar faces in it, it’s been remodeled – not the faces, silly, the house –  or it’s been torn down? For those of you who aren’t nostalgic and don’t feel a profound sense of loss and longing in your soul, the heck with you, you must be half dead. Seriously, there are those who maybe have unpleasant memories and it’s painful to recall the hurt. And how about those who can move on and live completely in the moment? Psychiatrists claim they’re the healthiest of all; guess that leaves most of us out, huh?

For me it all began on the corner of Garden Street and Vine, lower town  – “Pleasant Valley,” they called it. Papa’s and Mama’s home had one of those big wraparound porches, you know, like all the hotsie-totsie, fancy, expensive houses usually have? Only my grandparents’ place was humble, modest and far too clean even by the Health Department’s standards. Mama’s motto was never ever, “Play now, clean later.” I think she might have even slept in her apron, a kerchief wrapped around her head, and rubber cleaning gloves, thus possibly inventing the first form of birth control without even realizing it.

“Papa, what is it about your marriage that keeps it going all these years?” I once asked him.

“Your-a bella Mama, she no-a look any different than-a the day I-a marry her,” he tenderly smiled.

It doesn’t take much of an imagination to know then how our Mama looked on her wedding night. Years ago you could barely think about such a thing, let alone ask, and here I am writing about it? I looked up toward the heavens and pleaded. “Mama and Papa, there’s always at least one in the family who causes embarrassment. Forgive me?”

Did I mention that my grandparents’ earthly homestead’s yard was meticulous with perfectly pruned trees and flowers that we kids could never touch, but only smell? Come spring and Easter time, that’s when our wonderful Roman noses came in handy –  one nostril for blooms, and the other for smelling the spaghetti sauce that permeated through even the outside walls. But it wasn’t my sense of smell that is my lasting memory, it’s of all my uncles, aunts and cousins that descended “down at the house” every Sunday and holiday.

At Christmas, one year I received seven jewelry boxes and here’s the kicker. Even my relatives who bought them for me couldn’t believe it, and they practically saw me every day of my life. I didn’t own one necklace, one bracelet or even one of those paper Indian cigar bands that could dub as a ring, to put in one of those boxes. Only a scapular hung around my neck like a noose, and I was forbidden to ever remove it for fear I might die in a state of mortal sin and never see any of my relatives again.

“And that would be a bad thing?” asked one of my cousins who couldn’t wait to run away to join the Navy, and he was only seven – the age of reason?

“You save-a the jewelry boxes for you-a own children,” advised Mama. At the age of 10 I could only nod my disappointed head and reply, “Yes, Mama.”

There was that time when my closest cousin and I received look-alike Roy Rogers cowboy shirts, and then we fought about who looked more like Roy Rogers, her or me. I won because she had just graduated to a training bra and I was still in undershirts.

But it wasn’t the presents throughout the years that I remember most; it was being together with the family, the “familia.” So I say, go light on the cleaning, forget the gifts and enjoy the heck out of one another, because someday we’ll all only be a memory to those we’ve left behind. But we get to pick what kind of memory that is, something to either smile or shake about. Put that thought in your jewelry box for safekeeping. Don’t have one, you say? I know where there are seven.

 

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