Lost to Someone Else: An archival Account of Childhood

There is an idea that if you lose something it’s because the energy of that thing isn’t right for you anymore and it is for whoever else finds and needs it.  I hear this as a relief from the guilt I feel and take comfort in it when I consider the things I have lost.  I am sure that this applies to houses I have lived in, and took memories from.

This journey back to the North Shore of Chicago has been a time of remembering, and a lot of letting go.  The other day, Mr. Henry, my faithful dog, and I toured around my childhood stomping grounds of Winnetka.  The following skims the surfaces of memories, with more to unfold some day.

This tour was on a warmer day than what we have had, all the snow had melted by 40+ degree weather. Henry and I stopped in front of each of the 3 houses I lived in during my childhood.

As I stopped to snap a photo in front of each house, I was certain that I was stealing something that belonged to someone else and I was sure someone would come out to yell at me for stalking or stealing the image of their home.

I was stalking.  Some part of those houses still felt as if they belonged to me. The houses certainly belong to my memories.

 

 

 

1083 Oak was the first house my folks owned from 1951-1960.  They moved there from an apartment in Chicago. I was one year old and my brother was turning five.  I remember that my parents paid $18,000 for the house and they talked about how exorbitant that seemed to them at the time. They borrowed from the matriarch, my great aunt, to make it work, as they wanted good schools for my brother and me, and Winnetka was touted as the place to get that.  My dad was a traveling salesman for Bell and Howell at the time, a step up from the bread truck driver he had been and was fired from for being in an accident.  I think my mom was owning and running a knitting shop with her sister or working at Carson Pirie, Scotts.

It seemed important to take a photo of the front and the back of 1083 as front and back are packed with recollections.  When we moved in, my Great Uncle Benny, one of the ten siblings from Ukraine, would come and remodel the kitchen, which was at the back of the house. There he put in the wonderful picture window, added a bathroom upstairs for the two bedrooms that were my brothers and mine, built a table saw in the basement for my dad, and a darkroom for my dad’s photography.  I took much comfort from having Benny around.  I remember getting a kiss from his scratchy 5 o’clock shadow each morning he came to work, and I remember my mother being happy that he was there.

 

 

 

It was at an early age that I knew things in the house were not right.  The Borden’s Milkman, Nick, came to deliver milk at the back door once a week.  He would always give me a free chocolate milk but that wasn’t why I liked him.  I liked him because every time he came, it was like a little adventure, he was a new conversation with me and my mom, and with his Borden’s Milkman uniform on, he brought in a fresh energy, a sweetness, a light, something about the world outside.  I wonder now if he knew what he gave us.

The back held lots of memories like digging to China under the plum tree, and when I dug enough and dreamt enough about where in China I would pop out, I would climb that tree and watch my dad garden. Around the edges of the yard were my mom’s Lily’s of the Valleys and Pansies and the Peartree my dad tried to train to grow a crooked way.  There were the times my dad could get my very reticent brother to play catch in the yard and I would watch, wishing I could drip sweat like the two of them.

We lived in that house in the 50’s, during the Cold War. I knew for sure that we could turn our garage into a bomb shelter. That or the hinged tornado doors to the basement would also work. I knew more than a kid should know about how radiation traveled, and how to design a safe bomb shelter. I knew as we all did, covering our heads while crouched under a desk, was just stupid. So I educated myself about radiation, it’s movement and bomb shelters via TV ads and World War III movies like On The Beach. My mom took the practical stance of not wanting to live if there was an atomic war. She said that she’d rather die than have to turn away people who had not built a shelter, for lack of food and room.  I’m pretty sure my dad agreed with her.

The front held the steps and front porch door embedded with other moods, yearnings, and desires. I was always waiting for something, really most anything; for my brother to come home from school, or my dad to come home from work, or someone I didn’t know, to just show up and be a new person around to talk to.

I felt bored a lot, something in me had closed down; my aunt said that at about the age of three I had become sullen.  I didn’t learn until much later in my life, that my mother would go into the garage to take Phenobarbitol to settle herself after one of my father’s depressive outbursts or just when she had had enough of him.  The garage served as her “bomb” shelter. I know she was grateful that her first cousin and best friend had married a doctor when in need of a prescription for Phenobarbital.  Though I am pretty certain that my mother’s air was trustworthy and sincere, and when asking a doctor for help, getting it really wasn’t a problem.

None of us seemed happy including my brother and I. The best thing was that we had our dog, Peppy, a part Collie and part Shepard rescue. Really, I had our dog, Peppy, he was my appointed protector, he followed me to school almost every day, spent the night on my friend’s front porch when I did overnights and just stuck by me.  It was as if he knew what I needed, even more than I did.

After about 6 years in that house, my dad had seen Death of A Salesman and decided to stop being a traveling salesman as he didn’t want to miss out on my brother’s and my childhood. So he borrowed more family money and opened a camera store, Powell’s Camera Mart #2 on Elm Street, just down from The Fix-It Shop.  He kinda missed our childhood in some ways anyway because when he was home, he was in an angry depression…a lot. Many years later he was diagnosed with diabetes and I have wondered if his blood sugars were causing his loud yelling and bad behavior.

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Some years ago, I had visited the Oak Street house with my girls.  We knocked on the door and we were invited in by a lovely elderly lady.  She told us that the house was called The Stern house. Now that was a fun fact, as my parents didn’t build the house.  So who did and who was there before us? And why did my parents get the recognition?  I knew dad did good things in the community like supporting The Hadley School for The Blind, the Lion’s Club, and some other charitable causes. I also knew his store had a great reputation. So there is that.

After achieving success with Powell’s, my dad decided to take a big, risky step and buy out his partnership in order to open his own store. He struggled for weeks over whether or not to use his own name.  My mom and I said, of course, he should and so Stern’s Camera and Sound Center became the name.  He was on his path of success.  Though he had had only a few classes in business, he had a natural ability to run a camera store.

1442 Asbury Ave, Winnetka, IL

1442 Asbury Avenue was purchased for $42,000 and we lived there from 1960-1969.  I couldn’t get a picture of the backyard without asking permission and I wasn’t in the mood to do that as this was one of my moments of wanting to be more private. But the backyard once held the Japanese garden my father made and took great care in raking and making patterns in the sand.  The backyard also held the fence between our house and the kid that lived behind us.  My parents always disparaged his parents saying they were shysters so of course, I dated the kid.  There weren’t many ways to rebel in my family but this was one.  He was a jerk, so it didn’t last long.  Quiet parental pressure worked on me and I needed it.

While living in that house, my brother went off to college, after his high school years of drinking, while making straight A’s. On his visits home, he asked to have use of the attic room, asked for the paisley bedspread from India, and the arty hooka my parents had sitting around as an interesting artifact decorating the living room.  They happily and naively gave it all to him and there lay his den of iniquity.  He would invite me up to have a smoke but between no desire to lose track of an already off color reality and being a good girl, I turned the offer down, at least while I still lived in the house.

905 Grove St, Winnetka, IL

905 Grove Street from 1968 to 1982 really wasn’t a home I lived in but I visited often.  My folks bought it after I left for college for a whopping $68,000. My brother was already out of the house.  My folks again did a major remodel adding a second level.  In the backyard, despite my father’s encouragement for us to “live together longer”, I got married at the age of 19, barefoot with a flower wreath on my head. The guy I was marrying was not a jerk, but we were not a match.  He was a wounded guy doing his best to make life work, and couldn’t seem to help the fact that he didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t talk.  The marriage lasted a long seven years, with a lot of suffering due to the fact that I had had such a limited vocabulary when it came to speaking up for myself and I was so fearful that I couldn’t even tell myself what I wanted, let alone anyone else.

There is a storehouse of many more memories, suffering, wounds, and joy that is being asked to be told another time or not at all.

Family, Friends, Donald Evans and Things Part 1

Travels within the phases of life. I have no idea when Part 2 or 3 or anymore will arrive but it just seems like this is a Part 1. I find myself in a mix of darting thoughts about family, friends, possessions, my current role with my kids and others, my personality and everyone else’s.

6/18/17

The ritual of graduation was the subject of a short debate, to walk or not to walk. Nellie Evans didn’t make a lot of request of her kids to do things they weren’t keen on, but this ritual felt very important as there were so few in their lives. She felt it important for her youngest to claim her spot as a scholar as she had worked hard at being a student and it was important to Nellie for her youngest to be honored just as her eldest had been. The ceremony of honoring all the work done and an acknowledgment of a path that will curve and change, wind back and go forward was of consequence and not likely to be forgotten. Nellie felt it important to hold the significance of this ritual even when her daughter wasn’t so sure it was that “big of a deal” and even with the complaining about the dreaded and mandatory suffering of a 3.5 hour long ceremony.

The graduating daughter decided to walk, pleasing her father, Nellie and maybe herself. With this graduation came a celebratory backyard BBQ with cousins, and friends.  They were people known to Nellie and unknown.  Some socialized in ways that she wouldn’t and others she felt quite comfortable with.  All the while, having a propensity for seriousness, her mind kept being drawn to the nagging question of what really mattered?

Nellie’s perspective had shifted and changed about how she held people, places, and things. People who she held very close, she now felt the relief of distance from, others remained very close and she found great fulfillment in the connection. Things that had felt so very very important to her really didn’t matter now and that was strange. But not so strange that she would want to do anything about it other than watch it.

What really mattered? The move from the West Coast to the Midwest gave her pause to think about all the things that had transpired since April when she started the road trip East.  She thought about the relationships that were transforming without knowing how they would look, the artwork which she sorted through that was inherited and valuable, some she stored, some she sold.  There was the furniture which passed from one generation to the next and now outfitted her two daughter’s homes as well as a few friends’.  The jewelry was held safely in a family jewelry box waiting to be chosen by the daughters. And placed around the jewelry box for padding and protection were the wonderful sofa pillows that were made by Nellie’s mother.

Life as she had known it was now memories and the trip to the Midwest seemed something of a karmic sorting.  At least that was how she could make sense of it.  It brought to mind Harry Potter’s sorting hat and she wished she could just don it and know what group she belonged with whenever she doubted or feared.

The letting go of so much of this became Nellie’s job along with trying to figure out what matters? Who matters?  Which memories would get lost in the letting go, which would remain, how close would those memories be held by the upcoming generation and how close to the truth would they come and did that matter? What relationships would hold and what would drift away?

Of the many things that had changed, was Nellie’s need for an aesthetically pleasing environment. She had been a person who couldn’t be too long in surroundings that didn’t suit her aesthetic or around people very different from herself.  She liked things and relationships to be copacetic, and beautiful to be around. She had been known to talk about things in her surroundings that didn’t look right and how those things made her mind work too hard or hurt her eyes.  Her home had been of great pride, making it warm, inviting, and easy on the eyes.  She grew up with that and felt it the quality of being a good enough mother to help her kids carry it forward into their homes wishing them a comfortable life.

She currently resided in a wonderfully roomy room in a house and though the aesthetic was not what she might have picked, it had grown on Nellie.  It gave her comfort in that she did not have to start accumulating things to decorate her living space by purchasing again all the things she had just let go of. The dark maroon of the 4 walls at first looked just dark, but now she saw it as Buddhist maroon and took comfort in that. The color fed her spiritual need for a partial monastic life.  She found she was opening to things and people she would have judged and not come very close to in her past, though those who knew her would say she was always a very open person.  This move had shown her how much more open she could be.

“Give up your homeland— this is the practice of Bodhisattvas.” This is because the moment you leave the circumstances you’ve grown accustomed to, you are in foreign territory, and it’s easier to realize how much narrow-mindedness you are carrying around, including all your opinions, judgments, habits, and so on. Get yourself out of your comfort zone. By Dawa Tarchin Phillips, the resident teacher of the Santa Barbara Bodhi Path Buddhist Center and the Director of Education for the Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential at UCSB.

All in all, she continued to ask if any of the aesthetics or “right” people to be around really mattered?  If it did, what part mattered? And, why? Sometimes she could see her life and what matters fitting so nicely in a room like the one she had stayed in at Spirit Rock Silent retreats.  The rooms were simple, some might say barren.  The 125 square foot room contained a sink, a few towels, a large window, a small place for clothes, a single bed, a small table with a lamp and a clock on it,  That was it and it seemed to Nellie that it was complete. Upon arriving for a retreat, she would position the small table by her bed, and make the bed so she could look out the window and see the greenery.  She went to the retreats for the silence and so she only got to know people and be in relationship to them in a very particular and peculiar way.  At the end of a 7 or 9 night retreat, and silence was broken, she was always wondering who of the 90 or so people she would want to know more about.  She paid careful attention to the instruction given at the end about how to break silence, who to speak to while being mindful, questions she could expect from friends outside the retreat, and how to drive home safely. Sometimes, the awkwardness of starting to talk just gave her more permission to be quiet.

Towards the end of a Fall retreat, the final silent meal, she broke into hysterics with a dining companion over a silly hat a participant had chosen to wear.  The hat had eyes that peered at her and a top knot of sorts, that ordinarily might have only made her smile. But these circumstances put the three of them in fits of gaiety which they attempted to make into silent laughter with little success. Finally, they left the dining hall to arrive outside and let blow the laughter barely contained inside each of them.  All the while she thought about the laughing Buddha, just to give herself permission to fully feel the hysterics bursting in her.

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Finding herself in a new phase of life, Nellie’s questions about importance got bigger and bigger.  All the things that had meant so much to her seemed to not be all that important. All the judgments of others was still somewhat there, but less so. She found herself quieter in her thoughts, quieter in her interactions, and she thought more accepting of what is, at least some of the time.

In a tongue in cheek way, she actually wondered if she was dying.  She would exclaim, shouting in her head, “Well of course I am! We all are dying, just some of us seem a bit closer by way of age than others.”  She wondered if she was psychic and in fact, her life was coming to an end.  Or maybe she was just in a new phase of letting go by way of looking at what really, truly matters?

She grew up with people who held onto everything and all of it seemed to matter a lot. Even as they approached the end of their lives and left lots for the upcoming generation, it all mattered. She felt a bit different from that. In fact, she was different from that but carried the collector DNA which she constantly fought.

She was very curious about how all of this would land, what her life would look like in 5 years.  What country would she find herself in? What language would she speak?  When would she arrive there? And who would she be in relationship with? She found herself thinking of Donald Evans, an incredibly creative artist who made up countries and postage stamps for the countries. She always wanted to travel to his countries, she always wanted to know him and hear how he thought.

 

 

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Over Coffee

Just as the Buddha recognized Mara, we need to recognize the Inner Critic not as the truth, but as a single voice among many. ~Jan Chozen Bays Roshi, co-abbot of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon.

“Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.Take down a musical instrument.” ~Rumi

To those following me, a heads up that as of now, now that I have landed, sometimes I will be writing in the third person. So, here is a taste of that.

She loved the absurdity of suffering over her coffee.  It lightened the load of the suffering she did over her decisions.  Just as it was too difficult to get the really good cup o’ Joe she yearned for, it was just as difficult to figure out how to write about the hard times. The critic from the dark side could arrive some mornings just as she rolled out of sleep. It had a volume turned way too high and it took up the greatest airtime. It could consume her no matter what was ahead for that day.

She was learning to recognize the critic’s presence; tangle with it, face it, eyeball it up and down, and put on her Joan of Arc armor to sword fight it and take it down. It was tougher when it was the very first thought upon waking. She was determined to take it apart and disempower it and she knew she was making progress a bit each day.  Day by day she walked feeling a bit more bathed in goodness and confidence, not critiquing her decisions. Now she knew for sure that the sword fighting combined with the eyeballing was the exact formula to combat and disembowel the dark side.

She had been in Evanston 8+ weeks.  Sometimes it felt as if she had already been there FOREVER? Other times it felt like she just got there and sometimes, in the most blessed moments, it just didn’t matter. There were times that she forgot her reasons for moving, which caused her to feel very muddled, confounded and unsettled. She moved away from her kids, her home, and her friends on the West Coast, so remembering why was of great importance. When she did remember what the move was about (the healing she wanted) the re-feeling of old places, she was fully exhilarated by her adventure.

After speaking with her psychic, because she was that kind of girl who did those kinds of things, he simply affirmed what she already thought and knew. He confirmed that she didn’t have to stay anywhere. The real issue wasn’t where she should be, rather the insurmountable task of knowing her life purpose…what was she here for?  She thought this question was way too daunting, though she knew it to be true.  She could only respond inside her private thoughts with a knowing that all would sort out.  He talked about the energy she spread which would lay the groundwork for all she did and would do. Again, she knew that was also true and she could feel helpless in relation to her energy, helpless in her ability to change her energy.  She was either happy, okay, or not happy and not okay, and in really good moments she was neither and that suited her beyond measure.

Coffee at Brothers K