My grandma is moving to Wisconsin in the first week of October. My emotions are kind of all over the place. On the one hand, I don’t want to talk to her about it because I don’t want to think about it. On the other hand, I was totally devastated to hear that they already have a renter for her house. I guess it’s easier for me to think about houses being left behind instead of me being left behind.
When my grandmother’s brother, my great uncle, died a few years ago, I didn’t cry until I thought of his old cabin. He’d moved to Northern California in the 50’s to be a hippie. He bought about 50 acres of what later became the redwood forest, and he built a log cabin with his bare hands, where he lived by himself without running water or electricity. I actually remember when he got both of those things, in the 80’s. I think by county mandate. Eventually, he negotiated a reverse-mortgage with the Parks service and went to live in Mexico on the income while the cabin, studio, gardens and paths all went back to the land.
When he died, I was sad. I’d gone to visit him almost every summer of my childhood. I’d run through the trails he’d built himself, swam in his creek, and at night I would listen to him and my grandma debate philosophy by lamplight while the sounds of the redwoods engulfed the tiny cabin. He taught me how to tie my shoes. He also taught me an appreciation for bugs, taking the time to explain their usefulness and thereby removing the terror factor. But I didn’t cry until I was in bed that night, thinking about the little one-room cabin with it’s tiny porch and rough wooden floor. I remembered it’s single light switch and it’s open air shower, and I cried because he’d never see it again. Because nobody would. Because a man had spent his life in that house, but he died 4 thousand miles away. Because the only place it exists now is in a handful of memories.
My grandfather used to call my grandmother stupid constantly. He’d bring up her dyslexia as a means of proving his point. But in my uncle’s cabin, I learned that she was smart. Without my grandfather around, she was brilliant. Sharper than her brother by miles. (Although that may have had more to do with the 60’s than with anything else.) So I cried because I couldn’t help thinking of a little wooden cabin that could hold so much inside of it, left to rot alone in the encroaching redwood forest. I thought about how nobody would ever walk through it’s door again, nobody would ever cook on its tiny two burner stove. It will never again smell like fresh oil paint, or reverberate with a rhetorical flourish, or sit in the mist with a fire in the stove.
A person spends so much of their life on something and just like that it’s mulch. My grandparents bought their house when the rest of the street was orange groves. The gardens are full of sculptures that they and their friends made and installed. My grandmother poured the driveway and the patio herself with cement she got in trade from the neighbors cement guy for trampling her garden. But as much as it’s a monument, it’s also a horrible prison. The six-foot tall fence and padlocked gates hid the kind of family we really were. Everybody can look okay behind that much landscaping. Unlike my uncle’s peaceful redwood cabin, all the memories anybody has of that house are overwhelmingly terrible.
I feel bad for my grandma that she’ll probably never see her house again. But maybe it’s a good thing to get her out of there. And maybe that house will finally get some happiness inside of it. It’s been so full of despair for so long.