All H(is hous)e Can Give
My father’s house is mostly made up of photographs and piles. Memories and things to remember. Its configurations are fine until they reach a tipping point, and aren’t fine. The reason why we, my father and I, navigate “fine” is based on his family’s underlying philosophy of “good enough” that masquerades as “don’t ask for something-it’s a bother”. In my father’s grandmother’s words, “no big heads, stay the course, put your head down, pull.” We, my father and I, live in his grandmother’s house. If your head is down, what would it matter what the house looks like? You’re never looking at it.
“We should replace that vanity when you get a chance. Just go to the store and pick one out,” Dad invited. “The rest is fine.”
The medicine cabinet mirror held its current position since his grandmother lived in the house. The rest would be fine, except fine means. The floor tile is clean. Acceptable color. The tables are unique but squashed together in an almost tumble sensation if you search for storage space. The sink is asked to double as a counter. The closet door is plywood and on most summer days and at least half the days you take a shower the humidity makes it swell and you can’t open it. The closet dates back to his grandmother too.
“I’ll look around,” I replied without committing my consent or my effort until I can interpret vanity as arrogance instead of furniture. Good enough would mean to improve the entire oddly shaped polygon corner. “Have the electrician look at the light,” I offered.
Six months later the electrician diagnosed the vanity.
Dad retold the encounter. “Says he can go in through the bottom corner. Have to be after the old sink comes out.”
“Of course.” We couldn’t demo it ourselves, and my father’s loyalty extends to the electrician so there was more to juggle. Maybe we should have stuck with good enough.
“Floor’s worn out. Can’t figure out the discoloration. Glue, maybe. Just need more rugs.”
Maybe. Rugs would be fine, except fine means. The cabinets are strong wood but blah wood. The upper cabinets have my father’s grandmother’s kitchen hardware and the countertops in two separate pieces don’t match. The walls and ceiling are bumpy and uneven with covered over holes from long ago exits for pipes.
“Replace the counter tops too?” I asked.
“That’s expensive. Let’s paint.” He eyed the layers of paint on the top cabinets from an open door. “Can’t believe I finally replaced the bottom ones.”
I turned 40 this year. I barely remembered the metal cabinets his grandmother’s hands navigated in the only space in the house to which she laid claim. My father moved piles and then tables around and open up the space. I started to breathe a little easier after his effort. “Okay, let’s paint and buy hardware. We’ll see if it’s good enough.”
On the first trip to the hardware store, I selected examples to attempt to identify our style.
I took a friend with me on the second trip to confirm a choice. She was a grandmother, but not mine. We purchased the correct number of each type.
A month later, my father borrowed a drill and chose a day. The night before the chosen day, he informed me. “Couldn’t get the top handles out. Can’t do it without breaking them. If I pound, could snap the doors. Don't want to risk it.” His eyes looked away from me to see himself at the kitchen entrance sneaking candy from his grandmother’s cupboard. His eyes turned back towards me to look over my shoulder at his grandfather writing at his desk in the nook I wanted to claim.
I frowned. The inner layers of my stomach drooped in disappointment. Lest I forget, I was reminded. There were limits here.
Limits to live within.
And things to remember.
I returned to the store and purchased the handles that matched the ones calling to me from my memory of my great grandmothers cupboards. I was here to become a part of what was here, not to make it something that it wasn’t.
Dad stared across the room and then dropped his head to match his voice, “You know, I’ve always wanted to put hardwood in the middle of the floor. This rug is worn out. Feels dirty underneath. It’s done its job, but I think it’s done.”
I couldn’t believe he changed his perspective on “fine”.
“I think it would be nice. If you’ve always wanted to, you should do it.” I had too often forgotten in my hectic windstorm of “fixing” that although many things in my life had been good enough when I wanted them different, he had, and always has, had dreams too.
“And you know, the stove. I think that’s going to go.”
“Really? I think the TV would be good there. It would let the other wall not be so covered.”
“I always thought that too. Take this quilt down, put the couch over there. Expose the corners.”
We’re seeing together.
“I would like to expose the bookshelf. It’s pretty.”
Rustic, but with personality.
His eyes always curved up when I found a compliment for the house. He took it as his own. It was his own. But, it was also still theirs. All of theirs. The sagging mattress. His aunt’s walk in closet. The imagined trapdoor to treasure and disappointment at the lack of an attic.
“Yeah. Used to be a door.”
“Crazy all the bits and ways they kept building onto this shack.”
He was the one that stayed. Kept building. Made sure things were fine. Yes. Good enough. We would keep building. Not building on, but building in.
“I like my room.”
With more honesty than normal, I added, “I’m not embarrassed of it.” It’s light and it’s pretty and it’s airy and it’s country and a little bit dirty and some of it was just good enough, which for me was also good enough.
Dad’s excitement was building. “You know, the upstairs turned out real nice. I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t come back. I’ve even got some ideas for my bedroom. A reconfiguration of the reconfiguration.”
“Really? I’ll help you. You can do it.”
And, maybe the fine line had been removed between what H(is Hous)e could give. Or, it had was simply drawn in spider webs and dust.