Last weekend Jay, Greta, Ezra and I went back home to Dothan, Alabama to pick up Greta’s car. My dad has had her 2001 Mazda Tribute for some time and has been fixing it up. Which I thought meant getting it tuned up (which he actually has a shop do now, something unheard of when I was a kid), replacing the brake pads and rotors (which he still does himself) and doing no telling what else to no telling what other parts of the vehicle.
Actually, it meant not only doing all of the above, but also replacing and fixing every other single thing he could find wrong with it (except the $1300 compressor – but Greta is 19 and she has not yet earned a car with air conditioning). AND waxing it twice, vacuuming places I didn’t think could be vacuumed, rain-exing the windshield and mirrors to the point that there is an actual inch barrier above the windshield so the thing doesn’t even get wet now, and other things so minute, detailed and anal that I will just stop writing about it now. We will just leave it at the fact that the 10 year old Tribute has not been that clean since the day it came off the factory floor. And my parents are perfectionists.
My mother is both a germaphobe (by lax social standards, not psychiatric diagnosis – although some psychologists would probably say she is border line) and could-have-been an interior designer. On top of her home looking like it is ready for a Southern Living shoot any second, it is CLEAN. There is nothing like going to my mother’s house to remind me how dirty and unkempt my own house is. Which, at least by the glimpses I have been privy to of other people’s houses, is pretty clean. It is just that my parents are neurotic, I have decided.
The real thing about going back to my parents is that I love seeing it and them. We moved into that house in the summer of 1976. It is totally renovated and the inside is completely different than it was in ’76, but it is still the home I spent at least 16 years living in. I see the familiarity of home as we round the curve pulling up to the driveway. I see the house and the yard and all my dad’s gardening and landscaping. My mother’s decorating inside. The smell of Mother’s cooking. There is something comforting and wonderful about stepping back into their house and feeling instantly comforted and relaxed…aaahhhh.
And then I am there for 36 hours and I remember that all those comforts aren’t really mine anymore. It is not my home and my bed and my stuff. It never really was. And the next day after my mother has packed up three days’ worth of food and fussed over every detail of getting us out the door to the point that even Jay’s extreme patience is exacerbated, I breathe a sigh of relief as I see Dothan in my rearview window.
Hours later I walk into my own far less clean, far less organized, far less Southern Living photo shoot worthy home. Although it is “put away,” there is a layer of dust on the piano. There are matchbox cars on random window sills and not one bed is made. Clothes have been put in dirty hampers and the floors are swept, but the desk looks like the local post office has exploded. Few of my dishes actually match and we will not be eating off Depression glass plates that can be looked up in a book and the napkin holder will not be crystal.
Some of the furniture needs replacing by now. But then, I kind of like the little armoire I got in that second hand shop in 1995. I love the 1800s mantle I found in Mobile, AL years ago. And then there are my books. No matter where I have lived or for how long, I have never felt at home until all my books were unpacked and stashed around the house.
It is really only clean to my satisfaction for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon. But for all the dust, matchbox cars, mismatched dishes and stacks of papers, it is home. And it is mine.