Thursday, October 12, 2006

CARDBOARD BOXES


I suppose it is possible to divide everything into three.

Whether it be a workday, a pregnancy or a good book,
everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.
Most of us don’t really think of life as a triad until we enter the middle.

During the first third of our lives, we are busy forging ahead trying to figure ourselves out. We go through varying stages of rebel and excel and by the time we reach the middle, somewhere in our thirties, we have somewhat grown into our lives.

If we are lucky, life fits fairly well at this point and we go on to weave the fabric of our story.

Our best years.

This is the time when careers are built, bank accounts are filled, titles are earned, properties are established and children are raised. We have a new definition and sense of “home” that differs from our youth. We are now the masters of our castles, the rule makers, and the ones to kiss and make it better. We work hard to create the physical space while filling the heart of our homes with love and security.

I am in the middle of the middle and looking forward; trembling with fear and brimming with excitement as I watch the people I have helped to create cross through the next 10 – 20 years. I nurture, nudge, scold and support them on this journey, guiding them to the threshold where they will cross to their own middle. I realize that once they enter, it will be my time to step out of second trimester and make my final move.

Some people refer to the last trimester as ones “Golden Years.” I imagine the manner in which one crosses into the final phase has a great deal to do with personality; cup empty or full. Few, if any, leap without looking. It is the sort of transition that is carefully planned for and if one is lucky, eased into with a partner. This is the time of downsizing homes, retiring from jobs and making comfortable but decisive lifestyle changes. I can envision myself sort of side-stepping, sashaying really, across with one eye opened, holding my breath until I’m sure the ground is solid beneath my feet.

I have definite visions of what this time will be like for me:
my husband, retired and happy by my side,
a home that is established, paid for and full of memories,
children flocking home on the holidays toting spouses and little ones,
a bank account that will sustain us
and grandchildren that will visit often and spend the night reminding me that the circle of life is intact.

These are my blueprints which are probably similar to those of most of the women I know. I am sure that at one time they belonged to my mother.

As human beings, we share an illusion that that we are the designers of our own blueprints and that our life story is ours to write in advance. 1997 was a long and painful year for my mother, full of endings and beginnings. She endured divorce, three surgeries and in the middle of it all, the unthinkable: the loss of my brother, her youngest child. The tragedy of her life was overwhelming and the fabric so tightly woven was beginning to unravel. Finally, the sale of her home upon her and she was being pushed over the threshold into the last trimester.

I admired her courage in carrying on, even though the picture looked nothing like her original blueprint. Perhaps it was the indestructible nature of Irish women, perhaps it was her unshakable faith, but closing the middle chapter for my mom was anything but smooth and easy.

For my mother, the middle had played out all on the same stage.
The scenery, the props and the performers unchanged behind the curtain.
She married my father at the age of 19, thrusting her into the middle quite early.
Having grown up the youngest of ten in a poor Irish family,it was a welcomed change.
My brother came in her 21st year and I followed less than two years later.
After an apartment or two, they moved into our family home when she was 25 and it was there that the memory making would happen for the next 35 years.

This was the stage where two more children would be born, countless pets would be brought home and teenagers would be grown.

In this place, family meals were shared, training wheels were shed, and drivers permits taken.

From this home, children left for college, for the military and to make homes of their own.

Under this roof, grandchildren were rocked to sleep, tickled and given cheesecake for dinner.

On this stage, good-byes were said to the marriage that started it all, and then finally, to my brother, who left before getting to the middle.

Births, weddings and funerals.
beginnings, middles and endings unfolded here for 35 years.
Strangely, I felt no sadness in parting with the house of my childhood.
I do not understand why except I believe that my memories lie in the people, not the structure, but for my mother, I imagine it was like saying good-bye to a lifetime. I suppose if the blueprint were intact, she could have eased out of the middle and downsized into the next phase. Instead, divorce forced the house sale and by brother’s death brought despair. I saw my mother floating through a dark uncertain tunnel.

For weeks I helped her sift through her life deciding what remained of value.

Dainty china saucers and never used cappuccino cups.

Stacks of photos and children’s childhood trophies.

Garden tools and kitchen items intended for feeding large families.

We packed the “middle” with all of its significance, into cardboard boxes taped neatly and labeled for an unknown future. The “middle” was then neatly stacked into a 10 x 20 rented cubicle which would house her life in cardboard until the ride emerges from the tunnel into the light again.

I did my best to make light and cheer of the task, but never before had I seen a book shut so abruptly without marking the page. When and where it would open again was a mystery. Stepping out of the middle usually means taking most of your life with you, not packing it away.

I told my mother that it would be exciting to search for a new place and tried to make her see the temporary displacement like the dormancy of a tulip bulb.

I know this to be true, that the bloom is even more appreciated after the wait, but it was, I’m sure, hard to see from behind all of the cardboard boxes.

4 comments:

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Very, very nice, Nancy. Straight from your heart to ours.

Suzy said...

I was there for most of those times, and saw your amazing family develop into role models for my own life. Wonderful writing Nancy, wonderful family.

PsychoBabble said...

What a beautiful note Suzy.
Nancy, as I have said before, your writing it amazing. It always brings me to some emotion, either near tears, or laughing my a-- off. Thanks for deciding to write again and sharing it with all of us.

Michelle O'Neil said...

Wow! So beautiful.

The piece started out with a feel that it was taking you someplace, and you delivered.

Great writing.