Things

A wood-framed mirror on the wall, simple and utterly forgettable. A row of framed school photos, each one showing a little boy progressing through the years, each one showing off a new missing tooth or slightly longer hair or that eyeliner phase. A green, translucent ashtray now being used to hold spare change and paper clips and safety pins and other things you can’t ever find when you need them. A bass fish sculpture on the living room mantel.

They sound like things. They are things. But their significance goes beyond that. They are handmade items carefully carved and whittled and sanded and painted by your great-great grandfather. They are photos of a little boy who became a man, a husband, a father, a pastor, a soccer enthusiast, and then was killed by a drunk driver. They are gifts given at your wedding in 1965, back when everyone smoked, and are now finding new ways to be efficient because you can’t imagine them not in your home. They are tacky decor picked up at the store, days after the funeral when his ashes were scattered in the lake he loved to fish in — things that feel like him.

They’re things. And they’re home.

When a set designer picks pieces and props for a room, the choosing goes beyond picking up some accessories at Target and a few pieces of IKEA furniture. The room should look lived in — like home. There should be pictures on the wall, but of whom? Of what? What kind of life is a character living in this room? What kind of world are they sharing with these four walls?

We’ve been in our home for nearly six months. Six months. It seems impossible and not long enough, all at the same time. The weeks before we closed, I spent every moment I could on furniture websites, Pinterest, and my own friends’ photos, trying to piece together what I wanted our home to look like. What colors did I want to paint? What kind of dresser would we need? What kind of bathroom rug would match the yellow, hexagonal tiles?

And for the first few weeks we lived here, those questions continued. I’d buy a paper towel holder and waver over if it was the right one. I’d buy a lamp, then decide that I hated it. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was the “right” way to decorate my office before I hung up an entire curtain of twinkling lights on my wall.

Now, six months into this adventure, I have just one thing I want our house to look like — home.

I look at the wedding photos I hung on the wall above the stairs and my heart skips a beat. I imagine Alice, at 10 or 11, staring at those pictures as she comes down the stairs for breakfast, her book bag slung over her shoulder. I imagine her thinking she can’t ever remember those photos not being there, of her at 2, smiling in front of everyone as she stole the show at our wedding ceremony. I think back to my own childhood, how I could tell you where every photo in my Granny’s house was. How there was a huge, framed piece of art over the fuse box in the hall and my Grandpa would carefully move it to fiddle with the switches when the power went out. How there was a framed copy of the Lord’s Prayer above the table in the kitchen, and I memorized it when I was in elementary school and took great pride in reciting it. How there was always popcorn in the cabinet and the fuzziest blankets in the linen closet — the same linen closet my cousin and I hid in for over 20 minutes, clamping our hands over our mouths to stifle the laughter as my little brother stood right outside the door, begging us to give up our game of hide and seek.

I look at the dish towel hanging over the oven and smile. I imagine myself, in 15 years, folding it out of the dryer, running my hands over the map of New York City, remembering how I bought it in the Strand bookstore on my first trip to NYC and how alive and exhilarated I felt in the city I’d been dreaming of since I could remember. I think about how it’s just a dish towel — a literal piece of fabric that will one day be so faded from wiping birthday cake batter off of kitchen tables and being used as a cape by my children and from drying wine glasses after a celebration, you won’t even see all of the landmarks on the map. I think about how it cost me less than $10, how I wavered over buying it because we hadn’t even found a house yet back home. I think about all of the dish towels in the thrift stores and yard sales. All of the dish towels bought in bulk at Target and Walmart. All of the dish towels on wedding registries that sound so pointless.

I look at the shelves on my kitchen wall and let out a contented sigh. The mint green cake pedestal my sister gave me for my wedding is there. The yellow Fiesta pitcher I wanted for years before I was generously gifted one at my bridal shower. The tiny framed photo of my parents, where they look so damn happy and my dad looks like a young Paul McCartney, in a frame, handmade in Africa, that one of my mom’s co-workers gave her years ago. The green rocks glasses decorated in flowers that Nick and I bought when we went to the Highlands with his parents for Valentine’s Day, five months before he would propose to me. I think about all of these things, how normal they all sound — a framed photo, a pitcher, a cake stand, glasses — and I think about how someone else might not take a second look.

Things. All of it. Things that, one day, when I’m long gone, someone might toss aside as junk. Things that, if they were in a yard sale, someone might not offer a dollar for. Things that, if spotted in a Target or an IKEA, might be met with a “Eh, I don’t really need another dish towel.”

They’re just things. They aren’t subway tile or Nate Berkus armchairs or Pinterest boards come to life. But like a half-finished puzzle, a half-melted candle, a half-read book, a half-eaten cake, they are life. They are pictures of the second best day of my life framed in gold, lining our staircase so I can relive those moments every morning and every night and every trip for a basket of laundry throughout the day. They are my hopes and dreams and wishes for the big city my childhood self longed for and the home my adult self desperately wanted wrapped up in fabric. They are my favorite things, reminding me of all the little stuff life has to offer, like photo booths and Wednesday night cakes and vodka tonics in the middle of summer, proudly displayed on a shelf.

They are the things Alice is going to grow up remembering. Things that, maybe, she’ll ask for when she moves into her own apartment or house or dorm for the first time. Things that, in 100 years, a family member might still have and someone will wonder why they’re keeping that old dish towel or those framed wedding photos of people who are long gone.

And that person will say, “Because they make me feel at home.”

The Middle Place (Also known as The Place Where I Officially Become Gladys Kravitz.)

Two years ago, I said I was going to write a book by the time I was 30. On New Year’s Eve 2016, I said I was going to write a book in 2017. Today… dude, today, I’m still hoping I’ll have my book written by the time I’m 30, but that’s in like, less than six months. I like pressure, apparently.

I also like just writing. So that’s what I’m doing here. Every year I go on and on about how I hope to leave handwritten letters and leather-bound diaries and journals full of musings for my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And every year I realize it’s really f’n difficult to write with actual paper and pencil and I lose track of the things I want to say because I can’t write as fast as I think and I end up with a cramp and poor penmanship and I’m just pissed off at myself.

But hey, writing on the internet is better than nothing.

Today, Alice and I went on a walk. We circled our side of the neighborhood a few times and paid attention, like Harriet the Spy style, to the things happening on our block. There was a guy out sawing something in his driveway at the end of our street. There was a stupid teenager looking at his phone while driving that almost ran us over. (I seriously threw my arms up at him and he looked very apologetic, but he still drove off and I was fuming.) There was a mom (I’m guessing) loading up her daughter’s car with boxes and bedding, looking wistful as they tried to cram what looked like her childhood into her blue hatchback and I wondered if she was moving out, if she was going back to college after the winter break, if maybe she wasn’t a daughter but instead a Craigslist customer who came by to pick up some gently used sheets (ew) and maybe a box full of Valentine’s Day decorations. (Side note: I want to buy Valentine’s Day decorations. We have a red front door. It kind of begs for a pretty wreath.)

There was the woman walking two dogs — one was very small, the other very large. (The dogs I mean.) It was comical almost how she was nearly dwarfed by the dog on her left, but towered over the dog on her right, and I wondered how she kept up with them both on leashes. Did the big dog have to slow down for his tiny sibling? Did the little sibling get worn out trying to keep up with the big dog’s gait? Did she let them walk at their own paces, her in the middle, seemingly suspended in air by leashes?

There was the girl hobbling down our street on crutches, holding a small bag in her left hand. She was heading in the direction of our neighbor’s house, the neighbor that’s a piano teacher, and I wondered what happened to the girl to need crutches. A soccer game? A car accident? A sprain on some ice? I admired her gumption to hobble down the road to make it for, what I assumed, was 4:30 Tuesday piano lessons. I thought about how I need to ask my neighbor for my own piano lessons and sign Alice up, too. How nice would it be to just walk down the road for piano lessons? So easy, you could even do it on crutches.

And then there was me — pushing my 3-year-old around the neighborhood. To get her to sit still in the stroller so I could actually enjoy a workout instead of stopping ever half step for a stick, I gave her a Tupperware container full of Cheez-Its and cookies — a well-balanced lunch. She had her dinosaur cup (IT’S BLUE!!! she says to anyone who mentions it) full of milk, Mickey Mouse, a singing Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, and tiny pink and purple kitty cat stuffed in beside her. She seemed happy and pleased with the world, looking like a tiny FDR being wheeled around her stomping grounds, dictating to me to go left or right (“NO MOMMY, I SAID LEFT.” “Alice, this is left.” “…MOMMY, GO RIGHT.”). After about 20 minutes, she started to drift off, her Cheez-Its slipping out of her grip, scattering the tiny orange squares in front of the house that used to have a Donald Trump sign in the yard (Actually, it was a sign that read “I support President Trump, not FAKE NEWS MEDAI”) and now has a Confederate flag in the garage. I kept walking, popping my earbuds in to listen to an episode of a podcast I’ve heard a thousand times, but ugh, they just ended their second season and I’m in withdrawals so I have to listen to old eps over and over again.

The episode was entitled “The Middle Place” from Terrible, Thanks For Asking, and is all about the place between life and death. When those we love are in hospice, when those we love are in another world, somewhere, when those we love aren’t here, but they aren’t gone. And as I rounded the corner home, I thought about all the middle places everyone I saw today was in. The woman who may or may not have been sending a daughter off into the real world with her car full of belongings. The girl hobbling to her piano lessons. The woman walking her dogs. Their venture outside today was just The Middle Place. Just a spot in their day that mattered in some way or another. They (hopefully) aren’t between life and death, but they were between life and… well, life. A piano lesson after school, but before dinner and homework and playing a game of catch with their little brother, and waiting up to see if the 10:00 news is going to report that there’s a snow day tomorrow. A walk with two dogs in the middle of the day, taking a break from a grueling work project inside. Loading up their daughter’s car to send her to her dorm before she makes dinner for her spouse and stands in her daughter’s bedroom doorway, silently weeping at the little girl who took her laptop and bedding and phone charger, but left her stuffed animals in a pile on her closet floor.

And me, a woman who just wanted her kid to quit playing on the tablet and maybe take a nap. Before dinner, before finishing the laundry, before approving timecards for work, before binge watching The Crown some more.

The Middle Place. (Also known as The Place Where I Officially Become Gladys Kravitz.)

“There are random moments – tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children’s rooms – when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.” — Elizabeth Berg