Sunday, August 10, 2014

Another House, Not My Own

I asked Mr. Moon this morning what he wanted for breakfast.
"I do like pancakes," he said.
Pancakes it was. With peaches and bananas and pecans and oat bran. And maple syrup. The other day in Costco I heard a man ask his wife if they needed maple syrup. She said, "No. Remember last time we didn't use it fast enough and it got all moldy?"
"Oh yeah," he said and they passed it by.
I wanted to say, "Uh, you ever hear of refrigeration?"
I kept my mouth shut.
While we were eating our pancakes on the back porch, Mr. Moon said, "Why don't you pick out a dishwasher?"
I almost fainted.
"Yeah. There's no reason not to. Maybe I could redo the counter tops."
This was huge. Huge I tell you. And I was just thinking about the counter tops I used to have in the kitchen of the last house we lived in and maybe I should talk about that house because yesterday I talked about the Jim Walters house where I sweated and cried and tripped and cooked and lived, and sometimes had magical times and there was, to be fair, lots of music which happened there and I have some good memories of it. I do.
But the contrast between that house and my life there and the last house I lived in before this one is unbelievable. I might as well have gone from a tent to the Palace of Versailles. And at least the Jim Walters house had plumbing which another house I lived in at one time did not.
When we bought the house before this one, we had been living for twelve years in a house in Tallahassee. I just about raised my kids there. It was perfect in many ways and just a few blocks from the house Jessie and Vergil are about to buy. Jessie was born in that house. And I can't even really remember why we moved out of it. I tend to get itchy about houses and I'd never lived twelve years in one place in my life. It was a fine house but we were looking for something else. With more property, maybe. I don't know. I just know that Mr. Moon reconnected with a very distant cousin, an older man, and he and his wife had built their dream house in the sixties and had lived there ever since and they were thinking about selling it because they needed to move closer to their daughter in Georgia due to health reasons.
"It's a cool house," Mr. Moon said. "I think we could get a good deal on it."
He told me where it was and I drove out that way to check it out. It was on the far eastern part of town and I was stunned when I saw it. The driveway ran for about an eighth of a mile, I swear, and you could have pastured a dozen cows on that lawn with room for two horses. The house itself was brick and redwood and it rose up, two stories, from that estate of a yard with absolutely no trees right around the house. Turns out that Cousin Charles was an insurance guy and he wasn't taking any chances with having a tree fall on the house. It was a Colonial-style house which I had no real interest in. Fine for wherever it was that Colonial style houses were invented but sticking out like a damn sore thumb in rural North Florida.
Still, when I saw that house for the first time, I fucking knew we were going to live there. I just had a feeling, the way you do sometimes.

Things proceeded and the Smiths decided that yes, they were going to sell and we could have first shot. We went to see the house, inside, and there was no way to actually see it. Mary Smith was a hoarder but not of junk. Of antiques. Antique every-damn-thing. The house, all million square feet of it, was filled to overflowing and then some with furniture, dishes, quilts, rugs, pictures. Everything. It looked like an antique store. The most overly-stocked antique store you could imagine. From the attic to the basement. There was an entire room in the basement with shelves and shelves of magazines dating back to the sixties, all neatly stacked and arranged. It was unbelievable. Hallways filled, closets filled, that large attic completely filled and the living areas too. The laundry room had a sort of Early Americana theme going on and you didn't know whether the stuff in there was to be used or was just decoration. Same with the kitchen.
There was a huge back porch- best part of the house as far as I was concerned. And it looked out on...a pool. A sweet little pool with a little cabana house behind it. Of course between the porch and the pool was an area planted in true Williamsburg Colonial style (Mary had made many trips up to Virginia to research all of this) with boxwoods.
Boxwoods. Could there be a more boring plant?
There was a garage big enough for four cars. Of course there was too much shit in the garage to put any cars in. Oh wait. There may have been an antique car in there. And an antique refrigerator that Charles kept beer in. It was all just so crazy. How could these old people possibly get all of this stuff out of the house? I didn't believe it could be done.
But they said they could and so we bought the house and we sold the house we were living in and somehow with a great deal of effort and pain, the new house was emptied. I think that move may have killed Mary. I swear. She loved that house and every damn silver teaspoon it it with all of her heart. They had a deadline and they barely made it although the magazines stayed right where they were and then we started tearing out the kitchen which was ridiculously planned and had cabinets separating the kitchen itself from a eating area. I had fought the move from the very beginning. It was all too damn much. And the house was nothing like me. Not one bit. Yes, I loved the porch and the pool looked like a little slice of heaven but the rest of it- the wallpaper, the dark cabinets, the fireplace in the den which was big enough to roast a stag in and which had been used only once (and we discovered why later), the many, many rooms, that basement with its red shag carpet and Lady's Home Journals, the tiny bathroom off the master bedroom- no. Not me.
But you can't fight some things and I finally gave up and Mr. Moon promised to make things as right for me as he could and we started with that kitchen and he redid the cabinets and we spent months sanding and painting them a cornflower blue and he put in stainless steel counter tops which were beautiful and he bought me a Viking stove.
And we redid that bathroom upstairs and put in a skylight over a double shower and I picked out seafoam green tile for it and we used an antique sink the Smith's left behind and it was beautiful. I found a painting of two egrets to hang in there and that bathroom was a glory. And my closet. Oh my god. My closet. Mr. Moon and I had been sharing a small closet for twelve years and suddenly I had a closet the size of a decent bedroom. Our bedroom was huge. Even with the bed and two dressers and a vanity and a few chairs, it was like an echo chamber in there.
I had those boxwoods ripped out and I planted roses and herbs and in the winter, that was where my lettuces grew. I planted elephant ears in a corner by the pool and those things grew leaves the size of small automobiles. I funked up the house with my own furniture and with thrift store finds and Jessie and Lily made their rooms their own and when we finally moved in, the night I turned forty-five, I was digging it.
I stayed up half that night, putting things away and finally having a midnight swim, naked, under the stars and because there were no trees, it was like living under a huge bowl of sky and I learned to love that bowl of daytime blue and of night time ink with the whole celestial heavens above me.
I made pinto beans and cornbread in the Viking for our first meal.
Mr. Moon made the little pool house into a room of my own. I adored it and finished my first novel there. The girls settled in and all of the kids used the pool and I've heard tales of some of the parties that were thrown there when we were out of town and I just laugh to think of that, sort of sorry I missed them.
Lynn had her fiftieth birthday party there and I'll never forget how after almost everyone had left, the few of us still there swam naked in the pool and Lynn was so happy.
Lon and Lis visited us often there. Lis jokes that I bought that house for her. She loved it. She adored it. Nothing made her happier than us cooking beautiful dinners and serving them in that formal dining room with its toile wallpaper and flowers and candles on the table. And don't tell anyone, but one night? When martinis were involved? Lis Williamson swam naked in that pool!
Ah, how we look back on that and laugh. We were all naked. Why have your own pool if you don't swim naked in it?

And it was good and it was fun but it never felt like mine. I always wondered when the adults were going to come home and tell me to get out.
Our bedroom never got dark, no matter what sort of curtains and shades we put up. I moved the bed from wall to wall and I doubt I ever got one damn good night's sleep there. Ever. And forget napping. The afternoon sun beat through the very brick walls themselves and there was somehow no soundproofing in the house. If someone made a piece of toast in the kitchen, I could hear it in my bedroom. The giant fireplace turned out to be completely non-functional due to its size. There was no way that chimney could draw the smoke properly. I planted a live oak, a Confederate rose, magnolia trees, lemon grass, ferns, a garden. I yardworked my ass off. I tried. Oh, how I tried.
But somehow, it just was not my house.
We never used the living room for anything except as a place where the computer went.
The Viking stove slowly fell apart and became a hugely expensive piece of junk. I finally wrote a letter to the president of the company about it because they said it was out of warranty. I described the way the burners didn't work, how the electric ignitors made the phone ring. How I had to close the oven door with an axe handle propped up against it to keep it shut.
That letter was the most well-paid piece of writing I ever did because they sent out three men to come and investigate this piece of crap and they made it all work again. For free.
But shit. I didn't need a Viking.
I didn't need a formal dining room or acres of grass. I didn't need thousands of magazines. I didn't need a closet big enough to house a family of four. I needed a room I could sleep in. I needed shade and trees and less Williamsburg and more Florida.

The housing market went crazy. We knew this was the time to sell it, make damn good on our investment. We decided to find a smaller house (Lily had already moved out), a house easier to keep, closer to town.
And then we found this house which was none of those things but I had to have it like I had to have babies. I fell in love and thought I'd die without it. It reminded me of this.

(N.C. Wyeth illustration from The Yearling)

It was me, it was mine, it was Florida and old and had history in every square inch of it. It had trees that were hundreds and hundreds of years old and shade and many porches and funk and it was real and I knew it was really mine.
And thus began another story and here we are.

We put that big old house on the market for a ridiculous amount and by god, we sold it for the asking price. We paid too much for this one but it's paid for. It's free and clear. Ours.
And the day we moved was one of the happiest days of my life.
I made pinto beans and cornbread on the decidedly not-a-Viking stove.
I turned fifty in this house. And now sixty.
I sleep good almost every night. My naps are things of wonder. My grandkids have learned to walk on the floors which are no more level than a drunk man's knees. They know all the hiding places, of which there are many. We've had music here in the library, the hallway, the back yard, the stairs. Dancing, loving, tending, joy, sorrow, regular days of not much but plenty.
When I leave and come home, the giant oaks of Lloyd welcome me back. Or at least they tolerate me and the peace they bring me cannot be described.

I tell you what though- I do miss that pool. I've broached the subject of us putting one in here but Mr. Moon says no. Too much work to keep up. He's right.

But then this morning, when he said what he said about getting a dishwasher, I was so shocked. When we bought this house, I swore up and down to him that I'd never ask him to do a thing here in the way of improvement and we have done very little. New central heat and air, some roof work. A little painting. His Garage Mahal. The chicken coop. Mostly what I've done is plant more stuff. Palms and camellias. A garden.
And I have long since resigned myself to washing dishes by hand. No big deal. I have a sink with running water and a hot water heater. I know how lucky I am to have those.
But. Hmmmm....
Might be nice. Dishes that come out of a dishwasher are so sparkly!
And new counter tops? Well, the ones in here are black formica and yeah, they're pretty ugly but they work just fine and hide the coffee grounds that get spilled.

Sometimes I drive past that other house and I am still stunned by the sight of it every time. But the only things I'm truly interested in about it are how much the oak tree, the Confederate Rose, the magnolias have grown. I did that, I think. And am grateful that I was able. Grateful for that bowl of sky it all offered me for five years. Grateful for the good investment it was. Grateful that the family who bought it so obviously love it.

Grateful that we have moved on.

And a little stunned at the idea of a dishwasher. But I think I could get used to that. Maybe. This is already my dream kitchen. Because it's in my dream house.
We'll see.

And I wonder if those magazines are still in the basement of that other house. We left them where they were when we moved because...dear god. It was more than we could deal with. I bet you they are. Not my problem. Another thing to be grateful for.
As if I didn't have enough.


  1. Oh, I just love reading about your homes. I truly can see and feel them. Thank you.

  2. Wait a minute...the house you're in is SMALLER that the house you were in before?

    Also...where is the novel?

  3. Sylvia- I've lived in some varied places, let me just say.

    Rebecca- Maybe. I don't ever remember shit like square feet. It seemed way too big whereas this house seems just right. Why is that?
    The novel. Sigh. In my hard drive and in a box. It's about a waitress in Apalachicola. You'd probably hate it. It was sweet though and I loved writing it and I had an agent who swore she'd sell it.
    But you know.

  4. Wow. Compelling reading That house sounded great, thought I know what you mean about it not feeling like yours. A swimming pool and a library are my great yearnings, though a guest room and utility room would certainly be nice too.

    If I had a huge house, I would still manage to fill it with crap. Even the things I have that aren't crap end up looking like crap. Sigh.

    We bought this house just before my mother died, and she gave us a card that said, 'Never let your house take you over'. I did, though. I blame it on the children.

  5. take that damned manuscript out of your drawer and get to fixing it. what a great winter project! and never assume what someone will or will not love. or like. we are all of us eclectic when it comes to reading.

  6. I'd love to see a picture of that other house. It sounds as if it served you in its way but now you are well and truly HOME.

  7. Wow. Compelling reading That house sounded great, thought I know what you mean about it not feeling like yours. A swimming pool and a library are my great yearnings, though a guest room and utility room would certainly be nice too.

    If I had a huge house, I would still manage to fill it with crap. Even the things I have that aren't crap end up looking like crap. Sigh.

    We bought this house just before my mother died, and she gave us a card that said, 'Never let your house take you over'. I did, though. I blame it on the children.

  8. Wow. I love your house history. That yard work thing. Man. I did that in three houses. I don't know how you still do all that work.
    And a dishwasher? Say yes! New countertops? Anything but granite. So over-rated and probably incongruous in a graceful old beauty like your house. God. I love Mr. Moon. I love reading your blog. I love you, Mary Moon.

  9. I agree with Radish King: Please publish that novel, even if you have to do it on your own through Amazon. I know I want to read it, and I'm sure all your readers here do, too.

  10. I want to read your book(s) too and I thank Neil for pointing me here. Great post.

  11. I do miss the steel counter tops.

  12. What a lovely post. It's crazy the way where we are living can make us uncomfortable even when good things are happening in them. And another place can make us feel at peace for no other reason than they fit us.

    I would love the chance to read your book. I hope you take Rebecca's advice. She reads your blog, she must like your writing.

  13. I love this post! I can picture everything. And it DOES seem you are much more at home where you are now. I had the same dishwasher conversation with Dave when we moved -- I'd always hand-washed my dishes when I lived in New York, so when we came to London I said, "Oh, I don't need a dishwasher." But he insisted and both places we've rented have had one, and I am SO GLAD.

    I told you I grew up living down the street from Jim Walters' alcoholic brother, didn't I?

  14. Jo- The smallest house I've ever lived in and probably the least cluttered, was a ten foot by fifty foot trailer. With a husband and two kids. I used to DREAM of finding other rooms in it.

    Rebecca- Oh, honey. It's BEEN fixed. That agent worked for months with me on it. It just seems so outdated now. Parts of it I will always love and parts of it, well, I don't know. I'll think about it. And your are right- our tastes are as individual as we are. I adore you.

    Angella- Some time, when I drive by that house I'll stop and take its picture. I'll need the real camera though for the telescopic lens! It's so far from the road.

    Denise- And I love you too! Yard work is therapy for me. I must really enjoy it. Let others do hot yoga. I'll just do yard work in Florida. If I did get new countertops, I might go for tile or for cement. I love those cement ones. Although, truthfully, the best counter tops in the world are stainless steel which is why restaurants use them.

    Sylvia- Oh god. It's so dated now. I don't know.
    But thank you.

    Kenju- Come back and visit anytime! Please.

    Mr. Downtown- Yeah, me too. They were awesome. And the pool...

    Lisa- I feel so honored that Rebecca DOES read my blog. I feel honored that anyone reads my blog, quite honestly. And you are right as rain about the houses. Some are beautiful and some are homes and some are both.

    Steve Reed- I think that the alcoholic brother might have been in charge of design. Haha!

  15. Delightful post---I particularly love the description of the broken Viking!

  16. I don't think I could do without my pool or dishwasher, first world problems. Don't do tile I have tile and it is outdated and ugly, cement sounds lovely. Gail

  17. I needed to read a Mary Moon story and today I didn't want it to say so much about the person who lived there. Our own homes and how we make them ours and not the previous folks. Hard work but the new stories we create in them penetrate the very walls while we live there. You can feel them if you sit back and breath the past days in. That is why letting go of homes that aren't us are easy to let go and the ones that fill us with goodness are the hardest to let go.

    Get that dishwasher....and have more time to do more writing like this.....

  18. Another teleportation into your life ! I can almost see and feel every nook and cranny in your houses. And to think it all started with talk of a dishwasher. love it!!

  19. Oh my god, this is a beautiful piece of writing. I gobbled it up.

  20. I love this post. We are currently living in a huge, not us kind of house, and I dream of one much smaller, much easier, much less-er. Everyone thinks we are nuts, but after reading this I think you'd understand.

  21. Oh, I loved every word of this...and the house was indeed amazing, but the thing I remember most about it is, that's where I first met Jessie. I believe she was 13 and she was (IS) such a light-being, so full of life and love and joie de vivre.

    The home you now caregive is the's the one your grandboys (and more to come!?!) will remember all their lives...the delight you convey to us is almost tangible.

    And I SO want to read your book ~ I know I will love it!551

  22. Where'd the 551 come from? Hell if I know!

  23. A- That thing was a damn mess.

    Gail- I do like the look of that cement.

    Ellen- That's one of the things I love about this house. I can feel the history of it from when the trees it was made out of were still alive. I figure almost anything that humans can do or experience has happened in this house.

    Susan M- Thanks!

    Lora- Hey woman! How are you and your beautiful family?

    Ashley- I sure do understand. Absolutely.

    Lulumarie- You probably would like my book. I think I have a print out somewhere. Jesus.

  24. Houses have souls and personalities. Some times we fit with them and sometimes not so much. I love this house. It is grand and large and houses many antiques, but it is what I feel comforted by because I am used to grand and large and lots of antiques. And yes, I do like the gardens of Virginia. Maybe wherever we go we take what is familiar and what we remember that makes us happy. With the new landscaping though, many boxwoods were removed and replaced with plants that attract butterflies and birds. We now have paradise for sure.


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