Friday, July 24, 2015

When I was a child the last place we lived as a family before my mother took my brother and me to Florida, was Chattanooga, Tennessee. My father's people were from there and Mother herself grew up on the mountain. The Mountain. Lookout Mountain, where Daddy's father and his uncle, also had houses but grand ones, stone castles of houses rising up in magical settings on the green, green mountain. The house Mother grew up in was charming as hell and had magic of its own but it was no castle. It was more of a regular house, although perched right on the edge of a bluff from which, if you fell off, would land you halfway to Chattanooga, dead.

My mother and father and my brother and I lived in much more reduced circumstances. Looking back, we must have lived in one of those little suburbs, thrown up after the war. Two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, a living room, a den, a garage. My daddy was supposedly employed, at least some of the time, at his father's and uncle's law firm, an honored and venerable law firm, and yes, Daddy was a lawyer but he was mostly too drunk to work anywhere and we often did not have money for food but my grandfather's wife (not my father's mother) gave my mother a mink coat and it was confusing, at times. The memory I have of that house is of a yard horribly overgrown, much to my mother's shame, because not only was my daddy too drunk to work, he was too drunk to mow. He was mostly too drunk to do anything but disappear for weeks at a time. I also remember a geen-painted upright piano and a green vinyl couch and long, long drapes in the living room and my bedroom, which I shared with my brother and where I saw shadows of monsters and ghosts at night and had the first dream I can still recall which was of me on a pogo stick, frantically bouncing up and down to avoid the huge herd of alligators I had somehow found myself in, all of them snapping at me as I pogo'ed.

But what I'm thinking about today is about when we'd drive up the mountain to visit either my Granddaddy Miller or his brother, my Great Uncle Burkett. As I said, their houses were great and fine and I never felt comfortable in either of them. I mean- how could I? Black servants in uniforms would greet us, serve us. The lady-maid who opened the door at Granddaddy Miller's would hug me and call me "Gibby" (Gibson is my middle name) which always made me feel slightly uncomfortable- she knew me but I didn't know her, and Granddaddy Miller would play piano for me and sing for me, his round little body, moving on the piano bench with buzzy joy, his cheeks as red as Santa's and there were always drinks and strange foods I had no experience with at all and I had to be on my Very Best Behavior.
I don't remember a damn thing about Uncle Burkett's house except that there was a little chair elevator that went up the winding grand staircase that Aunt Bill could sit in because she had medical problems, not that I remember what they were, and she lived to be in her nineties, as I recall.

No, I don't remember much about those houses but what I do remember is the drive up to them where I would see tiny wooden houses, cabins almost, perched on the mountain right above the road, and sometimes Black folks would be sitting on the porches and there were always bright flowers, growing in giant tomato cans, lining the edge of those porches.
For some reason, those were the places that called to me. I could, somehow, imagine living in one of those, sitting on a porch with a smoking chimney atop the house behind me, watching the occasional car go by, the changing of the light as the sun rose into the sky each morning.
I think my little-girl soul longed for a cozy, tidy place such as that. Perhaps, even then, I knew that love did not live in those castle-like houses of my grandfather, my great-uncle, despite all the richness and riches there might be in them. It might have seemed to me, though, that love could bloom in those tiny cabins, or at least contentment, at least hope, like a geranium rooted in a tomato can to bloom like red fire in the sunlight of a mountain morning.

I don't know. But I do know that I have always wanted a home like that. A home with porches, with plants all over them. Not grand, but fine. Not castle-like, but home-like. Not so big that love doesn't get lost in the dark, polished furniture, the marble, the brass, the rugs, the silent, cold stone walls.

And I have this house now, which is somehow the fulfillment of those dreams I didn't even know I was dreaming.

I spent a while this afternoon after I got home, fiddling with porch plants, as I do. I took a knock-out rose out of a pot on the kitchen porch and planted it in the little bed beside the kitchen. It has not been happy in that pot lately. I put a split-leaf philodendron which is a baby of the big one on the front porch that I've had since Lily was a baby into that pot and then repotted a bird's nest fern into the pot the philodendron had been in. I settled a baby rose in a pot up there too, and one of my beloved begonias which hasn't been getting enough sun in the backyard, where it's been.

I noticed that the crepe myrtle I planted years ago by the street has finally put out a blossom, way, way up because that's how high it had to go to get enough light to make a flower.

I watered the front porch plants and swept the porch and cleaned the glass-top table out there. The banana spiders are back. Ladies and their brave, much smaller husbands in webs that stretch from here to there and which, when you run into, you bounce off of because they are so strong.

Nothing could make me happier than all of this.
And tonight is Friday and Mr. Moon and I are about to go have a martini on that porch.

I loved the house that Lily and Jason are trying to buy. It is comfortable and spacious and the boys run and run around it in circles. And there are so many trees and plants. Oaks and pines and crepe myrtles and a few camellias and gardenias and Australian tree ferns and azaleas, of course.

Here's the back deck.

Here are the boys in what could be their room.

There are three acres and lots of woods and a lake nearby where boys could fish, if they wanted to. There's room for a garden and fruit trees and chickens and whatever they want.

We shall see.

There is no greater blessing than having a home to fill up with love, to feel comfortable in, to feel safe in, to see beauty in and around.
A haven, a place of peace and sometimes wild-child voices, too.

It's been a good day and here's one more picture.

Three of my favorite boys on earth.
Togi, Hank, Billy.

Hank told Owen, "Togi's my bro!" And then Togi said, "I'm his Brogi!"


We've had a porch martini and watched a storm come in and now the power's off (of course) and thunder is rolling across the sky from east to west and I can cook everything we're having for supper except for the bread and eventually the power will come back on and it's sort of magic and it's sort of a pain in the ass and it's been a real good day and we're going to have crab legs and cole slaw and sliced avocados and I'm going to make cocktail sauce as spicy and hot as a Cuban salsa dancer and the rain is coming down.

Friday's can be awesome.

Love...Ms. Moon


  1. What a lovely post -- you've spun a story out of your memories and your present life. I visited one of those castle-like homes on Lookout many years ago. I had a girlfriend in college who lived in one of them. It was incredibly spooky -- the family basically lived one one side or wing of the house and the rest was closed up and dark and cold. In her bedroom you couldn't hear anything in the rest of the house. I've never had aspirations for a big house and actually love a small one. You're so right about the neat and cozy thing -- the warmth in having just what you need and the space outside -- the big world there.

  2. Beautiful, Mary. Your pogo dream will haunt me. But I hope Lily and Jason get their house too, we know how much they deserve it.

  3. That sounds like an awesome Friday! I loved the story about you growing up in Tennessee and I can identify with your appreciation of modest houses. I've never been into very grand houses, but a well-kept modest one always makes me smile. And Lily and Jason's house looks great! Beautiful trees!

  4. I love the tree in the back of the house that Lily and Jason's house! Good trees are essential for a house to feel like a home (at least to me!)and it looks like the boys will be happy there. I love small houses, too. A small, cozy house with a big tree-filled yard is my dream.

  5. *in the back of the house that Lily and Jason may buy*

  6. One of my favorite things about you Mary is your ability to be in the present and weave your thoughts and feelings about the past into your blog posts.
    The past is never perfect but it brings you to where you are today and that is just about perfect! You have love, flowers, chickens and love. And a Friday Martini with a tall not-so-stranger. Perfect.

  7. Elizabeth- I think that my idea of the very, very best kind of house on earth for me would be one of those tropical Colonial ones where the inside and outside is barely delineated. I love the times of year here when I can open doors and windows. And perhaps this is why I love Cozumel so much- often there are no walls where we would put them. Such a basic thing- does a wall go here or do we leave it open to the outside? It is beautiful, having inside space where the outside is also experienced at the same time. Like my porches. But even better somehow.

    Jo- They work so hard. They are so young and have worked so faithfully and steadily and responsibly. Yes. They deserve it.

    Steve Reed- I love the yard and the woods there. It's next to a greenspace so there will always be woods. I truly hope this dream becomes reality.

    Jennifer- There is absolutely nothing as soothing as being able to look out to see trees. Or water. Or both. If the outside is big enough, the inside does not matter so much, does it?

    Heartinhand- Yes ma'am! Every bit of it is woven together to make what is. Which is pretty amazing, isn't it?

  8. I hope this house comes true for your daughter and her family. And I love your stories.

  9. This is a beautiful post. I felt lucky to read it.


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