My good friend Michael has written another guest blog, the first guest blog of 2014! Partly because my parents have lived in the same, relatively unchanged, ranch style house since 1980, I can relate to this story. And yet, since this is a story about constants and changes and our relationship to those things, I am sure everyone can relate.
In 1973 my dad moved us from Queens, New York to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Needless to say it was a bit of a culture shock for the whole family. No one could understand what we were saying with our thick, New York accents and every time the lady at the Piggly Wiggly store said, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear”, we would literally come back to the counter wondering what we had done wrong. It was like living on the planet, Mars. But one of the great things about our move was that we got to watch our house being built. The first time my dad took us to our lot, all that was there was the cement foundation. Once a week the whole family would pile into the new Ford, Galaxy station wagon and check out the progress of our house. Soon there were studs up, then walls, then brinks and stone, and then the roof.
When it was finally finished it was the quintessential 1970’s ranch house, with avocado green, shag carpeting, burnt orange appliances in the kitchen, a wagon wheel light figure in the living room and lots and lots of loud wallpaper throughout.
Flash forward 40 years! My mother and father still live in that same house, minus the green, shag carpet, etc. When I was visiting last summer they mentioned that they might finally take down the old, original wallpaper in the half bathroom off the garage. “Oh, no don’t! That’s all that’s left of the original design and it’s so cute”, I pleaded. I made sure to take a picture of the bathroom before I left in case they followed through with their foolish plan.
This morning on the phone, my mother casually mentioned that they finally remodeled the half bath off the garage. She also mentioned that they were thinking of finally selling the house and moving to a smaller place. A four bedroom house was just too much trouble for a couple in their late seventies. It was time.
It was just old and worn wallpaper, hanging in the half bath off the garage. It was dated and silly and dingy so it was time for it to be torn down and replaced with a fresh coat of beige paint. Preparing the house for the next family to take over perhaps. What’s the big deal?
But that wallpaper was my youth, my memories and a link to the past. When I would visit my childhood home, little by little things would change but I could always go into that half bath off the garage and I was immediately pulled back into the 1970’s and my childhood.
As a kid I probably spent too much time in that bathroom, sitting there trying to figure out the story of those characters on that red and white, kitschy wallpaper. There was the woman sitting at her vanity painting her fingernails. The bald man drying himself off with the checkered towel. The woman with the night cap on, checking her wrinkles in the mirror. The man in his bathrobe combing his hair. The mom brushing her little girl’s hair while she plays with her toy, with the cat watching closely. The naughty poodle pulling the towel off the rack. What did it all mean? Pondering it now I guess it was just a simple story about a family living together and sharing a space on a daily basis. It could have been any family I suppose, but I guess to me it was my family that I imagined on that wall. I think that is why I find it so hard to let go of it completely. So this afternoon I blew up the picture I had taken last summer, put it in a frame and mailed it off to my folks. I want it to be a reminder I guess…or a monument really, to that young family from Queens, New York starting off their new life and adventure together on the planet, Mars.