ITS NOT MY HOUSE ANYMORE

No, I’m not talking sorority house.

For the last six years I’ve been  missing my beautiful, old house in Oklahoma City…..with its stone fireplace that opened onto both the living and family rooms,  ceramic windowsills, ancient 2″ planked wood flooring that cost $20/foot to replace 10 years ago, the master bedroom suite I created — along with the huge door I added so I could look out at the 20′ stand of 50-year old trees that made my city home appear to be in the middle of a forest. There was nothing like lying in bed, reading a good book and watching the snow fall on the trees that shielded me from the world. And sharing all those trees with the birds that chirped me awake in the morning and cooed me to sleep at night.

Mildred lived in the front half of the house — the old master-bedroom suite, living room and dining room. Who is Mildred, you ask? She’s the lady who, along with her husband, designed and built the house in 1949. She never left. Since she still had use of her master bedroom, every now and then I’d hear her toilet flush. I purchased her living and dining room furniture, along with a couple of other pieces from her estate — the furniture they bought when they moved in (we found the receipts) — so the front of the house was still her “home.” People would walk in the door and tell me how peaceful the house made them feel. That was Mildred.

I lived in the back half — my (3rd bedroom) office, new master-bedroom suite, the “family room” I called my lodge because it was walled with raked pine, had the fireplace at the far end, and a full-wall set of casement windows that gave an unobstructed view of that beautiful back yard and my totally renovated kitchen. (With all due respect to Mildred, I couldn’t work in a totally pink kitchen — cabinets, counter tops, sink, appliances, flooring, curtains — I swear Barbie lived there. And there was a reason her husband died before she did.)  My mountain lodge gave me so much peace — and privacy.  Since Mildred lived in the front, she got the traffic noise. And everyone else lived on the other side of the forest so I never heard them.  Abbi had parties that hosted a cast of thousands, but no one in the neighborhood knew. She and her friends could swim, bar-b-que, play water volleyball, sunbathe and play music as loud as they wanted and not be heard from any direction.

My first act after signing the papers was to add a swimming pool. That 16 x 32′ incredibly private pool allowed me to swim laps a couple of times a day or lie on a float for a nap. That made my forest even more magical. Dragonflies would lite on my hand and rest with me as I lounged. The breeze in the trees joined the birds to create a symphony that centered me and made the rest of the world go away.

A turtle had adopted the forest, too. He was an old guy, and I painted a section of his back red so the lawn guys could find him.

There were planted flowers, perennials and small shrubs along a twenty-foot strip on one side of the back-yard’s lawn — the side where I put in a patio for the lawn furniture and gas grill. And the hot tub deck was flanked by iris’ and day lillies. A hammock provided a peaceful space to read, shaded by the wispy mimosa branches.

When I moved in, I planted wisterias on both side of the walkway to the house and they had matured into beautiful bushes that produced fragrant purple blossoms during the spring and summer. The peach tree I added provided enough fruit for all the pies I could possibly bake, plus plenty to trade for my neighbor’s pecans. The stained-glass stepping stones I designed and made were spaced to separate my property from the neighbors on one side, and I’d added some elms to do the same on the other.

This must be very boring to you, but to me this house was my refuge in some pretty tough time; the place where Abbi could bring her laundry home from college and do a little sunbathing while I got her clothes ready for the return trip (it was her only nod to needing mom anymore, and we both enjoyed the pretense). When her friends didn’t want to make a long drive from work to their homes in snow, ice, hail storms, tornado seasons or were between apartment leases…….they’d sleep over in Mildred/Abbi’s room. It was Abbi’s place to run away when her hectic life filled with a full college class load, coaching several cheer and dance squads, choreographing for others, practicing/performing/competing with the university’s dance/pom squad, staffing with a cheerleading association, performing with the city’s arena football team’s squad (along with being part of the public relations crew), and holding campus offices while helping run our shop on campus became too much for her to bear.

And then, I got the job in northern California, sold my beautiful home, and drove away for the last time.

Over the years, many people have told me not to drive by the house if I came back to town — that the new owners had changed it too much, and not for the better. I had been back in OKC for about four days before the car pulled onto 33rd Street and I found myself pulling into the driveway.

I knocked on the beveled glass door I’d added, but no one answered.

They’d made some interesting changes at the front of the house — added a more stylish mailbox, put a wooden deck around the tree that centered the living room windows — but they’d taken out the elm trees that provided a break between my property line and the neighbors, removed the shrubs that provided privacy in Mildred’s bedroom while adding the benefit of making it difficult for burglars to get into the otherwise easy-to-enter casement windows, and removed the wisteria I’d planted by the gate to the back yard. The two that flanked the walkway were still there, but they’d trimmed the heck out of them. And my peach tree was dead. Nothing left but a trunk and one set of branches.

The pool cleaners were there, so I went into the back yard (and past the junk car that was parked on the other side of the gate) and asked if I could look around. They didn’t care.

Almost all my trees were gone. They left the ones that provided shade and privacy for the master bedroom, but all the rest were gone — only ugly stumps remained. All my flowers had been removed. The pool was still there, and I longed to jump into it, but there was no more privacy — 3/4 of the back and all of the western fence were open to the neighbors’ yards. No more forest.

Originally, I’d wanted to peak into a couple of windows to see what changes had been made, but after seeing the outside decided that wouldn’t be a good idea. It wasn’t my home anymore. Someone else had made it theirs, and though I didn’t understand the reasoning, it wasn’t my place to question their decisions.

It’s been a week, and I’m still sad. For some very strange reason, I guess I’d always figured that if the time came to return to Oklahoma to live, I could walk up, knock on the door, and tell them I wanted my house back. But now it’s not even one I’d consider buying. At any price.

I wonder if Mildred stayed around. Or the turtle.

So, I can’t go home again — at least to that home.

But visiting it made me realize that I’m ready to know where I live. It doesn’t matter whether that’s on the road, or at another sorority house, or in an apartment, or on a boat. Or maybe it’s the kitten at Jenny & Jason’s who spends half her time hiding from three rambunctious kids aged three to nine. She’s adopted me, because I’m gentle with me…..but tonight is my last night here.  For oh, so many reasons, I’m ready to know.

Janis Joplin was right. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Today, I have errands to run, more friends to see, some interesting/uncomfortable phone calls to make, and I’ll spend another night in someone else’s bed. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve laughed so much in the last couple of weeks visiting friends I haven’t seen in six years — have gotten to experience the first day in the life of a new foal, loved seeing both Brittney at work and watch JRobb dance for the first time. I’ve gotten to visit Jenny and Jason’s beautiful home and meet their three very different kids, caught up with some amazing people, and plan to do even more of that in the next few weeks. But……

before I go, I’m giving you a homework assignment. As you know, I have friends of just about every religious persuasion. I’m asking all of you — Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Wicca, Misc. — whatever supreme being you communicate with, will you please put in a good word for me? Ask that answers come quickly so I’m not in limbo anymore.  I promise to be here for you when you need me.

So, until tomorrow, be careful out there……and remember to put in a good word for me. If Kenny G. doesn’t have a home yet, it’s time to give him one. Me, too.