Ladybugs and Home

I haven’t finished the scrapbook page yet, though I’ve purchased the materials — including ladybug buttons from which I’ll cut the shanks so they lay flat. Truthfully, beyond selecting the pictures and purchasing the materials, I haven’t even started the page.

But, I will. Someday. I have to so that my granddaughter knows how young she was when she started to read.

OK, I’m exaggerating; she wasn’t exactly reading. Paige, at the age of 16 months, had simply made the connection between the written word and the spoken word, and I was dazzled by her brilliance. She had just learned to say the word “home,” and would flip through the pages of “Five Little Ladybugs” until she reached the last page, slap both of her small hands down on the page and say, very proudly, “Home.”

Now, at the age of nearly three, she knows and recognizes all of the letters of the alphabet and can spell a whole variety of words. Using blocks or magnetic letters, both she and her twin sister can spell their names as well. I am inordinately proud of them, but the memory of Paige reading her first book is especially dear to me.

I’ve been thinking of that off and on all day as I continue dismantling my home. Already the studio and office are almost done. Most of my library is also packed, though a goodly share of the books are in bags for the library. Since I was given an e-reader for my birthday last year, books have lost their allure. Besides, they’re so incredibly heavy to move.

Most of the photographs have also come off the walls, though the paintings remain. They’re the first thing up and the last thing down when I move. I still need to tackle my kitchen and scrapbook supplies. Then, I’m done until the day before I move when I’ll pack up my toiletries, clothes and the kitchen implements I’ve kept out to use.

How quickly a home can become impersonal space! Far more quickly than rented space can become a home.

I hadn’t seen my current apartment prior to moving into it. In fact, I was in another state when I rented it. I’d been hired for job and then swept into the grand adventure of helping my daughter move with the twins. While immersed in that, my youngest viewed apartments for me so I could move when I returned from that trip.

Leaving the house I’d rented for several years was difficult for me. It was a bit of a mess when I’d moved into it, though a lot of elbow grease had transformed it into my dream home. I’d scrubbed the accumulated spatters of numerous paint jobs from the beautiful woodwork and applied fresh coats of paint to the walls — in colors selected to showcase my art collection. I’d created spaces that were compatible with my lifestyle — having for the first time room enough to do so. I would have stayed there forever if work hadn’t carried me away.

When I walked into my current apartment, my heart sunk. My daughter had told me she could see me in this apartment; that’s why I rented it. But the stove was obviously old — the harvest gold enamel revealed that. The walls were darkly paneled and the floor carpeted with bland grey indoor/outdoor indoor/outdoor carpet. But it was spacious and sunlit. I could make it work, I told myself.

And I did, though it was a trial and error adventure. Eventually, the dining area was transformed into an office and the second bedroom into a studio. I learned to ignore the godawful window dressings the lease stated were to be used and to have a sense of humor about the stove’s idiosyncrasies. At this point, I’m not sure I remember what it’s like to use an oven that actually works consistently. What if I could bake pumpkin bread without worrying that it might burn or stick in a casserole without wondering if it would be fully cooked when the timer went off?

But, I think the sense of home came as much from the shelter it provided during the emotional storms of the past couple years as from the decor. When a former employer thought it was appropriate to treat me like a piece of furniture, rather than a person with my own needs and desires, this is where I came to cry. And, when I returned from working at a convenience store nearly crippled by pain from standing on my feet for nine or 10 consecutive hours without a break, and from moving cases of beer and pop, this is where I took refuge in hot showers and cold beer.

When my front door was closed, I could put aside everything that threatened my internal equilibrium. I could pick up a book and read, or grab a brush and work on another in my series paintings. I could put my feet up in the recliner with a pillow under my knees and watch a movie that made me laugh away the knot in the pit of my stomach. I could sit down to prayer, lighting a candle and opening my Bible.

In this place, I was simply myself, not what anyone else expected of me. Myself.

And that’s what a home is — whether we live alone, with friends, family or lovers. Home is a place in which we can be ourselves. It’s going to be a challenge to live for a time as a guest in someone else’s home. It’s going to be a challenge, but when we turn the pages of our lives, we must expect challenges — those wonderful, glorious opportunites to make new connections, just as my Paige did when she was learning to read.

And just as her new connection was the beginning of a whole new world for her, I fully expect mine to be as well. After all, her example is too dazzling not to follow.

But, first I have to finish the packing.

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