Yesterday, October 1, had loomed long and large in my fevered little mind--perhaps too large. It marked the 20th anniversary, to the day, of our first day as occupants of the CrazyStable. Given to fits of grandiose plan-making, I had spent years envisioning a grand rededication to cap off a surge of long-delayed renovation, something to put Hyacinth Bucket and her candlelit suppers to shame.
The impulse to over-memorialize our transition to home ownership is understandable, I suppose, given that it also marked the onset of a series of permanent changes in our identity, from comfortable little apartment-dwelling newlyweds to (in overlapping succession) overwhelmed homesteaders, traumatized elder caregivers, and richly blessed parents. We are still all three, to some degree, and the monstrous appetites of the CrazyStable (not so much money 'pit' as money furnace) still keep us on the financial brink--another curious identity shift after making the one life choice that is supposed to confer immaculate financial security.
But with one happy exception--the restoration of the stained-glass window lights--my ambitious list of second-decade house goals, and my plans for a champagne-fueled completion celebration, were all consumed by the money furnace. The roof still leaks, and yesterday Bagel the squirrel actually looked us right in the eye through the dripping hole. The floors and banisters are still covered in ox-blood red paint. The one exterior paint job we managed to afford in 20 years is flaking off. And two enormous rooms (albeit just ones used for storage) are still in their original state of utter ruination. No bubbly toasts to a glorious transformation--not this year. Er, decade.
Ironically, Spouse and Child were off at some "future expo" at the Javits Center on this momentous day, observing too-clever robots and high-tech building solutions, while I dragged myself around the Stable in a funk. And surprisingly, the source of my heartache had nothing to do with our ever-receding goals for the house. It was, rather, another anniversary--a ten-year one, the death of my beloved Aunt Louie.
Here she is as a young lass fresh from Alabama, smitten with a young photographer and Navy man who happened to be my father's older brother, Don. She would become the Georgia O'Keefe to his Steiglitz in the decades to come.
This (below) is how I remember her later in life, a folksy wizard at once shy and adventurous, tooling around in her old blue Volkswagen bus, studying homeopathy and astrology, and tending to her magical country place out in New Jersey, which in many ways was my wild formative template for the CrazyStable.
Although Louie was never child-friendly in any conventional sense, I adored her, and learned from her that neither poverty in youth, nor infirmity in old age, can keep a great soul from enchanted dreams. (She also loved the CrazyStable, seeing in it promise rather than horror.) Her death ushered in, not just shock and mourning, but the weighty responsibility for my uncle's affairs--for she had been the business head of the childless couple, and had left their affairs in a baffling tangle that was beyond Don's grasp. He was resourceful and resilient, but a series of strokes had left him with a childlike dependency on her--and now, for an astonishing 10 years, on me.
When we first lost Louie, I struggled to fit their shipwrecked lives into my own, which included, at that point: the CrazyStable, my disabled and chronically distraught mother, a year-old baby, a freelance job we desperately needed, and a close friend on life support whose affairs I also managed. By comparison, things are easy now; their decaying country house is sold, my mother and friend are both with their Maker, and Don thrives in his own wacky way at 93. What seemed like a burden looks, in retrospect, more like a privilege. But at the end of the day, 10 years is a long time to be without someone you love.
And so, at the end of the day, I shambled out onto the streets of Prospect Park South to buy some vegetables, vaguely intending to roast a duckling that we bought Saturday on the North Fork of Long Island. I ran into several dear friends in the neighborhood and chatted, noticed the leaves turning buttery yellow, and then walked straight into a movie set, where Helen Hunt and Matthew Broderick were filming "Then She Found Me" on a neighbor's front porch. The PA's let us watch them rehearse a scene, so I got to hear Helen's lovely distinctive voice in person. (She's also directing this one.)
I wished my friends a good Yom Kippur and moved on. By the time I bought some dispirited overpriced celery at the Flatbush Food Co-op, I had run out of energy for the duck project, which had been slated as a sort of small-scale Candlelight Supper. Instead, we ate pasta in front of the TV, and Spouse and Child told me about the robotic Therapy Seal they saw at the Javits Center. Food (ducky or not), friends, family, and movie stars...maybe there is a "little way" to Heaven.
That, at least, was the contention of my ascended spiritual master, whose feast day is...October 1. Happy birthday in Heaven, Thérèse...give my love to Louie.
Wow, what mysteries surround people. I must pick myself up, and renew all my studies and get going. --Louie C. Becker, age 70, diary, Dec. 31, 1987
Jesus does not demand great actions from us but simply surrender and gratitude. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, age 23, Story of a Soul