Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guess What?

On several occasions over the years when I was growing up my Dad would quietly grin as he'd ask the question.  As I recall it was usually timed just as we were lifting our forks to take the first bite of a meal as we five sat at the dinner table.

"Guess What?"

It immediately made my sister cry.  My mother would set her fork back to her plate with a look of realization, steel herself, and simply state:

We're moving.

I'd be elated.  But for everyone else in the family, it meant something different.  For Dad it was a promotion, a new territory to cover for Norton Company, a better opportunity.  For my mother, it meant selling a home, searching and buying a new one hundreds of miles away, and cleaning.  Not just dusting and setting aside knick-knacks and gee-gaws to attract a potential buyer, but a thorough scouring and renewing of our house that was already in near pristine condition  -often, one we'd lived in for just a few years.

Mayflower was the contracted mover for Norton Company, and the familiar green and yellow transport truck would pull up in front of our house with three men, blank newsprint and cardboard boxes.  It was a good contract for them at our house, no doubt.  We had books, and lots of them.  Books are easy to pack and weigh a lot--benefits for the both business office and the packers at Mayflower.  Also, our house was clean.

When they pulled a chest of drawers away from the wall, there was nothing there; no dust, no stray socks or missing toy parts, no intricate cobweb structures that had housed several generations--all that was there was the footprint of the furniture in the thoroughly vacuumed carpets.  When the washing machine was disconnected, there was no lint, no detergent spills, no telltale sign of leaks that had repeatedly dripped and dried, just gleaming linoleum that was cleaner than most family's kitchen floor, all the while, my mother exclaiming and apologizing to the burly workers for the unsightly conditions, contritely suggesting that they must see some real 'doozies' of filth in their line of work.  They'd nod politely and continue with their work while she'd kneel and wipe. 

As a little kid, of course, I was oblivious to the concerns of my folks who had to oversee these operations, transitions, school transfers, mortgage approvals, title searches, interest rates, closing dates, car and pet licensing, and my siblings' emotional turmoil for the upheaval of yet another move.  My brother and sister were several years older than me and they had to leave schools, friends, scouts, bands, and familiar neighbourhoods; mostly the ties that I never had or realized being much younger. 

When a new home in a new state was ours, my mother acted as forward artillery and attacked all its imperfections, wear and tear, and the previous owner's dirt with fresh paint, and elbow grease.  Our boxes would arrive ready to start again.  We kids would start a new school -often in mid year, and then we'd do it all again, soon.  A familiar routine, each with a unique story or memory.

A vivid memory is the move from Illinois to Michigan in dead winter in the late 60's.  My sister and brother were in high school by then, and had several moves under their belts.  I was seven.  We stayed at The Mayflower hotel in downtown Plymouth, arriving tired on a blistering cold mid-winter's night.  After a full day's drive in our Volkswagen bus, we were keen to get out of the car and get some warm elbow-room in the hotel.  We walked up the wide stairs in the stately 30's era hotel, continued down a long hallway to our large 3rd floor room, and settled in.  Beds were turned down, the heat turned up.  Once pajama'd, we were ready to call it a night, but nature called and Buffy, our dog, needed one more run.  To make a quick trip of it, shirtless, but wearing his pajama pants and socks, my brother Allyn took the dog to the fire escape at the end of the hall.  Once outside, the door shut behind him and he quickly realized there was merely a two-foot square platform and he would be unable to get down to the street level carrying the dog on the iron-rung drop ladder.   Too late, he also realized that the door was now locked from the inside. They were trapped.

As the rest of us slowly let the day drift away, it didn't occur to us that the knocking and muffled yelling outside was my brother --just a faint background noise in strange surroundings.  He banged, hollered, and pounded on the thick fire door for a long time while holding a very unhappy dog who did not like being suspended several stories above ground on an open grid ironwork platform and wriggled earnestly to be freed. The pounding persisted, the yelling continued, until it worked its way to Dad's nearly asleep semi-consciousness when it occurred to him that Allyn and Buffy had been for gone quite a while.  He poked his head out of the room to look and heard -much more clearly- the imploring racket.  Back in the room, as Allyn warmed up and described his predicament, our laughter was even louder.  My brother was not nearly as amused.

That was our last move together as a family.  When I was in high school, my folks and I moved again to rural central Massachusetts.  I watched, unseen as one mover whisked away my dress-making mannequin, and with a gruff voice, said, "C'mon baby, let's dance!" while he waltzed her all the way out to the truck. It's funny, the little details you remember that made big impressions.  As adults Stephen and I moved many times with our growing family.  Those moves, too, had some stresses and unique adventures we can recall --you may have read a few of them in earlier blogs.

After Stephen and I moved from Nebraska to New Jersey in the mid 90's, our family of six stayed at an extended stay hotel called Embassy Suites.  We had a two room suite and they allowed pets.  The company that had hired Stephen was paying for the stay while he worked as a consultant.  The four kids and I went house hunting with real estate agents during the day.  At the end of the day, we'd all meet up at the heated indoor pool, enjoy the Manager's Complimentary Cocktail Hour, and the kids swam while Stephen and I would catch up.  Our spacious rooms, which had complete housekeeping services and two televisions  included a full cooked-to-order breakfast every morning in the dining-room/courtyard.  I quickly got used to the surroundings, routine --and luxury-- while we stayed there for several weeks.  

Eventually, we found a home, the kids enrolled in school, and we started again.  Justin started middle school and since the school year was well underway, he was quickly thrust into the curriculum and his science class required a few 'from home' supplies.  Justin was asked to bring a raw potato the very next day.  Not yet moved into the house, Justin matter-of-factly explained we didn't cook and didn't have any potatoes.  The teacher, understandably, took this as a lame excuse to avoid the assignment and quickly chastised him and dismissed his excuse.  Justin insisted he was being honest, and compromised that he could probably ask one of the kitchen staff for a potato.  Now his teacher --with an entirely new assumption-- wanted more information about her new student and his 'kitchen staff' and asked where he lived.  Justin simply replied,  "The Embassy."  She stopped asking questions and I think with our foreign sounding last name, it temporarily left quite an impression on her; it may have been Justin's first not-lie.
Recently, I hope, we've finally made our last move.  Stephen and I have settled in at Cleveland Place.  Here my folks, Pat and Wally, had done the spectacular and complicated forward artillery work with their battery of skills, taste and work ethic.  We have the luxury of turning the key and comfortably settling in to continue the high standards that they set. The stories and memories and friendships they shared here are abundant, and we hope to carry on those standards and traditions. Except for one.

Guess What?  Chicken Butt.

No comments:

Post a Comment