Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My Mother's Garden

I said goodbye to my mother in August, when I visited her in Inverness, Florida, far from the house she loved in St. Augustine. My sister had moved mother to be closer to her, since mother's health was tumbling downhill quickly. First to a lovely old hotel that had been made into an assisted living home full of antiques and caring folks. That lasted for less than two weeks when mother was moved to the hospital and shortly thereafter to a rehab facility. I made it down the last week of August thanks to a friend who stopped everything and drove me the six hours. Recovering from hip replacement surgery I could not drive that distance by myself. The day after I arrived we moved mother to hospice. I spent the day with her, grateful that I'd made it in time and could talk to her, while she understood my words. My own health issues trumped hers this year and the visit I so wanted, where we could laugh and hug, did not happen. But the visit to remind her how much I loved her came in the nick of time. It was a turn around trip, and mother passed on quietly the day after I came back to Georgia. It was a blessing for her.

A month later, another friend drove me to St. Augustine, Florida, six hours down the other side of the state. It was a drive I knew by heart. Many years ago I purchased the small cottage in the downtown area for mother.  I had just sold my place in Atlanta to live with the man I would marry. Terrible with saving money, the house was a grand idea. An investment and a haven for my mother.  She loved that house dearly and had many wonderful years living in it. Mother got back to her roots as a writer in the upstairs porch, a tiny narrow area that held her computer and her imagination. She started writing again at eighty-four. I set up a blog for her and a web page that you can visit.  She wrote many romantic novellas and a memoir in the four years before she left us. All can be found on Amazon.

My sister and brother-in-law were already at the house when we arrived, cleaning out things that needed to go, to the trash, to one of us, to Goodwill. The house was to remain furnished since I needed to sell it and wanted it to show well. It needed work that was not in my budget. I could no longer keep up two house payments and without mother, I would not visit the city I loved so because of her. I shared the pictures below on my Facebook page and the fates were kind. A writer I knew showed interest and took a trip to see the house. He pulled in a friend of his who owned a construction company, and within a few weeks the house had sold. They are bringing the cottage back to how it would have been in the 1920's.

Saying goodbye to the house was hard, as if I was saying goodbye to mother yet again. She was the happiest I could remember there. We had many wonderful visits, when my husband was alive, and later just the two of us, wandering through the historic plaza, eating out, watching TV, me stretched out on the sofa, mother in her favorite wing chair.

The month the house sold was one full of worry.  Hurricane Matthew came straight to St. Augustine and hit it hard. The historic downtown flooded but was saved, as was my house, a block outside the historic boundaries. A neighbor told me water came up to the front step but not into the house. Houses on the beaches were not so lucky. My purchasers were in St. Simons, in harm's way, too.  We made it through the month and the house closed on October 31st. The remaining furniture was donated to a group helping people who had lost everything in the storm. I knew mother would want that.

I am on my own now. The first time I don't have anyone to worry about. It is a very strange feeling. At sixty-eight it is me and my five dogs. I think about the house in St. Augustine and all the joy it brought and the memories I will always have of mother smiling, greeting me with love and hugs when I walked in the front door. Just like I have so many memories in my house here, memories of my husband, and of the life I've created since he left over eight years ago.

Friends asked if I might move there. The house in St. Augustine was too tiny, with its postage size yard, for a widow with a pack of hounds to inhabit, although I toyed with hauling us down there and selling this place. I knew it would never work. It was time to let it go. Time to figure out what would be next for me. Without mother's nightly chats on the phone there is a huge void, a change that leaves life too quiet once again.

Rummaging through Goodwill I found a little stone trivet with a quote that spoke to me. It now sits on a shelf in my kitchen.

       "In search of my mother's garden I found my own."  Alice Walker

Mother's memory will be the brightest flower in my heart as I move forward tending to my own garden, finding a new path for my life. There may just be a cozy cottage in the coming year, a new home for me and the pups. A dream my mother would want me to follow. One she knew stayed in my thoughts and encouraged me to pursue. When I started this blog about the cottage in my mind, she loved to read my stories and understood my restlessness to move from the house I shared with my husband, to something that was mine alone. A house lover my entire life it came as no surprise I wanted something different to play with, too. That combination kept me on Zillow looking at property for hours some nights.  The when and where larger than life questions for me.  My rambling ranch is lovely, but it is a ranch, I wanted older. Now I am older, too. With two hip replacement surgeries behind me. I am more limber some days, others not so much. My latest question is can I physically do it now?

Nothing held my mother back as she entered her eighties. She was my inspiration that you could do anything at any age. I will figure it out and write about it here. If I listen closely to the universe perhaps I will hear my mother cheer me on,

                                           My Mother's Charming House

Sharing photos of the house in St. Augustine, for you to see, and for me to have to hold close and remember all the joy we had there.

Mother sitting on the back porch a year or so ago. She grew the plant from an avocado seed and was always amazed it thrived. The women in our family are not known for our green thumbs.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

What If?

This has been a most peculiar year for me full of good times and some creepy ones. My house dreams have shifted due to health concerns. This August I will be 68 years old and I still wonder about changes and ask myself "what if"?

Stairs. Stairs are no longer part of my home plan! I watch HGTV with all the young couples wanting that two story foyer with stairs leading up to a landing and the rest of the home. At my age I wouldn't, couldn't, do those stairs. I ask myself, too, why any young couple would want them. I can't image lugging a baby on your hip, wrapped in your arms, up that many stairs. I'd worry that there would be so many instances for accidents as the child aged. Of course, I don't have children, but I do have dogs. My dogs couldn't go up those stairs even if I could. 

And those huge Victorian homes I tagged endlessly on Zillow. They are off my list. Three levels? I'd live on the first floor. My dream was a small town outside of Atlanta where I could feel more a part of a community. It didn't dawn on me that I had my own large community of friends close by my home. I was ripe for a change - any change.

What altered my dreams this year was a hip replacement surgery gone badly. Last year I had my left hip replaced and all went very smoothly. Except for the fact my right hip kept me in so much discomfort I still hobbled around. This April I decided to go for it and have the right hip replaced. It needed to be done and now the experience is somewhat behind me. I am on a walker doing physical therapy. Next week I hope to start driving again. My Chihuahua sleeps with me, but the other four dogs have to wait a few more weeks before joining us in the bedroom.

If you have read any of my posts over the years you know my dream has been to move. Don't ask me why - except I thought the final step in my widow healing was to have a clean slate. A new house - make that a new old house. With a bit of land for my dogs and maybe some chickens.  Where I live now was named number 79 in the nation of great places to live. Development is everywhere. All the young folks are paying big bucks for houses that have been built with the old cottages have been torn down. Developers keep calling me asking if I want to sell. In fact, I had my house on the market twice in the last few years, only up for 30 days each time when I realized my hips would make a move impossible. I had offers but declined and took the listings down.

My surgery perhaps was the universe slowing me down. Making me think more about what I have. And a discovery on how many friends I have that stayed close to me during my bad days.

The hip replacement went well, or so the surgeon thought. That afternoon when the physical therapist tried to get me up I was in too much pain. An x-ray showed somehow the femur fractured after surgery. Two days later, I had another hip surgery and the femur was stabilized. I then went to a nursing home for rehab (lets not do those details) for almost thirty days. Friends came to see me daily which kept me from sinking into oblivion . . . the nursing care was so horrid. The physical therapists were excellent and got me on my feet, but the rest of the experience there . . . well, I thought about writing a cozy mystery where I got to kill off a nurse or two, all in good fun, but a way to deal with my lack of care.

Next, the surgery site became infected and I went back into the hospital for another surgery, two weeks on IV antibiotics, and physical therapy. Those folks were wonderful.

What was to be a two week process, including rehab, took almost seven weeks and three surgeries for me to get home. I've never been happier to see my house, my dogs, and my life back before my eyes.

I still think "what if" . . . but on a different level. My birthday in August will be a celebration of life, of gratitude, and of friendships. There will be a party on my patio. My pet sitter, who is my friend, and has her suite in my basement, although she is gone most nights with other pets, has a Pinterest board for my party. A farm table, lights in the trees, a bit of music. Perhaps this will be the house I love forever. Time will tell. My dreams now are of fixing this place up again. Painting the walls, getting the gardens in shape, and flipping some furniture to create a space that feels different, but is still the house that I shared with my husband, learned how to be independent when I was left alone, and a safe haven for my dogs.

"What if".... I concentrated on writing my new book. "What if" .... I started doing lectures and book signings.  "What if" .... I could work in my garden again. And "What if" ... I just learned how to relax and enjoy my life without having to push so hard for changes. I always worry I should be doing more, be more, find my path on my own.  I am rethinking everything now. Seven weeks away from home, worried my infection would never go away, my surgery site never heal, I had lots of time to wonder about the next phase of my life.

And "what if" my dream home is really a rambling ranch with a farmhouse feel and I am already living there? The Cottage In My Mind has been in front of me all along.