I spotted the yellow sign before I turned into the driveway, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’d expected it. After all, I am the one who signed the papers two days before, and I had been forewarned by an extremely upset daughter who had called me that night.
“Why did you put it on the market?” she’d asked, and then in the same breath, “I wish I could buy it.”
After filling out the necessary papers at the realtor’s office I’d gone to my mother’s house with my daughter Emily, to clean and prepare the house for viewing by a bunch of strangers who would never know, or care, that an artist had lived there. If only my mother had left the mural painted on the bathroom wall, or the totem pole at the top of the hill. After sweeping away cobwebs, dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the toilet and the sinks, I stepped outside and began viciously ripping out the long grass along the cement wall
by the shed. Then I looked up and spotted the wooden bench against a tree. My brother-in-law had built it for our mother and generously offered it to me when we cleaned out the shed. At the time, when I thought someone in our family might be buying the land, I insisted it belonged there.
I called out to Emily to come help me and then popped open the back of the van, determined to take it home. Emily wondered at my terse command, the look on my face, and the jerkiness of my movements in lifting it up and into my van.
“Are you mad?” she asked.
“No. Yes. But not at you.”
I couldn’t explain it then. Who was I angry at? Mom, for dying and leaving us with this beautiful albatross? The two siblings who had each entertained the idea of purchasing the place, then abandoned the idea after reality set in?
No, I decided when I pulled into the driveway this morning and saw the realtor’s sign.
I was mad at myself, for not bringing my mother’s dream to life.
All winter I have been writing here, in my mother’s house, at my mother’s table. I have written sentences, paragraphs, and entire chapters of my book. I have worked on essays for anthologies, articles for the local newspaper, and even practiced a speech for a woman’s group presentation within the confines of these woodsy-colored walls. I have dreamed of other artists and writers doing the same. I dared to imagine how much my mother would have liked that.
And I have read my mother’s Memory Book; the hand-written details of her thoughts and dreams, dreams that included making her place into a sort of artist/writer colony, a dream my father shared. He admired creativity and instinctively recognized it in his own wife, children and grandchildren.
“You are good with words, both writing and speaking. Always use that for good, not evil,” he once told me, and “When you are published,” long before I ever imagined writing for publication, “use the Potter name along with your married name, so everyone knows we are related.” Thus my writing name became Mary Potter Kenyon, not a feminist statement but the fulfillment of my father’s wishes. To know that he saw something in me and believed I was going to be published someday meant the world to me.
Then, as I have chronicled before in this post Artist At Work , he posted a sign on the back porch door while my mother and I carved, wrote, painted or drew; weaving memories and dreams that now come back to haunt me.
My mother, wearing a short-sleeved white blouse and denim skirt, her bandana-covered head bent over a piece of wood that held a secret form only her mind and hands could carve from it, and me, in a ridiculous bright-colored muumuu, described by my younger siblings as Mary’s “tablecloth.” It was akin to today’s “Snuggie,” something my sister Denise had inherited from a handicapped woman she cared for. My mother and I, on the porch, at the table, outside; at our parallel play of words and art.
I always knew what my mother wanted when she left her house and land to her children. We all knew. She wanted to keep it in the family. But she wouldn’t have wanted it to become a hardship for any of us. Our mother was a realist. She would have understood the necessity for the sign in the front yard. But in a carefully constructed and protected part of my brain and heart, I had thought that at least if a family member bought it, I would have that tenuous thread binding me to the place. If a sister owned it, then I
could sit looking out the front window, step out onto the front porch for a peek into my mother’s workroom, maybe drink from the fresh cold water of the pump on occasion. I might never sit at this table and write again, but there would be something tangible to hold onto that kept me connected to my mother’s creative spirit. And maybe, maybe someday, I could still be instrumental in fulfilling my mother’s dream.
Yet I knew the table at the front window would not be her table, the front porch room would not be her workroom, or even a workroom at all, and the pump of clear water would no longer be hers. Intellectually, I knew that, just as I knew her place would never be an artist’s colony.
Today would be the last day I write at my mother’s house, I’d decided. This weekend most of the few remaining pieces of furniture will be removed from the house, including the table. I knew this day would come.
The table where I sat with my mother, where I have written for the past few months, will be gone.
I have never been sure if it is the house or the table that fills me with creativity, or simply the act of creating itself. I could have written at the desk in the other room, or curled up on the couch, but it was always the table I chose. Since I will have neither house nor table, I’ve convinced myself it is, instead, the simple act of creating that has begat more creating.
Today I sat on the couch and gazed at the bricks on the wall that my parents toiled on, with the big wooden beams surrounding them, and I am convinced my parents were right. This small house would have made an ideal retreat. It has been a good one for me.
The land would have surrounded writers and artists with inspiring signs of nature. The house is just as cozy as the cabins I have seen for that purpose, the land more beautiful than most. Since my mother’s death, I sometimes dared to dream that writers or artists would someday use this place for their own creative pursuits.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” I whispered to the empty house, and a few hot tears escaped. I angrily brushed them away. I have no patience with my own emotional baggage.
It is, after all, just a house.
But, oh, what a house it has been!