You Can’t Keep The House Your Daughter Was Born In
Remember that night, as my midwife Ghuru B, a tiny woman from Chicago, smiled at me? I was on all fours on the bed and mooing like a cow in distress. I knocked my tea mug over, the stain spreading down the wall, while my husband pressed the spot on my back to suppress the pain. And finally after twelve hours of labor, she was born.
On that bed, where I’d slept seventeen years in various states of awareness.
Through the unbalanced neighbor who “borrowed” my ten speed for five months and whose slowly dying dog howled like a wolf for seven years. Through the peeping tom’s face when I woke up on a hot summer morning, light shooting through the partly open blind. Through the tears of missing a former boyfriend on pale cold mornings whose sun could not start my heart. Through the night call from a rough voice who said he’d seen the ad for a new roommate, he knew where I lived, and he would be right there. And I waited, crouching on the hall floor sweat running down my legs until I called the police, then my parents, the police came, shined their flashlights around, and said they would come by again later.
Through twelve housemates, most of whom became friends: Felicia, Alicia, Lori, two Karens, Anne, Kim, Veronica and on, but no not Silvia, nor the one from Arkansas who moved away while I was out of town.
Oh, those years in our 20s and 30s, spent conversing, discussing, recollecting, debating, joking, crying, comforting! Oh, the freedoms we had, so briefly granted in so few places on this earth to so few of us!
Remember the endless cups of tea?
None of the cups matched—we reveled in color, variety, the smell of our hours, herbal, black. When we wanted to celebrate, we bought one six pack and a tray of cookies, drank one beer each, and ate the cookies giggling and telling stories.
Remember the midnight outing to press oreo cookies? It was black side up, white side down for sticking, on Bill-the-guitar-maker’s pale green 1950s pickup truck. The color contrast was perfect! We also rimmed the door to his shop because Bill was nice and we were a breed that just wanted silly, outrageous, not dangerous, not mean.
Remember the time I spent seven hours trimming dead wood off the huge shrubbery, which held a blue bird’s nest? The father bird began dive bombing and pecking us as we exited the house, so for a week we had to wear pillows on our heads to leave.
Remember the time five of us gathered on the sidewalk outside the front door at noon, wearing sunglasses so no one could see our eyes? Because that was when the Hawaii 5-0 movie-star look-alike jogged by each day. We stood and silently watched him run past, then let go a collective sigh, all of us dispersing again to go back to work.
We were silly but part of so much more.
Remember all those wonderful brunches? My housemates and I invited all walks of life, even people we didn’t know, whom we’d just met on the street.
One time a New York guitarist (Michael Fricasso) played his new song on what Texans were like, with lyrics that stopped us all, and made us nod. Another time a young man played flamenco guitar he’d learned in Spain from the Roma, and we sipped Spanish wine. Yet another Sunday, we had a full four piece rock band, and unstaged, here came a man strolling down the street blowing his trumpet to join the music! There were brunches where we built those vegetable mountains on a huge platter a la Veronique who’d lived in France and made the French vinaigrette dressing for dipping. There was even a brunch where visiting math professors from MIT and Brown Universities drew r-trees on paper napkins.
Remember the conversations and new friends made, the gentleness of those brunches that hung on to suppertime? The ideas and bonds created were a healing epiphany for humanity. People loved those days and wanted to come again.
Remember the brunch when Jameson (a she) said “you seem familiar” to Dana the art student? Then they both realized, though they were from different cities, they’d been in kindergarten together in Louisiana. Dana said,
“The truth: the world is small and we are all only six or seven separations from the next person.“
Remember the unhappy housemate, who had a sad history and somehow survived? She was raped by a cousin, sent to a boarding school by parents who had divorced, used contraception but it didn’t work and had an unwanted pregnancy after a split with a boyfriend, then an abortion. There are a lot of stories out there; there are a lot of women with a lot of stories.
Remember the Saturday we dyed Easter eggs in February? We sipped our tea with ladylike precision, told stories of alcoholism, children watching children, children of ten years old who’s job was to make supper, and make sure it was on the table when her parents came home from work Monday through Friday at 5:30 pm.
Remember those afternoons, sitting around our singer-songwriter friends Kathi Nordone or Natalie Flowers or Bonnie Bailiff while they sang their songs and played guitars? Dreamlike peace wafted across the room and out the windows, our eyes on the unknowable distance.
Remember our sheer endurance?
Those night-time bike rides through the hot summer city to eat a cone at Amy’s Ice Cream or just to feel the air on our skin, to feel the moments of company, to feel the song of the crickets. Remember the daytime rides on carefully chosen roads that gave some refuge from traffic, then onto a park path, threading our way down to the lake and Barton Springs ice-cold natural swimming pool?
Remember the spontaneous decision—with no more preparation than applying sun screen—to do the 25-mile-bike ride out at New Sweden, Texas, a tiny town that mostly wasn’t there?
How we rode and rode, chatting with others on the organized ride, until it ended at the BBQ restaurant, and I ate with the strangers, waiting for my friend, who finally arrived, said no she didn’t need to eat, and we put our bikes on her beat-up car, and rattled back into Austin.
Remember the 8 am I got dressed to leave for work, walked down the hall into the living room where on the couch, my law school housemate was turning the last page of a 600-page novel she’d started the day before? “That was a good story,” she said, “I’m off to class, then to work at the Attorney General’s Office.”
Remember the late night rock ‘n’ roll dances? On 6th Street, at Liberty Lunch, Club Foot, La Zona Rosa, Steamboat Springs, the Continental Club, Antone’s Blues Club, the booming and crooning as we laughed and gyrated around the dance floor. The heat, the sweat, the cigarette smoke, the walking to our cars, fingers poised on the chili pepper spray, or our key, a protruding spike between our knuckles.
Remember, we were mostly lucky.
Sometimes when we returned to our cars, we found that somebody had bashed in the car window and stole our hidden purses, but our cars were still there at the end of the night. We got in, we drove home in the dark. Always watching, always knowing, it could be different.
You can’t keep the house, but you can tell your daughter the stories.
To read more of my stories,
click here for Houston and New York and Budapest.
Click here for The World Through the Hole in a Hanging Sock.
Click here to read the first story in Laura Grevel’s Luddite tales: the Texas Ranching Adventure series.
Credit and thanks to Pixabay for this blog’s photo. Graphic artist: vicnt