Monday, September 1, 2014
The Little Tan House
We live on the coast; the beach is just minutes away and we’re blessed to look out our living room window and see the Pacific Ocean stretching from one side of the world to the next. Our climate here along the coast is damp and chilly. Sometimes we like that damp coolness and on other days we wish we had just a few more nice hot days. Here in our home, our cocoon from the world we live trying our best to insulate our children and ourselves from the harshness of the real world.
Our trip this weekend took us due east of our cool beach cocoon to a desert not far away. Winding roads lined with oaks and the occasional pine tree led the way. The landscape accented with the soft pale tan brown grass that the drought has brought. The further east we went the higher the temperature gage in the car climbed. And the dryness set in. The houses became fewer and farther between, the occasional large wine estate dotted the narrow curvy road. And then there was nothing, nothing but dry grass, trees and turkey vultures. We were headed for a valley but the rolling hills created an illusion that we were headed for the mountains. As we rounded a turn we looked down and there the valley lay, not a vast expanses of land, but a valley all the same not just a mere meadow. As we ventured down into the valley small houses came into view, most dilapidated, run down, falling over and crowded by junk. It is a desert area, a naturally dry region but the severity of the drought has pulled out all moisture, dryness was evident in all that surrounded us. A small school equipped with a solar field, along with a fire station and community services district office were the contents of the small community. No post office or convenience store. No gas station or restaurant, just land and houses. These houses are the cheapest of the cheap. California known for high priced real estate, sun and palm trees didn't seem to fit the description of this valley community. Bordered by bare rolling hills and accented with a sprinkling of tumble weeds it was obvious this was a desert. The water available in these homes is so mineral ridden that it isn't safe for consumption and advise is given not to drink the water while bathing. Many of the residents have criminal backgrounds or are up to illegal activities because law enforcement is so far way. Sounds like paradise, doesn't it? But a strangely there is beauty here. It is found in the relative solitude, deserted roads and quiet stillness.
As we traveled down the narrow well maintained road we came to street signs that marked unknown roads. I've seen roads with no signs, but never have I seen signs with no roads. The road used so infrequently that time and the environment have reclaimed them. As we turned down a dirt road I knew that we were nearing our destination. The instructions clearly stated we were looking for the little tan house on the right. Turning down the road that held this little tan house, it was clear we didn't need to know the color of the house, or even that it was on the right. It was the only house down this stretch of road for quite a ways. The typical house search of checking house numbers, and check the color was entirely unnecessary. As we turned down the road there it was the little tan house. The little house that had taken my father’s attention over the past six months, his project and everything that he’d said he’d wanted. The house was much cleaner now than it was when he brought it, I’m sure. Sitting on 2.5 acres of dirt really just dirt.
The house was uninhabitable, the plumping long since deteriorated. Cracks splintered through most of the windows and the bathroom wasn't usable. Pulling the carpeting and old flooring out and cleaning the house of the mouse and rat infestation was a big job I was told. When you’re working on an old house progress can be hard to track. When you start at below zero getting to a hundred can seem like a steep climb and even though hours and hours of effort have been exerted it’s difficult not to see all that still needs to be done. I must say this is a talent that I was given by my mother, the ability to focus on the uncompleted opposed to the completed.
So there it sat the little tan house and the powdery dry dirt where we’d spend our weekend. Somewhere in the acquisition process someone asked my dad on a social media site if he was farming beans. He answered with an elaborate bean farm tale and that’s how it became the Bean Farm. No bean farming will happen on that land I’m quite sure, but ironically my two year old son found of a baggie of harvested bean seeds in the house. My dad made a sign to mark the Bean Farm, I’m sure the occasional passer by is curious why on earth you’d plant a bean farm in this dry God forsaken place. The weekend was to be a family gathering a tradition of sorts, grandpa’s camp. The kids were so excited, the adults not quite so enthusiast. We were the first to arrive and then one by one the family was assembled. We’re not a large family, but certainly not small either, totaling 14 in all. The activities at this camping weekend were to consist of pool play in the 8’ wide kiddie pool, kite flying, rocket launches and eating of course. The challenge of the weekend was the location to be true. It was dry and flat and hot. The dilapidated house while a work in progress wasn't equip with the amenities of a functioning house, or even the amenities and comforts most American’s are accustomed, as I've mentioned running water, flushing toilets or air conditioning. While many, many people in the world live without these comforts daily we are spoiled and we as adults don’t choose to spend our time without these necessities as we see them.
I was blessed with two sisters, sisters close to me in age. And so for nearly 40 years we've been the three daughters or the family of five. We've always been a family of five. My older sister now has a family of five and I too have a family of five. We've always been a family of five that is until last year when our family became a family of four. My father became a widower and we girls became a mess. A mess of grief and sadness, not really knowing how or when to feel this overwhelm grief that grips. And now when we get together it is hard. It’s hard to miss my mom and it’s hard to be together without her where her absence just feels so out of place.
The weekend unfolded just as I expected it would. With tension and laughter and many quietly spoken snide comments about what in the world my father was thinking when he bought this fixer upper in the middle of hell. Has the first day came to a close it was obvious that my nephew who’s had medical issue was going to require a trip to the hospital, just icing on the cake right? We were all in our places, playing the roles that we always play just as all families do, but this place, being in this place was so hard. And all I could do was ask why? Why is this so hard? Why do we all seem to have a problem with it? There are the obvious, it’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s hot and dry and there’s nothing to do out here. We all had a problem with it because if mom was alive there wouldn't be this house in this valley surrounded by nothing but dirt and shady characters. There wouldn't be a house with no running water, or a sign adorned with glass bottles she’d be saving forever. This just wouldn't be. None of this would be, but it is. It’s a trip to a dirt farm in the heat of the summer.
As the sun set on the first night splashes of bright orange, yellow and pink filled the sky. The shadows on the rolling hills grew long and the crickets began to chirp. The heat of the day receded into a warmth that wrapped around you and held you; warmth that only hot days can bring. Black tarantulas crawled from their holes and a crescent moon rose high in the evening sky. Peace was all around and I wondered was this so bad, so bad to have a dad that really loved his family? Was it so bad to be in the dirt and the heat with family issues lingering all around? Probably not, it was just one step in the healing process, one more realization that life as we knew it is gone and won’t be returning. And this God forsaken house, in this God forsaken land is just part of my dad’s healing process too, part of his return to wholeness. He needs this distraction, this bigger than life project. He needs to believe that he can put all his energy into this house and flip it for a profit. He needs to have the ability to realize his dreams independent of my mother and what she would want. He needs this house. He needs this project. And we, we need to support him in this project. We need to come alongside him to prop him up and let him know that life will not ever be the same, but that’s okay, life will still be good.
This weekend would have marked their 40th wedding anniversary and as the sun set on that beautiful evening I knew that God had sent a special present to my dad. He may not have had the wife of his youth, the wife that he’d spent his life with, but he did have a sunset and a God that loved him and his family around him. I’m so glad to be home, to have returned to the damp coolness of the ocean breeze and the running water and flushing toilets. That little tan house in that dry dusty valley and this weekend was painful because it accentuated the death of my mother; brought it to life. It was another first without her, but as each day passes and each first without her passes we heal and life becomes the new real. Our reality shows us that we do have each other and we love one another and today that is more than enough.