I will hold you dear…

Auntie-Beastie Christmas, December 2018. Effort, PA.

I knew my house was my house for two reasons. First, it had old wide-plank chestnut floors. Rough edges, wide gaps, and the uneven planing, all tangible memories of a time long gone but for which I long. The day I closed, I washed those floors on my hands and knees. Wiping them tenderly in loving recognition – like the first bath of a newborn – not just cleansing, baptismal.

The second reason was my mother and the kitchen window, where she and I have stood for the last two years and watched the sunrise over the field. Both houses I lived in as a child had windows above the kitchen sink. She stood there all the time – doing dishes, drinking coffee, smoking. The first time I stood at this window, the first time I saw the house, my mother stepped inside me. I made a full price offer that day.

My parents have been dead for years, but they are often here. My father and I read in the morning. My mother washes the dishes and feeds the animals. Dad sits with me in the evening, in the old rocking chair I bought because of him. We watch movies, satisfied with the delights of resting after a day which usually includes running or hard physical work here and at the horse farm, which was how he was raised and the cross I now carry.

My sisters fill my home on rare but blessed occasion. My eldest came right after I moved in, while her own Bed & Breakfast was still open and painted all of my rooms. My next older sister, closest to me in age, came in with me before the house was mine. We sneaked out of the house as teenagers and knew how to slip in quietly. A good childhood thief, I watched the home inspector open the lock-box and memorized the sequence so I could let myself in. We went through each bedroom upstairs, deciding which one would be mine. The days before closing, I walked barefoot on the hundred-year-old floors. Like imprinting a new foal right after it’s born – here I am, feel me now, so you will know me when I come again later.

My youngest sister helped me move in. While she lives closest, she feels the farthest away, for she is the only one of us with a child and the over-scheduled demands of parenting and working. And what a child he is, with both the best and worst of all of us in him. One night he slept here for an Auntie-Beastie Christmas celebration. We discovered the old bear who lives in my basement and the lizard-like monster in the septic tank out back. Big Bear and Grime are ancient spirits who protect this property, and now me and all my animals. I probably would have met them both eventually, but not in such a delightful way. I still have the Popsicle sticks he threw in my basement to keep them from coming upstairs, and so far they haven’t.

I have sheltered alone, which is kind of my normal state, so I have handled this solitude probably better than most. But I miss my sisters, the infrequent but regular visits. The companionship and presence of others who care enough for me to set aside their own lives and come to mine.

I miss my father the most since he died and wish he was alive and lived here. I must have had Covid-19 at some point and developed one of the yet unidentified symptoms, complete amnesia. My father was the most difficult person I’ve ever known, and we all bear the wreckage of being raised by him. But the blessing of death, or life if you live it well, and I think I have, is that eventually all is forgiven.

So this is for my family, as we meet on the stage of memory. My father rocking. My mother at the kitchen window, watching. My sister’s planning, painting, and cooking. And that beautiful, divine, wild-child – laughing.

“But it is also true that our real spiritual directors, our real gurus, are our loved ones who place upon us unexplainable burdens, force us to proceed out from our narcissistic prison into a selfless encounter in love. Our gurus are all those places in our hearts at which we stand the risk of losing everything. Our guru is the child within – small and simple and without pretense, who would have us reach out in a tender healing touch without our left hand knowing what our right hand is doing. Our guru is death who teaches us that we gain all by losing all.”

James Finley

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