The very last time

I was not in favor of the upcoming move, in the fall of my 4th grade year. I tried all kinds of clever schemes to change their minds, including an argument that the concrete slab floor would be too much on my flat feet. Yes! I really thought that would be a sound enough argument to have the whole thing halted. My dad would phone the realtor, saying, “Bob, I’ve got some bad news on that house over on Nashville. It’s, well, it’s my daughter’s feet…” and then Bob would say, “They’re flat, aren’t they? I understand. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard something like this. Now, as for that earnest money…” and we’d get to stay.

I liked the little house, the one we were leaving. The side yard on the west was nicely rugged; the back yard (even without my beloved willow tree, whose roots clogged the sewer one time too many) reminded me of fun: swimming in that small plastic pool, making hand-churned ice cream, finding the stray kitten we’d name Finnegan, the swing set, the playhouse. And the bedroom, shared with my sister, with its homemade bunk beds. The kitchen where I could remember my parents developing slide film late at night. The scratchy wool carpet in the living room, with the greasy stain where I’d spilled the Campho-Phenique when I was trying to doctor some itchy mosquito bites. And also in the living room, the fake fireplace that for some reason had shiny blue tiles. Even at a young age, I seemed to have a strong connection with the place.

Surprisingly, the flat-feet plan fell through, and the move was set for the day after Christmas, in 1964.

My sister changed schools, enrolling in second grade at the school two blocks away. I refused and finished out the year at my old school, which was seven miles away and which required my automobile-shy mother to drive over twice a day. I apparently was going all-in on my not moving platform: I stayed with the world’s worst 4th grade teacher, just to make a point.

There were changes to the house over time. Trees got planted in the front yard, to shade the house from the strong, hot afternoon sun. The tile in the den was replaced with carpet. My dad painted the wood panelling in the den, and later, the kitchen cabinets. The old Formica counters got replaced with new Formica counters. Over time, as money was there, my mom filled up the house with her beloved Ethan Allen furniture. It was generally cosmetic changes, not the large-scale renovations that I’ve done more than once as an adult.

As my parents got older, my mother would occasionally float the idea of moving to a senior-living place; my dad declined to even discuss it, refusing to leave his two pecan trees in the back yard and his turtles and (I’m guessing on this part) what he saw as the status associated with aging in his own place. The rate of house improvements slowed, then stopped. The rate of things in need of repair increased; generally speaking, if my dad couldn’t do the repairs, they went un-fixed. And his repairs were mostly of the half-assed variety. He was a brilliant civil engineer, and a haphazard repairer.

It got worse after my mom died; my dad retreated into a few square feet and left the rest of the house to literally gather dust. After his move to assisted living (which was most certainly not his idea, and he’d’ve been the first one to tell you that), the house sat there vacant. Upon advice from our insurance agent, we left the utilities on and kept the household items that didn’t go to assisted living, and eventually my dad decided it was time to sell the place.

The sale of the property and the estate sale of the stuff happened quickly, and one evening, I was there alone in an empty house. I was still second-guessing the decisions I’d made regarding my dad’s living arrangements and the disposal of the house and contents. I felt left in the shadows, felt split by the light of what I’d done, felt more melancholy than ever before in my life.

So I made a photograph.

Lubbock, Texas
photographed 10.9.2013

Posted on February 6, 2019, in Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Whose shadow on the wall?

    Like

  2. Another beautifully told story, Melinda, with matching photograph. I didn’t see the (your) figure at first. How haunting. Your melancholy expressed through the room itself, and amplified by the figure.

    Like

  3. I’ve geared up again .

    Like

  4. Damn spell check. That’s teared up again.

    Like

  5. How very sad for you … but we have to make these decisions don’t we? A fabulous photo Melinda ..

    Like

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