Sunday, August 15, 2010

The House That Built Me

The third writing in my series "The Journey Home"
(click the link above if you would like to read the first and second parts)

After having spent a couple of days reacquainting with a few of my friends from a life time ago and with this county that was once my home, a peace began to settle in.
There had been no episodes of panic, no fear or nightmares clouding my nights. In fact, I was laughing over old memories as my friends and I caught up. We talked and talked about the good times that had drawn us all together as teens. There was a tear or two at the absolute disbelief that we were actually all together after so many years...and really, it was as if a single day had never passed.

We caught up on most of what had transpired in the 22 years since and we made wonderful new memories which were more and more over shadowing the old.
Together, we visited some of our favorite places...Melmerby Beach at Midnight was pure perfection. We walked the down town streets during a street fair
complete with East Coast music.
I was completely taken by surprise at the many positive changes that had occurred in this town in the years since I had left.
George Street Bridge that crossed the East River, connecting East and West New Glasgow had a new sign erected over top and to me it was a powerful declaration:
"New Glasgow
... truly she had and was.

The town I remembered as struggling and sleepy was alive, vibrant and full of places and events to attract visitors and to encourage her residents to come out and celebrate all that she had become.
My heart felt full knowing that a place I had once known as home was not becoming a ghost town or a retirement town as I had anticipated...she had become more alive and more beautiful and prosperous with each year that had passed.

Having initially driven by some of the places that were once a part of my daily life and having faced some of the darkness that I had thought might still have a hold on me, it was time to venture out alone to walk the streets, to photograph some memories and to just stand on my own seeing and feeling whatever might come.

I knew I wanted pictures of my schools, of the streets, the beautiful East River that as teens we crossed via a train bridge to go and hang out at the mall.
Many a day saw screaming, running girls flying across that thing sure they would have to jump into the river to be saved from the impending trains that we always our imaginations more often than in reality. To be honest...there were a few close calls, but they could never create a barrier between us,
the mall and friendship!

There were so many places I wanted to visit and to photograph but I had still not reconciled in my mind if my old house would be one of them.
In my mind, that house held more darkness, fear and trauma than it did happiness...and it was one of the places for which I did not wholly trust my emotions. I suppose the emotions themselves were not the greatest fear by this point, it was the pain that I might feel which would bring on the emotions.

As I'd mentioned in previous posts concerning that time of my life, I had learned to push down pain and to stifle emotion...yet, I had come to learn that pushing them deep down inside and ignoring them, does not cause them to magically disappear. Pain and emotion are not to be feared and silenced, they are to be felt and released...there in lies the freedom from their grip.
This I know intellectually and had even experienced concerning other areas of my life....yet old patterns are difficult to break and there was still a tendency to equate pain with something that was bad or wrong.

I began to liken it to being a mother of a young child with a deep sliver in their hand.
That child will hide and refuse to even tell you that the sliver exists in order to avoid the inevitable pain of having the sliver removed. I know as a mom, I have on more than one occasion, been party to holding tightly to a screaming child in order to have a large sliver extracted.
I never once did this so that my child would experience more pain, in fact, I soooo wished I could do it without hurting them at all...but never the less, leaving that thing in place was likely to cause infection and even greater pain than if I became the source of temporary pain now but got rid of that foreign object that should never have found it's way into my child's flesh.
I began to realize there is pain from injury or infection and there is also pain with a purpose.
Sometimes, even willingly, we have to endure a level of discomfort or even pain, in order to be free from something that does not belong or as in childbearing, to receive something that is an absolute joy and gift.

I was unsure of my own reactions but had decided my house was something that needed facing. I had determined that I would in all likelihood take some pictures of it and would decide later if I wanted to keep or delete them.

As I drove down my old street, photographing street signs, I remembered walking by certain houses daily on the way to and from school. I saw the house that always gave out pop to the earliest trick or treaters at Halloween. A stain glass window, long forgotten, now taking me right back to those days of having been a part of this world. The house where my Youth Pastor and his wife had once lived.

Then as I approached my old house, I noticed an elderly lady picking berries from the property. I was concerned a stranger taking pictures of her home might be quite a fearsome thing to this little lady so I decided to stop and ask permission.
I asked her if she lived there and explained that I had lived in the house many years ago. She began to recollect the family she'd heard had been the previous owners and after some brief confusion it was clear that it was indeed the Pateys she was remembering.
Her name, she told me was Marie and she had read my mother's obituary in the Halifax paper 11 1/2 years previous. My mother's name was Donna-Marie....interesting "coincidence" I thought.

Marie informed me she had no problem with me taking pictures of the house and went so far as to invite me to come in. I had not at all expected this and was taken aback a bit. though I had prepared myself for many scenarios and emotions...actually being in the house was never one of them. I felt safe enough at that moment and after double checking that this dear old lady was sure she wanted to invite a stranger into her home, I followed her inside. I met Marie's 90 year old husband George, who didn't seem to so much as blink
at his wife bringing this unknown woman
into their home.
My eyes scanned the kitchen which had been redecorated but was laid out with table and chairs exactly as my mom had arranged hers. I followed Sweet Marie into the living room which was brighter now and whose walls were lined with the memories of this dear lady's life.
Memories that she began to share with me one by one.

How they had lived many years in Ontario but had decided in their 40's that it was time to come home to NS.
Then, with the wisdom that can only be learned after living an entire lifetime, this 85 year old stranger spoke my heart right back to me.

"There is just something about the Sea you know, once you have lived near her, she becomes a part of you and eventually calls you home"

As Marie shared with me her life's memories, I looked around and remembered some of my own from what seemed like a life time ago. Simple things like an unchanged light switch cover or the window reminded me of the many sparkling decorations my mom used to prepare this room for Christmas. I remembered the sectional couch that once sat where Marie's own chesterfield now was and the many, many friends who had once sat there with me and my siblings, laughing and visiting.

After I heard about Marie and George's love for music, their band that eventually had to stop playing as George could no longer hear the music, of how Marie at 85, still went down to the Seniors' home periodically to play for the residents...I thought of my own mom and how she would be so happy to know that music was such an important part of the lives of this couple who now called this house "home".
Marie took me on a tour of the upstairs.
She showed me the bathroom whose panelling she had never changed because she really liked what my parents had done. I remembered wrestling with my siblings, my pregnant Aunt Karen and my dad who won by piling us all on top of each other in the bath tub...with Karen on top to keep the baby safe.

The rooms seemed so much smaller than I had remembered them, the decorating had been changed and many of their uses had changed as well. My bedroom was now an office and was really the only room that gave me a hint of the emotion I had feared. Truthfully, it was not even that bad...I simply had a knot in my stomach and decided I did not want to be in that room.

Having faced not only the house of my youth, but even the rooms, seeing the changes and hearing the stories that now belonged here...I was able to say good bye to Sweet Marie and my house with the full realization that this place did not and never would have a hold on me again.
I walked out that door just a little bit freer than I had walked in and I was very, very thankful to my God.
I could never have orchestrated or anticipated the events that transpired that day and in all honesty, I don't believe there is another possible scenario of people who could have been living in that home, that would have made it feel like such a very safe place to be. This was no longer my house with all of the negative memories, this was Marie and George's house. A house I once lived in....a house where a lot of good times were had as well.
It was just that...a house.
I am in awe of the depth of healing and freedom that took place in that one day...yet it was the most gentle of surgeries I could ever have imagined.

My heart was so very full as I drove away...another giant had been slain and I was indeed,
"so much stronger than I knew"

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