Thursday, July 22, 2010

More self-indulgent musings of my past...

The Suitcase

It was approaching sunset, and the last reddish-orange sunlight of the end of a hot summer day was filtering into my room.  It glided across the old hardwoods, leaving a golden trail across the floor and lingering where it nudged up against the old suitcase in the middle of the room.  Kyle and I were stretched out on my bed listening to music and doing nothing in particular.  That’s when I looked over and noticed him focused on that old Royal Traveler suitcase, the centerpiece of the room.  Daydreaming?  Concentrating?

            “You can’t have my suitcase,” I joked, giving him a playful smack on the head to bring him back from wherever his mind had drifted.  It was a vintage medium-sized travel case- probably circa the late 60’s.  It was beautiful: pale aqua blue with gleaming silver hardware, a retro fairytale of a suitcase.  The thrill I felt when I found it!  I had just moved into the co-op the week before, and was feeling lost in that huge bedroom that seemed so empty and lonely to me at the time.  I rescued the Royal Traveler from the trash, astonished that it was unscathed.  There wasn’t a scratch on it, and despite sitting outside under the back porch for ages, it was completely free of dirt or rust.

Kyle blinks.  Smiles.  Shakes his head “no” and continues to stare at the suitcase.

“I was just thinking about it.  Thinking, that is totally Kitt- who else would put a suitcase in the middle of their bedroom and use it as a centerpiece.  Is it just aesthetic, to show it off because you like the look of it?   Or is it symbolic- like, 'I'm ready to pick up and go any time I want?'

            Grinning, I admired the suitcase.  I did love the look of it, especially as it sat angled in the middle of the room, supporting a glass vase that held a single sunflower.  I remember that I used to go out every week to buy a new sunflower for it at the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings.  By this point, the live sunflower has since been replaced by an artificial one.

            “Oh God, no!  No not at all.” I explained.    “Not like that anyway- not to be able to just pick up and go.  I guess I keep it there to remind me that I LOVE it here. It’s more like a symbol of being anchored to this place- that I’m so completely happy where I am, the suitcase has been reduced to a stationery piece of furniture.  I have no need for a travel case, so now it’s a table.”  I sat up and surveyed the room- it was getting dark now, I’d need to get up and click on the light soon.

“Plus I do really love the look of it.  Besides...  it ties the room together nicely, don’t you think?” 

I give him a playful shove and reach over to switch on the table lamp on the nightstand….

I did love that old suitcase.  I had so little money then and had marveled at the fact that it was in perfect condition and would have been prohibitively expensive (for me) if I had found it in a resale shop.  I had so few possessions at that time; I was overjoyed with such a lucky find.  It filled a void in that enormous room that was slowly starting to feel like mine.   It was marvelous in the middle of that bedroom, like an old photo or a scene in an old Hepburn movie.  With the vase and the sunflower perched to the left of its handle.  Charming- that’s what it was.  I regret that I never took a photo of it.   It was one of those rare, fortuitously perfect objects that just happen into your life sometimes- something that was meaningless, that starts out incidental and becomes integral.  And now, thinking back as hard as I can, I’m unable to remember what became of my old Royal Traveler.  (How is that even possible?!)  I have no memory of when I eventually removed it from my room or why, or whatever became of it.  I guess at some point it just became incidental again, and was removed to make way for something else.   There’s a fair chance that it’s still lurking somewhere in the co-op.  Is it packed away somewhere in that crumbling, lonely old basement?  A forgotten relic of my past, keeping company with all the random abandoned things from so many others who had lived there once and left parts themselves behind?  I like to think that it’s been rediscovered by someone else, who also couldn’t believe their luck at such a find.   And that it is being cherished even now by its new owner as much as it was when it belonged to me.

Goodnight lovely blue Royal Traveler, wherever you are.  

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Influences of the past: Lessons from New Wine Commune

Are you a coffee snob? 

I am. It’s one of the things that life in the co-op taught me: grind your own beans!

I lived in the New Wine Commune for almost 4 years during my undergrad studies.  At the time, in my mind it was nothing more than a logical way to live cheaply and close to campus. Looking back, I realize it was so much more than just cheap rent and a cool old house.  I wish I had appreciated it then as much as I do now.   An indescribable experience, really, sharing this beautiful turn-of-the-century home and the joys and sorrows of life with 7 other very amazing and brilliant people who were my house mates.  It was the closest thing to family I'd ever experienced, and the longest I'd ever lived in one place in my lifetime up to that point.  I am extremely sentimental about that house and the people who lived there with me during my time there.  It seems like it was a lifetime ago, and my world has absolutely no resemblance to what it was like at that time. There's no comparison, and I adore my current life more than anything that's come before it.  Yet, sometimes my heart still aches for those days.  

When I packed up and moved out, it was a very significant closing of a chapter of my life.  The woman who walked down those front porch stairs for the last time in the summer of '97 was forever changed from the girl who had first walked up them, nearly 4 years earlier.  I climbed the stairway with trepidation on that first day, with my black & blue hair,  worn out, secondhand clothes, and high hopes for the future.  I grew up considerably in that co-op.  I'm certainly not that optimistic liberal punk rock girl anymore.   Much of what I took away from that time has been stored away in some deep part of me, and I only reflect upon it on a rare occasion when something in the present triggers a memory.   Still,  I'm grateful for the things I learned and the influences of the people I was with during my time there.  It was certainly a catalyst for who I am today.  (Isn't that true of all our past lives?)

Oh, but that HOUSE.  How can I possibly explain how much I love the house itself?   My pulse quickens on the occasions that I drive by and see it- always making a quick mental assessment of what's still the same and what's changed on the exterior.  Always wondering what's still the same and how much has changed on the inside.   It would have been unfathomable to me how much of a bond one can create with a BUILDING if it weren't my own experience.  There are times when I still live there in my dreams, and times that my heart aches for the comfort that those walls created for me during that time in my life.  It will always be a symbol of what I consider to be the "winding down" of my youth.   For me, 123 West Gorham will always represent a fortress of joy. I grew up there, and a part of me will live there, always.

Other lessons I took from living in New Wine: co-op life is the way to go in college; how to plan, prepare and cook for 8-10 people (after leaving there, it took some time to adjust to cooking for just 1 or 2); composting, although practical, is pretty disgusting business (NO orange peels in the compost bin!); it IS possible to live harmoniously with seven other people (and actually love them dearly and enjoy it most of the time); cast iron pans truly are wonderful; black eyed peas can be delicious. 

...Life at New Wine has given me a near-obsessive love and appreciation of the distinguishing charms of a Victorian house. Servant’s stairs that lead up to the second level from the kitchen.  The old coal chute in the basement.  The second-floor balcony that was a perfect retreat during my many nights of insomnia.   Pocket doors to close off the drawing room.   Elaborately carved wooden trim and crown moldings.  The large, iron grates in the floor from the old coal furnace heating system.   The coal fireplace in the dining room.  The bathroom in the kitchen. Tiny ceramic floor tiles in the bathrooms and wizened, well-worn old hardwood floors in every room. The tiny nursery that at one time used to be adjoined to my old bedroom, allowing the nanny evening access to the babes in the house. The front porch! I cannot guess the number of hours I spent there, recounting the day with my house mates,  smoking, or reading, or just sitting and watching people pass by.   But I am sure the actual total would be surprising to me. I love that house so much and still remember every inch of it. 

For those of you who are lucky to be current residents- Treat It Well!