I was born in 1971 and into a world of throw-away, temporary convenience. Ours was the first generation that ate more meals in the car than around the kitchen table. When we did eat at home, we perched our TV dinners on fold-away metal trays and watched Little House on the Prairie — the irony completely lost on us. By the time I was in high school, paper plates, Tupperware, plastic forks, Styrofoam* cups, Saran Wrap, fast food, and microwaved meals were the standard.
Food isn’t the only area of transience. My parents had a brick home at first, but by the time I was three they’d sold it and we moved 3 times before settling into a trailer on a few acres outside of Temple, Texas. From their perspective, buying the land was a step toward a long-held dream of owning a ranch of their own. In mine, it was one in a series of moves into temporary dwellings that would continue for nearly 40 years. Less than 6 months after moving there, my parents divorced and we — my younger sister and I — moved with my mother to Tennessee.
So, the other lesson was that relationships aren’t forever either. Don’t get me wrong, my parents were miserable together and everyone is better off with a thousand miles of highway between them. I’m sure most kids who grew up with divorced parents eventually get why their parents split up, but it doesn’t make it easier in the meantime. Having the foundational relationship of your childhood — of your very existence — blow up right there in front of you is quite the life lesson.
In my case the blow up was literal. It happened on Fourth of July weekend and the images of that fight haunted me for years. When I’d see pictures of events at my grandmother’s house I wouldn’t see people, I would see places where the yucky stuff happened. He was there. She was there. I was there. That happened there. I was four. I’m always four years old when I think about my parents.
The search started then for something solid and permanent; something I could trust. I tried churches — big ones, old ones, strict ones. I kept trinkets that my grandparents would send from around the world, the watch Daddy gave me when I was five, clippings from the newspaper, every card and letter I ever received. I counted anniversaries — 3 months at this job, 4 years in this relationship, 7 years since I moved here — in an effort to create a sense of longevity.
Even though I was aware of the search, and even talked about it in therapy, I didn’t really understand it and see all of the tendrils of my quest until very recently. Ironically, I’ve created the sense of permanence right here that I kept trying to find out there.
I’m sitting on my substantial sofa in my brick home surrounded by massive oak and black walnut trees in a part of the world that feels established and stable. Ned Andrew and I have collected artwork made by people we know and love. We’ve purchased dishes that were handmade for us. We use spoons carved from trees that fell nearby. We make dinners that sometimes take hours to prepare and are at other times reheated from another meal, but are always served on our gorgeous dishes, placed on linens, eaten with stainless, wiped away with actual cloth napkins as we sit all together around our kitchen table.
We try to use only items that can be reused, but when we do have things that get thrown away, we separate them out into their recyclable components and deliver them to the convenience station. I love that our local “dump” is 90% recycling bins and only has 2 spots for “trash.” I love that for every bag of trash, we take 12 of items to be remade.
We don’t have a television anywhere on our main floor. We play music. We create art. We talk. We laugh. We walk the dog. We spend an entire day making challah from scratch. We read. We write. We make things with our own hands to give to people — prayer shawls when someone is ill or sad, Ned Andrew’s Peanut Butter Pie when someone blesses us in some way. We invite people to dinner. We sit on the deck and watch the sky.
There’s a developmental milestone that happens around the time a baby turns nine months old. They figure out that things can go away and come back. The pediatric folks call this idea “object permanence.” The ironic aspect of this discovery is that once the child learns that things don’t disappear forever, they develop separation anxiety — they don’t want things to go away at all. After some more time, they grow to be okay with stuff coming and going. They start to trust that most of it will come back eventually.
I know that life is no more predictable than it was before we put our roots into this space, this relationship, our routines. Honestly, with four children and a dog there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t get some kind of surprise. We are aging and have lost loved ones and know we will lose others and eventually, we’ll go, too. But there is a sense of foundation here.
I feel placed. I feel rooted. I feel supported. I feel honored. I feel purposeful. I feel needed. I feel safe. I feel loved.
I am here. I am in this moment. It’s plenty.
*Dow Chemical would be quick to point out that there is no such thing as a “Styrofoam” cup. They never licensed the use of their trademarked product for the manufacture of polystyrene consumer goods. Regardless, the name stuck. Kinda ironic that we’ve permanently attached the wrong name to something that is tossed after a single use and lasts for just about eternity.