A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Downsizing - Less is not more, it's less!

I decided this weekend to clean out everything I could in the apartment we still have, even though we need to keep it a while longer. The countdown has begun and I was in the mood to get 'er dun!

We've been downsizing since the end of 2007 when we got transferred to the San Antonio area. We gave away a lot of stuff but when we arrived at the apartment we were renting then, we still had way too much! We were tired and discouraged that night; even the movers felt like crying. The house we sold was around 1800 sq feet; not small but not huge. We thought getting rid of what we did would be enough. We could hardly walk in the apartment and even gave a few things to the movers!

A year later when we moved into a house we once again gave furniture away. Some of what we had was not the style we now liked so we gave things away and replaced some of them. The house was a little over 1700 sq feet. It had a good arrangement and seemed spacious.

Less than a year after that move we got transferred again! This was a hard move. Still we were able to take most of what we had at the time. Retirement was close and after the last move, so quickly after we had bought a house, we decided to go the apartment route until we could move to the cabin full time. 

A friend of mine told me one time that three moves is as good as a fire for getting rid of possessions! I know people that have never moved and they still have things from their kids' childhood in the closet and the kids have been gone for years. We aren't those people. We purged with every move. 

The last move was to a smaller apartment. We wanted to get as lean and clean as we could for the last time spent away from the cabin. At this point it was starting to get a bit painful for me, and I'm not one to hang onto a bunch of clutter. But now we were jettisoning things I liked and things that had sentimental value to me. That's when you have to keep your eye on the prize and remember what you are gaining, not what you are losing!

I came back from this trip with 8 boxes of dishes and most of them I have some kind of attachment to. I had held onto part of two sets of dishes I had acquired over the years. My Mamaw had helped me buy some of each set. She loved dishes and I do too! She had a certain dish she used for different things. The ambrosia dish never held anything but ambrosia, the tuna fish salad was always in the tuna fish salad bowl. I have both of those bowls now and they survived the final cut. They are all the more precious because I didn't keep everything. As I told a friend of mine, you don't have to keep all 30 of the vases your mother left you, keep one or two.

I stayed up until 1:30 last night adding some dishes and taking some of the ones I had in the cabin out. One in, one out is the only way you can live in a small house. Out of the 8 boxes, I have 6 boxes of dishes that I am going to donate and I'm giving myself a pat on the back for that! If I didn't love pottery and bowls in particular, I could live with less than I kept. But we have room for what I kept so I didn't have to downsize any further.

Books, dishes, and pictures (both photos and artwork) are the three material things I love the most. The cabin has 464 sq feet and the bunkhouse has 160. With that total we were able to keep a lot of what we really love, helped out by e-books and photo albums instead of framed photos. I had to go back to the bunkhouse and lose one photo and move a mirror so my Willie Nelson concert poster would have a place. Sarah has agreed to give my signed Kinky Friedman for Governor poster a loving home. When I had an office at home it was decorated with Texas music stuff; these posters, a Stevie Ray Vaughan painting a friend did for me, and record albums, one signed by Willie at this concert. I fretted very much over my Texas music stuff! The albums are on the bookcase and I'm going to put the painting somewhere in the bunkhouse.

The Good Morning, Good Night pillow covers I made and embroidered in the German turkey red style, but with blue thread, will have a home here but I had to take out some other pillows to make them fit. I embroidered them on my breaks when I was a substitute at the school district where Sarah went from 5th to 12th grade, so they have memories woven into them.  

None of the furniture in the apartment is coming this way so this is pretty much the end of the downsizing for us! If you are considering a move to a small house and are hesitant because you don't think you can live without your stuff, don't let that stop you! The rewards of living with less outweigh the negatives. Try to find homes for the things you love but can't take; it helps to know someone else can use them and enjoy them. Make some money on them if you can, if not, donate! We gave away most things but we sold the furniture we had bought for the last house. That money paid for the move to the smaller apartment. And it helps to downsize in stages. We never would have gotten down as clean as we are without doing it over time. 

And it helps to occasionally watch George Carlin do his "stuff" routine! 

"The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less." Socrates

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Before the Next Teardrop Falls

Some songs can take you right back to a place and a moment, just as surely as if you had entered a time machine. The world as it is falls away and in its place is a memory come to life. It can stop you in your tracks, and you hold on to it as tight as you can. Like a dream you don't want to wake from. It's your only way to call that loved one back from the grave and you play the memory over and over again until you have to let it go.

The song is Freddy Fender's Before the Next Teardrop Falls. Even though it was recorded 4 years later, I long ago attached this 1970 memory to it, I guess because of his background. A South Texas boy from a poor neighborhood, alcohol addiction, service in the Marines, a working man, a mechanic, many things that make him "my kind of people". And a voice that can make you cry no matter what he's singing.

The song came on as I returned from town today but for me it's Summer, 1970, in Brownsville, Texas.

It's the end of the day, the quiet twilight time, when what's going to be done that day has been done and now all we have is either regret or hope. The cicadas are slowly beginning their music. The little motel is made up of tiny sagging cabins, clustered together around a shady grassy area that hasn't seen a lawnmower in a while. The paint is peeling outside and in, the crowded furniture worn and well used. It's not very bright inside, even with the lights on. Each cabin has a small kitchenette, old pots and pans with uneven bottoms, a sink stained and chipped, the faucet leaking. Cigarette smoke hangs in the air, and there's a moldy stuffy smell. A smell of people that worked and didn't bath, of old beer and old dreams.

There's no swimming pool, no coffee bar with continental breakfast, no gym where guests can workout while they travel. There's no parking lot, just the street off Central Blvd. There are tall skinny palm trees stretching toward the sky, the first ones we've ever seen like that. They sway in the constant breeze and Daddy jokes that they don't give much shade. There's a resaca nearby and the breeze carries the smell of the water and the flowers that grow along its banks. Resaca is a new word for us, this local name for the old channels of the Rio Grande, cut off and no longer flowing to the Gulf. 
My dad was sitting on the steps of one of the units as the darkness settled around him. His worn and dirty cowboy hat was pushed back on his head. His jeans were dirty as were his hands. When you work with your hands for a living they never appear to be clean no matter how many times you wash them, how much GoJo you use. He was a handsome man with a youthful outlook, even at 45. He almost always had an open face; he loved people and he never met a stranger. Most of the time he was singing, little snippets of song that he started and didn't finish. Tonight he wasn't singing.

I had made some spaghetti and came to tell him supper was ready. As I came around the corner I caught him at one of those moments we all have where we think no one is watching us. When we let our face reveal things we don't want anyone else to know. He leaned a little forward with his forearms resting on his knees. One hand held a cookie or cracker that he was eating without noticing. He was staring off into the open area at the ground but he wasn't seeing it.

When he did see me, his face changed and he smiled and said, hey, sweetheart, as he always did. But I knew something was wrong and I knew what it was.

Though most of my family would be there off and on during this Summer, only my dad is there now. I'm with him, as are my boys, so young then; Larry was 2 and 9 month old John took his first steps that Summer. I didn't realize it then, but I was young too. The next to oldest in my family of seven kids, I had left home when I was 17 years old. I turned 21 that Summer.  My family was working as contractors on the building of the Fort Brown Motor Hotel.

My dad had a monkey on his back and that monkey was alcohol. He fought this demon all his life like a survivor in a zombie movie, going 15 years sober at first; then he made 3 trips to the VA for it after I was a teenager. Each trip held it in bay for less than a year. Mama fought it with him and if she could have fought it for him, she would have. He had been sober for almost a year and we had begun to suspect he had started drinking again. But we didn't dare confront him. That would make it real and so far this episode hadn't sent our family into the downward spiral that we knew would come soon enough. Denial was one of the tools in our arsenal of battle and we used it because we had to. 

I used it then. As the night crept in and the sunlight left us once again, I sat down beside Daddy on the steps and leaned my head on his shoulder. We shared a story about the day, something inconsequential that I don't recall. We stayed that way for a while longer, hesitant to break the spell of that South Texas moment, both of us knowing somehow that as long as we stayed there on those steps, we could keep the hard times away. 

Though this sounds like a sad story, it's a happy memory for me. Daddy eventually sent his demons to hell and shut the door on them and I stood up to some of mine too. That Summer I acquired a love of South Texas and the people that live there that has never left me. And today I've returned to those steps with my dad and stayed a little longer. The teardrops fell but I had already turned to the back of the book and I knew it had a happy ending.