Friday, March 15, 2013

The personification of houses, blackberry bushes & Watership Down

The entire canyon is scented with wild yellow mimosa. You notice it in the cool/warm mornings, now that the sun is up at six. It brings with it the promise of summer, of sweet long evenings, hinting at the myth of the canyon -- a place full of possibility.

I've been back from England for two days and I'm still in the love/hate place I always find myself. Not enough sleep gives rise to anxiety and homesickness and I think about the hoar-frost and Siberian winds I left behind. My face is still chapped from the cold.  Only two days ago I stood in the garden I grew up in and marveled at the immaculate new raised beds, the old garden walls, seeming slightly less rickety, the red brick just a little more in place, the new green tennis court with its summer house, the absence of my favourite magnolia tree (I always wanted to crunch the pinky-white flowers in my mouth like chicory) and the plain fence where the blackberry bushes and blue-flowering sage once ruled. But it still felt like home. The apple trees are neater now, pruned into trim pollarded rows, and the bulbs of lilies are scattered about underneath them with the cut-down rose bushes. Like everything, you warm to it, forgive it, feel a nostalgic beating heart for it: I am no longer reticent to visit the house and I am glad that a family that takes care of it is there. On the coldest day I walked across Far Field towards Northchurch Common and looked carefully at the house across the park from the wide gap in the fence where the avenues of trees has been planted. The hedges are properly laid, not hacked about, and there is yellow lichen on the branches. I found some algae-covered bones in the hedge, hip bones, almost too big for a magpie to lift but perhaps brought for nesting purposes.  The house now bare of ivy, its red bricks scrubbed and naked has nonetheless succumbed to nature and a fine dusting of green patina'd moss is visible on the brick, even from where I stood across the field. There is something innately pleasing about that, that our house did not go gentle into that good night. Perhaps this is magic thinking but nonetheless my brother would agree in his weaker moments that the house helped raise us and its presence was important to us in a way that many of our friends don't understand. I've yet to explore that notion but shall, one day.

It was a visit of reconnection, with family, with friends, with the places I love. My favourite English cousin (much has been written here about my favourite Norwegian cousin, his cunning Scrabble skills and his most excellent Jack Russell) had a birthday lunch and invited me. I think the last time I saw him was either at my wedding or my grandmother's funeral. But he looked the same; tall, smiley, wry, handsome and warm. Because of him I discovered Simon & Garfunkel and remember at age 9 or 10 sitting with my older, cooler teenage cousins in my Aunt Pam's drawing room with its dark turquoise velvet chairs, watching them drink wine and listen to Bridge Over Troubled Water. Everyone was singing and it was the first time I felt that sense of communal camaraderie and bliss. I won't forget it ever, listening to the music and the way the needle of the record player sounded on the vinyl, scratches and all, and those beautiful voices.

Aunt Pam made vol-au-vents, which were incredibly popular in the seventies, filled with creamy prawns and curried chicken. They seemed enormously exotic to us as we were used to my mother's very elegant Norwegian open sandwiches -- inch-sized squares of pumpernickel with smoked salmon and dill, or egg & prawn and a twirl of thinly-slivered cucumber -- which we, the children, were asked to pass around drinks parties on silver trays.

In this twilight time between England and Los Angeles, when there hasn't been enough sleep, and I'm still defiantly writing favour with a "u" to prove my Englishness, when I'm missing the silliness of Red Nose Day, lovely Gwyneth in the village shop who remembers me and asks after the children, when I'm still inclined to write postcards with deer and bluebells on them, when I'm holed up in the canyon attempting to re-assimilate into LA life, with the sweet smell of mimosa and the gently snoring dogs, it's hard to remember why I left the chalky hills and bones in the hedgerow for the harshness of pavement and freeways and sunshine that penetrates your joints. But then I do. And I remember that I'm here because I fell in love, and this was after Elinor had written the sign I pinned above my bed in the sixth form. It said "Bumble For Hollywood" and it was an album-like dream, hazy and full of beautiful music. But I fell in love and I wanted an adventure and here I am, twenty five years later, wondering where I am supposed to be and not at all sure if I fit in perfectly in either place, pork & leek sausages notwithstanding.

The boxes you tick at twenty-two are rather different, my ex-husband noted at breakfast this morning. I persuaded him to meet me at Norm's because I'd only had a bowl of cold soup and an orange in the two days since I'd been back and in the haze of jetlag, wanted bacon and eggs and a familiar face and I know that he knows what I'm like when I get back from England, especially after a trip like this one. He looks at me across the table as I drink my coffee and he drinks his half-caff and he waits for me to start getting jittery as he knows I'm unfamiliar with this caffeine, that the tea I down by the pot is a gentler up. And he smiles in a kind way when I tell him I want to go back there and I show him the pictures of the houses I've found in the middle of the night on RightMove when I couldn't sleep. And he tells me that they look nice and asks me how long my commute will be very sweetly as if this will happen. And he says "I've taken myself out of the equation" and I don't really know what that means because secretly I want him to be in the equation, but then the other half of me doesn't and I imagine pottering around a garden in Chewton Mendip with raised beds and runner beans on hazelstick frames with a nice man in glasses who makes me laugh and says kind, encouraging things as we drink our tea. "You are younger than you think" he says. "You are ten years too early." I'm both pleased and irritated. But I give him credit for listening and knowing that I'm in the twilight zone. Because only he knows what that's like for me.

Of course I cry on the way home because I've had too little sleep and I want everything to be perfect, and I realize that the cold beet soup with the balsamic vinegar for lunch yesterday may have been a mistake, and I miss him although I tell myself I don't. And it all seems a bit overwhelming, this negotiating a new life thingummybob, and let's not even touch on empty-nest syndrome.

My elaborate fantasies include seeing my dogs running through bluebell woods under recently green beech trees after having been unpacked from the shipping crates in which they arrived at Heathrow. Slightly stunned but quite happily they step on to the ancient chalky loam of England and breathe in her air before galloping off to find some Watership Down rabbits. My children -- the whole family in fact -- will then gather around for tea and there will be egg and tomato sandwiches on buttered white bread without crust as only my mother can make. And there will be a large copper beech tree which we will picnic underneath, spread out as we have been since man discovered that everything is better outside.

I imagine this will be filed under "personal memoir" :)

Thank you for understanding, dear reader.  My addled brain will be back to normal tomorrow.  Have a wonderful weekend.


sianey said...

Darling B - just sending you a big hug.
Thats all.

Nancyblackett said...

My friend, I know that dislocation so well. I wonder what it would be like to have income and lifestyle to allow both - the countries of our bones and our adopted homes (the countries of our children)? Till then I think we are forced to always be migrants - loving our adopted homes but still feeling home in our bones