I love my sidewalk and stoop! What a weird thing to say, right? But I do. For the first time since I moved here, I can step outside the back door without risking my life (or my knees). The step was steeper than normal steps, and has always been hard for me, though not as impossible as it has been the past few months. I’ve had to use the front door, and try as I might, I couldn’t help tracking mud into the house. And now, what a joy to be able to use my back door, to sail right down the sidewalk to the garage. To keep the mud and dirt out of my living room.
This fixing up a place seems to be one step forward and one back, and the current backward step isn’t a big deal — at least as long as it doesn’t rain. The Cat skid steer they used to transport the concrete from the mixer to the backyard pretty much tore up the yard, which wasn’t in any great shape to begin with since I haven’t been watering whatever grass there is, but now, the bare dirt is exposed. Eventually, of course, we will be putting in pathways so I can walk around the yard without stumbling, which will solve the mud problem.
For now, I’m enjoying the progress we have made toward a safer and more old-age accessible place. The house is already accessible — one floor, a new galley kitchen, a walk-in shower with hand bars. There are stairs to the basement, but I only need to go down there two or three times a year to change the filter on the furnace.
An odd thought struck me yesterday when I came home from work. Having this place — owning this place — is changing how I feel about myself. I’m not really sure how. More confident, possibly, or maybe just less tentative. Maybe more positive about myself as well as having a firmer foot upon the earth. Maybe even a bit of pride — having something concrete (pun intended) to take pride in
I’ve never been one to see myself through my possessions; things generally have not mattered that much to me. The reason I have an iconic vintage car and why I identify with it to an extent is that it’s been around so long. I’ve had it for more than forty-eight years, so it does have some effect on me and especially my relation to strangers — people stop to talk about my car or just to yell out in passing that they love my bug.
I have a set of dishes that I’ve had since my sixth grade Christmas. The only time I was possessive about these silly things was when Jeff was dying. I didn’t want him cutting meat or anything on them or using foods that would stain them worse than they were, but he kept using them. Up until then I didn’t care, they were just some of “our” dishes. I suppose my possessiveness was sort of weird way of punishing him for leaving me or a way of taking back my life. I never did understand that episode. (They are currently stored on the top shelf of my dish cabinet — I can’t bear to use them now. If I ever need them, I’m sure that will change.)
Although I read about a book a day, I don’t particularly like owning books. Once they’ve been read, the book itself is just a thing. (I do have some books, dictionaries, thesauruses, and various other research materials, though with the internet, I seldom use them.)
So this notion that my very identity is changing as this property changes, that I am changing because of homeownership, because of things, comes as a surprise to me. Though perhaps it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. I never wanted the responsibility of owning a house, never even considered it because I thought it impossible with my meager resources. And even when I did find out that my savings would buy a house, it didn’t change my attitude about myself much because I presumed the house, by necessity, would be in an impoverished area, which seemed fitting.
But the town doesn’t feel impoverished to me. It’s rich in friendship and neighbors and the amenities I need. The house isn’t a rundown shack as the price might have indicated, but a lovely — and welcoming — home. Everyone who has stopped by feels at ease here, possibly because of the atmosphere, but also because I don’t have a lot of clutter. (Except in my office/den, of course.)
All my life I’ve lived on the edge financially, and to be honest, I still do live marginally (or rather, I will when my house-fixing-up funds are depleted), but now I feel . . . comfortable. Confident. Hopeful about the future even as I am planning for my old age.
After Jeff died, I tried to rush through grief (though grief can’t be rushed) because I thought there had to be something wonderful on the other side.
And it turns out that there was. Me. Here. In this house. With a new garage and newer sidewalk. Changes in how I feel about myself.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator