It was across the country, on a blooming street under the Bakersfield sun. It was small with blue steps and the outside had architecture you couldn’t quite classify. Red flowers sat right under decorated windows. In the backyard, there was a large grapefruit tree. Its colors were Technicolor; its smell was sweet. I wanted to live there.
The first time I remember visiting was when I was about nine. It was this big family get-together, all these people I hadn’t seen in years. I was so painfully shy. Every time I talked, it was a struggle. I would over-think before and after I spoke anything.
It was Christmas time and Grandma Thursa showed me her photo albums. I was so fascinated by them; I could not stop talking about them. I loved her voice. It was so different from my breathy stammer; the way she talked, you couldn’t help but listen in a way you never thought your young ears could.
And the house! The house had landscape wallpaper on the inside of the front door. There were dream catchers and wicker furniture and photo collages my aunts made years ago, adorning the hallways. I could not stop thinking about it. I pictured all of my aunts and uncles in this house, growing up. I pictured my mother when she was my age, with her long blonde hair full of beads and braids. This was just a house, barely creaking, but it spoke to me. It let me know that it had stories and that I might be part of one.
My mother and my father both told me all about Thursa. She was a college graduate. She wore cat-eye glasses, so I did too. She smoked for most of her life, and quit cold turkey one day. She was a single mother to six kids. She slept on the couch for decades, all for the sake of her children. She taught at a museum about Cherokee ancestry. She was a social worker. She was a writer. She was beautiful.
When I moved into my new house in middle school, I took a good look at my empty room. It had carpet the color of 321 Oleander’s steps. Shelves lined the walls, like it did in her house. I wanted a room like the sunroom. I wanted it full of things, full of interesting things, pretty things, things with a story. And I tried so hard. I worked on it for years. We found furniture, put up more shelves, bought bookends. I organized, re-organized, re-organized. I made collages just like the ones in that hallway and tacked them to my buttercup yellow wall. I put up pictures of family and pictures of pretty things. Every gift I received from someone now was a knickknack. They understood. I have tiny brass teacups on those shelves. I have vintage heels. I have the pink dream catcher Thursa made for me years ago, protecting me more than much ever could. And every time a new friend steps into my bedroom, they become transfixed. They walked around, studying the walls. They laugh at parts of it and ask about others. They want to play with my typewriter. They tell me I have such a cool room. I say thanks, but all I’m thinking is You should see 321 Oleander…
Two years ago, I was lucky enough to return. I was a freshman in high school. We spent a week there, talking to my grandmother in the sun room, shopping at the thrift stores downtown and even going to Disneyland. I could talk to people, and was so surprised how cool my family actually was. My cousins, my uncle, my aunts….they were so interesting and so loving. They were the most generous people I’ve ever known and I got scared. I felt sort of selfish and juvenile. I didn’t know if I was living up to what a great family I came from.
That trip, my grandmother read and read. She loved her books. My mother told me she underlined grammatical and spelling errors and made notes when there was a plot-hole. It made me laugh. She was a voracious reader. Her book stacks towered over me, leaned on a wall. They overflowed with novels. She was one for devotion, I suppose.
And I explored the house, with my matured eyes. The stories that my mother told me took shape. This is where they ate every day. This table was where my mother did her homework and her art. This is where Uncle Matt stuffed his dinner in the leg of the table, trying to be sneaky and not eat it. This is where Mickey would prepare her debates. This is where Adrian cut out pictures of landscapes. This is where Merry had to deal with all of my mother’s pets. This was where they slept. This is the window my mother’s dog jumped through just to follow her to school. This is where.
I went home and fell in love with my house. I studied my mom’s knickknacks: her little bunnies hidden everywhere, the glass tea set in the window, the plates on the fridge showing scenes of Ancient Greece. Her paintings, her paintings….I spent more and more time in our gorgeous sun room. Sun came into the hardwood floors like a flood and warmed our hearts. Our lives kept moving like the wind chimes. Every moment I lived was history and this was its stage.
I went to college. I worked harder than thought I ever could. During Orientation Week, I went up to every one and said “Hello, my name is Savannah Lamb. What’s yours?” Certain things you never thought could be possible become your reality. And it won’t be so scary; it will feel like a cup of licorice tea in your hand while sitting in front of the flickering fire.
This November, we went back to Bakersfield. This time, my mother and I had a few days before the big get-together, which we spent in that house. I knew it was going to be hard because my grandmother wasn’t doing so well. I didn’t know if I could do it or how I’d feel, but I entered the room and she smiled. She said “Hello, dear” and asked me how I was. I looked forward to making her coffee and bringing her chocolate just to see her because her warmth was so sincere.
Our family came and celebrated. Once again, I was so interested by my relatives. But this time, I did not feel inadequate. Instead, I was struck all of a sudden with this realization. I was overwhelmingly thankful, and not just because it was Thanksgiving. Out of all the families in the world, I was part of this one. And I was so proud. My relatives inspire me to be loving, creative, selfless and now I am sure that I can and am shaping up to be like them.
I took walks around the neighborhood and took pictures of the little houses. Then I noticed that her house with the blue steps was really different. It didn’t look like any of the houses surrounding it. It looked timeless. I explored inside. I loved every square inch. My mother and I lounged around, drinking coffee. I did my work at a small desk in the sun room, watching kids on skateboards pass by. There was something so unique about this house, not just because of all the stuff in it. I couldn’t put my finger on it. And I know old houses.
It is full, but it isn’t cluttered. It is full of culture. Full of remnants of family. It is full of beauty. Full of love. It is small and operates modestly, but it is as grand as a house could be. It welcomes the sun in. It implores the sun in, to bathe on its seats and to warm its people. And it’s older than most houses, but isn’t falling apart. Its walls are as strong as our hearts. Its floors are our souls, holding us up, keeping our feet soft. Maybe no one will spend their high school years there or write their speeches on that table, but its stories are far from over. Out of everything awful, comes something beautiful. Thursa Revenaugh was a legend and 321 Oleander is her landmark.
|From 321 The Slide Show|