I came across the photo while conducting intensive research on how best to broadcast my son’s 22nd birthday on Facebook. Transparently, the commemoration would be more for my gratification than his.
In the picture, preteen Matt balances a pie in each hand. He had baked them himself for a holiday dinner, much to the delight of relatives.
Sure, he looked adorable with stylishly chaotic hair, gel cementing its tumult.
But what caught my eye was the set of multicolored bowls, aglow in fluorescent light, propped behind him on the blue-tiled counter.
Hmm. There’s the Christmas photo of little Erin and Matt, its green frame hiding a dormant outlet.
And there’s the Desert Rose coffee cup night light, and above it the shelves of Desert Rose serving pieces – mostly just decorations that I dust off every once in a while.
Trivets to the left of the stove? Check. Floral canister to the right? Check.
OK, so the wine glasses and Fiestaware have since traded places behind glass cabinet doors. Otherwise, the almost-vintage pottery – eight place settings I bought at Woolworth’s for (best deal ever) $40 – cheerfully rests in immutable formation.
Outside the photograph’s borders, over the unseen window, were and are smiling coconut masks — quietly confident that they belong.
Adorning open space above the cabinets, vases and pitchers peek down from inconspicuous pedestals made of long-dejected books.
Amazing, I thought as I studied the photograph. Our kitchen has barely changed at all.
What did I expect all that stuff to do? Head off for college? Take a new job?
Still, I did some wistful time traveling. While Matt fast-forwarded through continual transformation — adding a foot to his height and a scruffy beard to his baby face — our house remained a still life.
It is like the backdrop in a play, where only the actors move as painted clouds loiter unperturbed by nature’s forces.
We bought our Seal Beach home when Erin was 5 and Matt 3. Over the next few years, we spiffed it up some — re-tiling here and re-stuccoing there, inserting French doors one summer and a bathroom skylight the next.
Yet sooner than later, except for the kids’ evolving rooms, the house pretty much froze in its tracks.
Even after new coats of paint, usually a repetition of previous colors, artwork and furniture go back right where they started.
Try as I might – or, to be honest, might not – I can’t imagine a preferable configuration.
Either I am in a rut or I possess a genetic desire for familiar surroundings.
Numnah, my mother’s mother, was born and buried in West Texas. For more than 60 of her 94 years, she lived in the same clapboard house. Mrs. John Brown, 532 Elm St., Colorado City.
When a fire gutted the house in the early ‘40s, Numnah – recently widowed – meticulously pieced her home back together. Same dusty blue exterior, same floral wallpaper, same lace curtains.
It was modest yet rambling, with such quirks as a bedroom off the dining room. It had a creaking porch swing, fireplaces everywhere, a sunny sewing room, a secret closet inside another closet, a distant train whistle, the smell of Ivory soap and ghosts that scraped the window screens on stormy nights.
And it never, ever changed. Any day of any year, you could walk into that home and know exactly what was where – from the doilies on the sofa, to the bottle of Topaz perfume on Numnah’s dresser, to the jelly jars in the pantry.
Numnah offhandedly placed on the kitchen windowsill a marble I found inside a cereal box, and there it remained for two decades.
In the squished link between past present, longtime homes tend to become predictable and steady.
As I gaze at my young pastry chef – or, more accurately, his fixed surroundings – nostalgia tugs. His boyhood, I can’t hold onto. But its context carries on.
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