Monster in the attic

My brother and I found this note stashed away among pictures and documents that my mother had saved. It’s from my mother to my father, who was called Vaughan, his and my middle name, by family.


It’s a little hard to read, so here’s what my mother wrote:


We have something in the cabinet over the stove or in the attic or in the vent pipe. It sounds big.”

Then, after the drawing of some kind of sharp-toothed and –clawed animal with a yawning mouth, my father replied:

“You think I’m going in the attic if it sounds like that?”

This note was from some time in the 1970’s I think. It was written on a little pad from the Celanese plant where my mother worked. I remember the incident; it was a mouse that had somehow fallen into the stud cavity in the kitchen wall and was unable to get out. We first heard it, then smelled it after it died. I fished it out after it became mummified.

I also remember adding the “something” in the drawing.

I don’t know exactly why my mother saved the little note along with so many other more understandable things, but I’m glad she did.

Sisyphus had it easy in my opinion

I haven’t been working on my tree-cutting/path-building project for the last few days because a completely unrelated project jumped to the front of the priority list. The real estate agent has found a buyer for the house my brother and I have had on the market since my mother died last year. We had done some cleanup but had left a lot of stuff in the house for two main reasons. The first is that we wanted it to look lived in. The second is that we are procrastinators. The buyers want to move in on April 15, so now we can’t procrastinate any longer.

We actually got a reprieve. The buyers originally wanted to move in on April 1.

My brother and I have been making trips to the house every so often. It’s easier for me than for him because he lives more than an hour away in Chattanooga.

My father, who died back in 2000, was a collector of stuff. It’s really hard to categorize a lot of it any more narrowly than that. He had a lot of tools, including some that look like they were designed sometime around the turn of the last century. He also liked to get power tools. Among the tools he bought was a stand-mounted drill press. It’s about as tall as I am. Its height is appropriate, because it weighs about what I weigh, too.

Now the Parises seem to have a thing for living on hills. My wife and I live on a hill, my brother lives on a hill, and so did my parents. Unfortunately, my father’s workshop is halfway down the hill from the front of their lot.

My father’s drill press is not only heavy, but also awkward to handle. It’s extremely top heavy, with a big electric motor mounted to the top. I had a hand truck, but when I tried to strap the drill press to it, it was so top heavy I couldn’t keep it upright. I had to take the cast iron base off and carry it upside down on the hand truck.

The next problem was that the ground is covered with a layer of dead leaves and pine straw, which makes for poor footing. There are also a couple of sets of steps my father built from concrete blocks. Did I mention that this thing is heavy? Well, it is, even with the cast iron base removed. I was not at all sure I was going to be able to make up to the front of the yard.

Suffice it to say, I got the thing all the way up into the carport, and here it is, still upside down.

The drill press in the carport, with stuff

The drill press in the carport, with stuff

My brother and his wife came down Saturday and we worked for a while going through other stuff. The hospital bill from my brother’s birth in 1947 (it was under $75, with a room rate of $7 a day). My mother’s high school diploma. Letters from my father to my mother before they were married. A nice note from my mother’s high school glee club instructor. The admission pass for a Civil Service exam my father took right out of high school. A box full of cameras. A set of notebooks with my mother’s budgets from right after the war. All the things people save for their children to go through after they die. Maybe I’ll write about a few of them later.

Letting go

folding chair

I go over to check on my mother’s house every so often now that no one’s living there and it’s up for sale. There is still some furniture there, and the power and water are still on. Sometimes I sit down on the living room sofa and look for ghosts.

So far I have not seen any. My mother is not stirring in the bedroom or in the kitchen. My father is not puttering around in the basement. I do not feel their presence, and I don’t expect to turn around and see either of them coming around the corner into the living room.

My father died 14 years ago. I felt his presence strongly for a long time after that. I was building our house then, and when I did something I was particularly proud of, I found myself thinking that I had to show it to him. That feeling faded over the years. I was used to having my father around for 50 years, and my internal model of the world still contained him after he died. But in the last 14 years, my internal world has changed to accommodate his death.

My mother’s case is different. She died only about a year ago, but her last years were not like the previous ones. She had serious balance problems, and thus falling problems. She had urinary tract infections and blood clots. Her world shrank to basically her bedroom, her bathroom and her living room. When we went to visit, we never knew whether we were going to find her lying on the bathroom floor, standing at the kitchen counter reading the paper, or snoozing in her recliner while NCIS reruns played on the television. She wasn’t the self-reliant, smart woman she had been, and her declining health lasted long enough that the old image faded. And then she spent nearly a year with my brother and sister in law in Virginia, and after that the last few months of her life at an assisted living facility. I didn’t get a chance to form a really strong new image of my mother in my world.

So by the time my mother died, my internal model of the world didn’t really have her or my father in their old roles. And so their presence doesn’t echo in their house.

What I do find is that various things evoke memories. My father kept his tools in a corner in the basement. Most of them are still there, and when I see them, I think of my father. My mother’s jewelry and art glass are gone, but there are still things in the kitchen and in the bookcase in the living room that make me think of her

I have a few of those things that make me think of them at our house. One of my favorite sets of memories is of going with them on a few long RV trips. They started traveling with an Airstream trailer in the early ‘70s before they retired. They started out towing their trailer with their 1966 Buick Wildcat coupe. They continued RVing until the late ‘90s, and for a time in the mid-90s I was able to go with them for a couple of months at a time.

They traded for various RVs, including other brands of trailer and a couple of motorhomes, but they always kept a pair of folding chairs that they bought early in their RVing lives. They were solid, high-quality chairs. They used them outside for sitting under the awning, and inside if they needed extra seating at the dinner table.

Now those chairs are in our garage. I see them every time I pull in, lying folded up against the wall. We have a travel trailer, but we don’t need or use the chairs, and, to tell the truth, they aren’t all that comfortable anyway. But there they sit.

The associations with my parents and with good experiences with them are so strong that it’s hard to think about disposing of them. But we don’t really need them, and we don’t need physical objects to remember my parents. I guess it’s time to let them go.

I can’t feel at home in this world any more

I went to the funeral of a former coworker’s mother today. I didn’t know her mother, and I hadn’t seen her in several years. But I have known her since I started to work in Huntsville in 1986, when she was a co-op and I had just finished grad school.

The funeral home chapel was full. Almost everyone seemed to be from the church her parents attended, which is a conservative Protestant denomination. Based on what I have read, and the little I remember from talking to my friend about it, they don’t use musical instruments in their services. All their singing in this service was a cappella. When I attended church, I got used to fairly pitiful, uncoordinated and scattered congregational singing during worship services, but these people could sing. They sounded like a well-trained choir and at times the voices blended and reverberated almost like an organ. I remember the hymns that were sung when I went to church, and I was surprised that I didn’t recognize any of the four songs that were sung in this service.

The pastor didn’t use the funeral as an opportunity to deliver a sermon, but there was obviously a lot of religion throughout. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church prior to that denomination’s decline into willful ignorance and bigoted fundamentalism. I have long since given up those and any other religious beliefs, but I know all about this stuff. And yet I felt like a visitor to a foreign country. It really is a world that I can’t feel at home in any more.

UPDATE: I added a link in case anyone is not familiar with this song. It was one of the four that were sung at the funeral service, and I was not familiar with it.