Contemplating Attachments

Over the weekend Kay and I were talking about plans for the beach house. We’re still settling in, moving in furniture a bit at a time. Generally we agree on things, but not always.

Once in a while she’ll ask about whether to bring anything from Dad’s house or hers to the beach. My standard response: Can you stand to live without it? Could you stand to see it wash away if there were another storm like Hurricane Ike?

Usually that pulls her up short and makes her think, and often she decides not to move the item to the beach.

I quite like how the beach house is shaping up. We’re putting our own touches on it, slowly. Kay has contributed dining room chairs — still has one more to move from Natchitoches to Crystal Beach. Then it’s my job to refinish them and recover the seat covers. I’ve got the fabric ready. We’ve decided on the chair color, too. But I can’t start until the fourth chair is there.

There”s a small pine china hutch that I’ll move down at some point. First I want to strip it, and then paint it. A beach house, I think, should be, well, beachy. Light-colored furniture, not dark, seems ideal to me. A pale washed aqua would be perfect to unify the mis-matched end-tables and hutches and dining-room chairs. Plus that would blend with the colors I’ve used for the kitchen towels and dishes.

My own room needs a small bookcase and a small chest of drawers as well as a small desk. Looking around my Lake Charles house tells me that I’ve got plenty of extras here that will serve the purpose.

Nothing there has been inherited. Much of the furniture comes from second-hand stores or flea markets or antique stores. It’s comfortable and warm.

Yet always in the back of my mind is the reality that because we’re on the Gulf Coast, it could all blow away or wash away in a hurricane. That’s quite a thing to wrap your head around.

About ten years before Hurricane Ike hit, we were threatened with a Category 5 storm that was supposed to hit Lake Charles — ground zero was right here. I packed my small SUV with everything I couldn’t bear to live without — and when I left, I didn’t look back. I expected that my house would be gone.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case then, but the lesson was instructive. While I was able to return to an undamaged house (the hurricane made landfall at a 2 or 3, I think, and east of Lake Charles), I’d faced and accepted the loss.

Then Ike took out my beach house, leaving only a cracked slab.

Between Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike, lots of friends of mine lost houses — some twice. I remember telling Dad when Ike was coming that I hoped the beach house was completely untouched or totally destroyed. The in-between was what I didn’t want – having to clean up, sort through, and deal with what I’d seen too many friends go through.

I got my wish — nothing left.

And how strange a feeling to just shrug and know that it was okay.

My sister and niece felt the loss more obviously — Kay cried on and off for months. I certainly missed the place and felt its loss, but then I deal with things very differently.
For her, it had been a refuge, a haven. Indeed, it had been that for me as well. While I admit I got teary a few times, I could also shrug that off and keep going. I’m pretty practical and pragmatic with such things.

The difference is that I am much less attached to places, to the physical houses, than she is. Certainly I enjoyed and loved the beach house, just as I do my house here in Lake Charles, and the house in Egan. But they are just things, in the long run. And my attachment is to what I’ve lived there, to the memories.

As long as I know my pets are okay and that my family is safe, and if I’ve gotten as much into my car as I can drive away with, I figure that I can rebuild a life.

The house in Egan is a perfect example. For Kay, it’s the house she grew up in. For me, it’s the house I moved into when I was 16, and lived in for maybe 2 years before going off to college and then moving out on my own. I could sell it and be okay, though I’d have a few pangs at times. She’d be devastated; she wants to retire there. I could live there if I had to, but it’s not where I’d choose.

The houses that I have attachment to are the farmhouse in San Augustine (which the family still owns) and my grandmother Adair’s house in Beaumont (which we don’t). If I’m honest, it’s the Beaumont house that appears in dreams most often. If I had to, I could sit down right now and draw a sketch of it, of where furniture was. And that house has been gone from the family for twenty years. Yet I can see it and smell it, just as though my grandmother was still alive and living there. I can feel the floor furnace grate where I burned my feet. I can see the light coming in the front bedroom corner window, just enough that the water tower across the street shadows the view (that gave me nightmares when I was younger).

As much as I enjoy my homes, I am always aware of their transience. They are ephemeral, and on the Gulf Coast that’s not figurative language at all.

Attachment to things is something I contemplate more and more. Yes, my house is full, too full, of things I’ve collected over the years. But I’m slowly sorting and purging and clearing out things. There are boxes of books ready to be donated, just sitting in the back room ready to go when I can get the time to haul them off.

Periodically I attack my closets and sort through what to keep and what to donate and what to throw away. That will happen soon too.

Somewhere I read an article that suggested going through your house, imagining that you were moving to Europe and could only take a small number of belongings. What would make the list? From time to time, I go through the house and think of that, making a mental list of what I’d keep, what I’d store.

That list is surprisingly short. If I were moving somewhere in the U.S., I think I could get by with one moving van, a small one. Some things would go to storage. Lots would get sold or given away.

I’m feeling kind of restless lately, so I guess it’s time to evaluate what I want to get rid of and what I want to keep.

What would you keep? What can’t you live without? What can be replaced?

Once you’ve lost a house (even a second home), it’s surprising how quickly you can answer those questions.

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