Letter From Home “The Woods” 8/18/12
As I looked at the woods on the old family home being taken down with determined effort by man and machine I was reminded of three different things.
First, were the words of Mom which were stated over and over during my childhood, and uttered more stressfully as the years went along. Second, were the words of my father at a time of deep concern and sadness. Finally what I had written on a legal pad at the time of Dad’s 90th birthday came to mind.
James and I had traveled in the van to Hancock to pick up the final rocks—72 of them this time along with the driftwood—that had once decorated and lined Mom’s flowerbeds and gardens. Many of our friends feel, as we do, that the continued use of these rocks for gardening purposes is most appropriate.
This latest batch now surrounds a sizable rose garden, and since one of the women who lives on our block thought the rose patch was heart-shaped recommended that the rocks be arranged in that design. This weekend that project was completed—with twelve rocks to spare.
Before traveling northwards I was aware of the situation on the ground with the leveling of pines, now that the new owner of the land has decided to start the clearing project. Since I have prepared for this event for many months there was no real reaction other that a trip back down memory lane.
Where I had once walked, cut Christmas trees, and sat at times and read was being dismantled tree by tree. But I had already worked out the emotions that came with this development so I just took in the sight. As I did so my mind raced backwards in time.
Over the years Mom wanted a larger and more functional kitchen. There was never enough counter space, places to put all the pies she baked for holidays, or arm room for the expanding family as they gathered around the dinner table.
Before leaving home I was not quite able to see the problem in the same light Mom did. I felt the space was cozy, and no matter how she viewed the shortcomings the aroma of good food along with the family banter and laughter made the room perfect. All the years she was alive it was the place everyone gathered to talk and sit—or stand.
But after leaving home and seeing how other kitchens could be arranged I came to understand her perspective. Still the nostalgia of Mom’s kitchen will always remain.
As a kid, however, I heard over and over through the years the same refrain made by Mom. It remains etched on my brain.
“We will sit here our whole lives with the woods up there, pay taxes and die, and someone else will get to enjoy it.”
It remains one of those unanswered questions why the rather simple desire of Mom to have a larger kitchen—furnished in part from the large track of family pine–could never be realized. Having watched way more HGTV than is good for me I am aware of the relative ease of expanding a room, and the ways her wishes could have been incorporated into the layout of the house.
I also know that the price for such a project was not terribly expensive, and in fact was quite feasible for our family.
Simply put Dad had the money to make it happen. That he left a sizable amount in his accounts makes her kitchen dream seem very unfair. While Dad was one of the most decent and giving of people I have ever known, this one decision left undone–one that would have so greatly assisted Mom–leaves me troubled. Such simple dreams have no reason not to be realized.
The second conversation that flew through my mind as I watched the rugged machinery rip out a stump in the woods was that of Dad while standing in a hospital hallway in August 2007.
Dad was not one to physically touch others, so it was telling that he placed his hand on the arm of the doctor while saying “I will sell my land and woods to pay you, just get Genie better.”
All the money in the world was not going to matter a damn at that time as Mom’s cancer was far too advanced. Dad was sincere though about his words. He would have moved heaven and earth for a chance for more time.
What I find hard to process, however, is how using the money to make Mom’s life easier when it could have impacted her was not possible, but finding all the sources of money he owned for an impossible mission was something he would have undertaken.
Some of this thinking was due, with no doubt, to the Depression that had gripped and tortured so many during childhood. My Dad was no different even though he had the ability to laugh about how strange others who came out of the Depression could sometimes act.
More than once after visiting with his oldest brother he would tell stories of how there would be a pile of perfectly ripened tomatoes from their large garden, but instead of being allowed to eat the freshest ones saw the over-ripe and less favorable ones being served. Time and again he was able to smile over such events as he related them to us, but then was not able to adjust his own view when it came to the simple wish of the kitchen enlargement.
The third thought that flashed through my mind as I watched the woods being leveled were the notes that I had started making in late June 2010 concerning this larger probate episode. During the probate process my first concern was one of fairness, so regardless of any outcome, such as the cutting of the trees by a new owner, I could abide the decision.
The reason my thinking started about the probate at that time was due to my not being invited to the surprise 90th birthday party for my dad—more a large family reunion than a birthday party. There was not a single person who alerted me to the event. Most were obviously under the impression that I was already invited. The fact was that both James and myself were purposely excluded.
Sitting with a yellow legal pad on the sofa I jotted notes and ideas under the lead sentence “G. P. (my shorthand for guiding principle) “given the family dynamics the probate process must be—will be fair.” It was then I decided to hire a lawyer to advocate on my behalf. In time I was able to see that not being invited had allowed me to turn a mean-spirited moment into a time for reflection about the real issues I would need to confront.
The fact is I had many months to reflect over the whole probate process, work through my emotions, and list the pros and cons on a wide range of possibilities that might present themselves in probate. Had I been forced to consider such options at the time of a funeral, and compress my decisions to a short time frame, given my nostalgic and sentimental foundations, there is a strong chance that I might have made other choices that would not have served my interests.
The probate process was corrected along the way to insure that in the end everyone in the family had a real upfront chance to bid on the woods. Given that the process was a fair one I had only one thing left to do when the sale was completed at auction. I walked up to the new owner as he was about to get into the cab of his pickup, introduced myself, and told him I wished him the all the best. It seemed the gentlemanly attitude to take.
My Mom never got her kitchen, and she was right that others would benefit from the woods. But in some way part of her dream will now come true.
One of her interests over the years was the remodeling of the school she attended in Ozone, Arkansas. That building now serves as a community building for local events.
When my Mom died she had a money order in her purse, ready for mailing to the Ozone building fund. She had sent money over time for the effort, and was always eager to tell stories about the place of her youth. Some of the money I will receive from my portion of the family estate will go to this project.
I am hoping that larger strides can be made for the folks in Ozone, and that somewhere Mom knows that the woods finally were used (in a way) for her long-held dream. The kitchen of that community building needs refurbishing, and I plan to help propel the project forward.
When the project is done I hope to have a small plaque hung in the old school letting the people know of the two fine parents in Hancock that assisted in the cause.