Good evening, my friends —
Hear me out: I have good reasons for writing these Musings so late in the day. Hear me out. I’ve a story to tell.
I made the decision to buy my first house under the most dubious of circumstances. Carl Boehner and I sat on logs around a bonfire in the yard outside his mountain cabin. We held coffee mugs filled with some strong liquor, something clear that came from a make-shift bottle. A little ways from the fire, an old dog scratched at the ground. Once in a while, Carl would say something to the mutt in German and it would lift its head, gaze into its master’s eyes, then go back to scrounging for scraps thrown from the skillet suspended over the fire from a metal bar.
Carl’s hired man warmed his legs, sitting on an upside-down paint can. Once in a while, he extended his arms to let the roughness of his worker’s hands take a little of the flame.
Carl said, I’m thinking of selling that place down by the road, and looked in my direction. I took a long draw of the moonshine before I replied.
A week later, he gave me the keys to the 2500 square foot ranch, with its unfinished extension that Carl reckoned might make a good law office if I decided to leave our firm. He told me he’d send his man down with a rick of firewood, double-split, stacked in the mudroom. Without more effort than it took to sign my name on a piece of paper, at the age of 34 and newly divorced, I had bought my first home.
The following summer, I hired a carpenter from over in Eureka Springs to build a porch. He made it so that the lines of the boards ran at opposing angels, with the invisible apex in the middle of the highway. I had a privacy fence erected, and found a guy with a brush hog to keep acreage that came with the place clear enough for decent folk.
In the spring I discovered why the piers of the back porch had rotted when the South Fork of the White River overflowed its banks and lapped at the house’s foundation. By summer, though, I could walk the western edge of my property on the smooth flagstone in the dry river bed.
If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I might be there still, rocking, watching the hawks, on the quiet stretch of Old Route 7 after they put the highway through on the other side of the Boston Mountains.
If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, or maybe pregnant and left; or maybe pregnant and lost one twin with the remaining baby considered at risk. I moved back into Fayetteville, to the guest bedroom of Ron and Laura Barclay. Ron worked for the firm as my law clerk. Laura was a secretary — mine at the time. She held my hand when they wheeled me into the delivery room and was the first nonmedical person to cradle my son in her arms, all seven pounds, ten ounces of laughing baby.
Happy to be here!
Eighteen months later, I took the proceeds of the sale of the Winslow property back to Missouri and bought the Holmes house, 1542 square feet of Brookside bungalow with a fenced backyard and a shared driveway.
Here, I raised my son. Here, I married and divorced twice. Here, I opened the gates of hell and let the demons claim me. And here, for the last three years, I have tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Assuming I ever do.
When my son turned five, his pre-school teacher Magda Helmuth ordered me to take him upstairs to PS1 Elementary School to start kindergarten. He’s ready, Mama, she explained in her thick German accent. I closed my eyes and let the memories flow. My Austrian great-grandmother talked just that way; and my old friend Carl Boehner, who swam from his boat off the coast of Baja California to bring me a geode. I still haven’t cracked that sucker, but I imagine the beauty. I am content to picture the brilliance of its crystals, the purple and silver, hidden inside.
When I walked Patrick upstairs that first day, Mrs. Helmuth stood at the bottom, outside the door of Purple Dragon Pre-school. Goodbye, Patrick! she called. My son turned and gazed down, then reached again for my hand and started his ascent.
Mom, he said, just before we reached the second floor. Are you going to die before I’m big?
He asked a fair question. In 1996, the year of this conversation, I had just begun to experience what would later be diagnosed as the reactivation of the virus which had besieged me in toddlerhood. But no one yet knew what caused my decline; why I couldn’t breathe; why my lips and the beds of my fingernails turned blue and I slipped into unconsciousness. Patrick had witnessed this more than once, and alone. He’d had to call for help — for neighbors; for the police. Once he had walked three doors down to get Beth and Randy. He told them, I gave my Mom a blanket, and some water, and some crackers, but she won’t get better. He was three. Three years old, and taking care of me already.
On that auspicious day, his first day of kindergarten, I looked down at my son, at his Thomas the Tank Engine backpack and his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle tennis shoes. I fixed my eyes on his, pale blue under his golden curls. And I did what any mother would do. Any parent.
No, Buddy, I assured him. I’m going to live to be one-hundred and three, and I’m going to nag you every day of your life.
The stairwell fell silent. I could see my son thinking about the number which I’d thrown out. One-hundred and three. I could feel him contemplating the idea of my nagging him, every blessed day of his life, until I turned 103. Finally, he told me, Okay then, I’m going to ANNOY you every day of YOUR life.
On 14 February 1998, not quite two years after my son’s first day of kindergarten, an arrogant pulmonologist told me that I had six months to live. Sadly, the man himself died less than a year later, leaving a wife and two teenage sons.
But I lived.
So much has happened since that day in 1989 when I decided to buy the place on the highway. Bonfires have been built and extinguished. Trees have grown and been felled. I have loved and lost. I have journeyed a thousand steps, and a thousand more, and a thousand more.
And on this day, this rainy spring day, I drove to Chillicothe with a dear friend and fellow Waldo Brookside Rotarian Jenna Munoz. We assembled with a hundred or so Rotarians for the roll call of club donations to Shoes for Orphan Souls, and other business of District 6040. Then, when the tally had been rendered, and our goodbyes said, we headed back west.
We stopped seven miles before the I-35 turn-off for very important business.
With deliberation and forethought, we turned the Prius off of Route 36 to stop at Country Cabin Village, built by the talented and gracious Kevin Kitsmiller and run by his beautiful, sweet-natured wife Kim Kitsmiller. There, I put a down payment on my next house.
A tiny house, which Kevin has designed and will build, on a custom-made 8-1/2 x 24 foot trailer, and in which I will live out the rest of my days. And no, before you ask: I am not retiring. I am just changing my address, and downsizing from nine rocking chairs to four.
I will be chronicling the building of the tiny house on the pages of this or some other blog. It’s going to be Corinne’s Big (Tiny) Adventure, and I want you all to be a part of it. At Jenna’s suggestion, I’m having a contest to name my tiny house. It won’t be ready until September, so you have plenty of time to watch it grow and get a feel for its personality.
As for where I’ll park it, that remains to be seen. I’ll keep you posted. After all, I’m only 62 (this year), and I’ve got 41 more years to go. I promised my son that I would live to be 103, and as he has always told me, a promise is a promise.