Thursday, March 24, 2011

"The House that Built Me"

Webster defines the word "home" as "one's place of residency." To my mother and others, home is much more than that. I'm sure that each of us could come up with our own definition of "home." Since mother's dementia, I have given more thought to, written more about and spoken more of the word "home" than ever before in my life. I dare say that for most of us, our home can and will be the place that defines the very person that lives inside each of us. It is where we were "built."

A friend of mine tells the story of an elderly man, who while confined to the local nursing home, would walk up and down the halls continuously chanting the words, "My name is Wilburn Clayton, and I want to go home." Authors have penned the word, songwriters sing about it, films have been made about it, children beg to go there and now I have learned that most of us yearn to return there; "home."

Here lately, we have been dealing with mother believing that she is in another town or state, living behind old store buildings, begging for someone to come and take her home. Through all of this, I have learned something new about Dementia. It is very important to keep the patient; or victim as I sometimes call it, as calm and pleasant as possible, with a daily routine that is familiar to them. Just one change in their surroundings or a switch in their usual day can trigger an episode of pure mayhem! I have come to realize that these "episodes" mostly happen when they become agitated, due to a change in routine. It is really strange to witness your own mother, sitting before you, in the same room, seeing a different place. Her surroundings are a total fabrication of the mind, as if she had designed a stage in a play and is living there. I have often asked mother, as to just which "house" it is that she is wanting to go home to, but rarely get the same answer.

I'm sure it's fair to say that all of us have lived in a special house that had a hand in shaping who we are today. It might not have been the most beautiful or most expensive house, just the one that we became "one" with. For me, it was the old house I grew up in, situated on Skyuka road in Columbus, NC. This is the house that "built me."

This past Christmas, my husband and I attended a Rescue Squad Banquet where we were seated with a man and his wife and their teenage son. The lady's elderly parents had bought my old home place back when mother married her late husband Yates. We began to talk about the old house and how it may become vacant in the near future due to failing health of the proprietors. I was enthralled in talking about this house to the point that my husband had to nudge me several times during the conversation. Imposing annoying questions on almost perfect strangers concerning certain little quirks about my old home didn't sit very well with him.

I directed my inquisitions at the son, who I thought might have paid closer attention to the small details of his grandparents house. I began on the line of "is it still there?" My first question was directed towards the old rose bush growing just to the left of the driveway. My sister Sue and I would hurry down there every Easter morning just to see who could find the biggest and prettiest red rose to pin onto our Easter dress, informing everyone that our mother, was living. This was important as a little girl, since my mother was everything to me.

Next, my thoughts meandered to the front porch. There to the right as you walk up the steps was an unusual marking, made with stucco. It was fourth grade, and my teacher, Mrs. Coleena Smith was coming for a visit. Up to this time, my house's exterior was ugly cinder block. The word coming from mother and daddy was that our house would soon be "stuccoed" with a new method that would actually look like "real brick!" I hoped and prayed that it would be completed in time for Mrs. Smith's visit, so she wouldn't think that I was just a poor little girl living in a cinder block house. Finally, the day had come for my teacher's annual visit in the home. The workers had completed stuccoing my house the day before and I was so excited. As a child, I sure couldn't tell that it wasn't real brick and I felt sure Mrs. Smith wouldn't either. As I took a tour of the worker's job, I noticed a strange marking, unlike the brick pattern, on one of the steps that resembled an "Indian symbol." I cried, knowing that this unusual marking would alert Mrs. Smith to the fact that our house had been covered in "stucco," instead of real brick.

Now, I enter the house. "Are the counters in the kitchen still orange?" I ask. The mother interrupts, to comment that she could never understand why anybody would put "orange" counter tops in a kitchen. I'm not sure of the reasoning behind that. I might mention that my mother also drove an "orange Volkswagen beetle" in those days as well. To the left as you enter the hallway was my mother and daddy's room. This room became a beacon to me growing up. Cracking the door and gently calling my mother's name on a sick day or a return from the prom, letting them know that I needed to share. The small bathroom housed an attic door, where I envisioned monsters peeking out at me when I was a child. On down was my brother Jay's room. Many a night, my brother would work hard to come up with schemes to scare the living daylights out of me and my sister Sue. One night in particular, he had tied a string to the clothes basket which sat directly outside our bedroom door. When lights had been turned out, brother Jay began to pull the string to his bedroom, giving the appearance of the basket moving all by itself. For two little girls, a "ghost"was in the house! At last my questions end with my bedroom. A room that had meant the world to me. Of course I had to ask about a certain hole in the sheetrock located in the rear of the clothes closet. The young man smiled as I told him the story of the love notes which had been stashed in that old hole as I was growing up.

Ever since that evening, I have had a fever to go back to that old house just one more time. It seems that mother isn't the only one who longs to to go home.

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