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Sunday, December 04, 2011

A home in winter

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I am not much use with my hands. I have bent them to work in an office on computers. They are weak, sore, pitiful. I hold a needle to a quilt a short while, the fabric and batting gathered and bunched in my left hand, the needle a steel splinter of my once-magic wand arm in my right; then my hands collapse, in pain or icy numbness, in the calico on my lap. The most basic tools have no moneyback guarantee.

But once, after the supremacy of Sunday morning church and dinner, these hands of mine built a home. I was five. I had three construction assistants in the yard between the house and the church — ages nine, eleven and thirteen; male; also inexperienced builders. It had snowed; the snow was deep. Then it snowed some more. It was January, the snows piled like ancient stone-dust cities of the Holy Land pilgrimage our parents showed us in slides. Then it rained on our cotton and wool hooded snow suits and on the snow; the rain froze. The black metal clasps of my red rubber galoshes froze shut. If we were very delicate, we could walk atop the crusted snow. With straight-edge machete fingertips, from the large age thirteen size to the small five, we punched out big rectangular snow bricks. Deep, deep I still feel the way of precision, my fingertips in wool mittens slicing snow stones from the whole quarry yard for layering in the masonry of igloos. No one taught us this. When the walls were an inch higher than the thirteen-year-old, my brothers placed the plywood ceiling and finished the exterior with a roof of ice-and-snow slate. We packed white mortar in each gap; smoothed with pearl-iced mitten-index fingers: a ten by ten closet or a small bedroom where the four of us could lie side by side hidden in mystery in the expanse between our father's parsonage and the church. We slept quietly in our civilized and insulated imaginations. We could live there, and survive. So warm; so home. So temporary.
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55 comments:

Cait O'Connor said...

What a wonderful memory.

George said...

A lovely remembrance, Ruth, touching and beautifully rendered.

The Broad said...

I, too, had a shelter made of snow. We would walk across the fields and down the path to it and then we would sit on the snow benches built into the sides of the little structure -- our boots filled with snow, our feet getting colder and colder as darkness fell and it was soon time to trudge back through the drifts of white, half frozen, but happy and eager to get back again the following day!

Grandmother said...

Warm memories of found competence and friendship. Even temporary, it put another brick in your internal home. Lovely.

Louise Gallagher said...

Home is in the hearth of my heart -- that thought flit through my mind after reading your beautiful memory-telling of that home you built of ice and snow.

Tomorrow, myself and a co-worker are camping out on the roof of the homeless shelter where I work for three days -- I will carry your story in my heart to remind me that in the insulated world of my imagination, all is well on the roof!

I'll live there for three days (I will have my laptop :)) and I will survive as it will be... so warm; so home. And unlike for the people we serve at the shelter -- So temporary.

Thank you for the beauty of your memories this snowy morning.

Namaste.

ellen abbott said...

Loved this.

cathyswatercolors said...

Thank you for reminding me of all of the fun and enchanting days of our youth. We played and played in our own made-up wonderlands. I still love the outdoors. I forgot about the red boots with the black clasps. I too seem to remember them i had a couple of pairs, hand me downs not doubt. I seem to recall a pair of red boots with a faux fur top and a zipper:) I want to see the babies quilt when you are finished... please share:) I guess i better get busy, if i am to make one? OR off the the antique mall to look for one? xoxo

Jeanie said...

How beautiful. Those days of building snow forts, igloos, snow people. We need to remember those -- we need to find them again. I can see it, feel it, am with you. And I love it.

Pat said...

You described it so well....I remember the metal fasteners on the boots....and when you wrote "pearl-iced mitten-index fingers" immediately a picture came to mind and I said to myself, "Yes!" Thanks for those memories. This was beautiful!

James Owens said...

this is beautiful and evocative, made more so by the wise tension at the end between "home" and "temporary." we look back on these former selves with such tenderness -- and how interesting it is that the poignant recognition of the temporariness of this remembered gesture toward form and structure in the world may be the very aspect of the memory that gives it a permanent home in the mind and recommends it to celebration here, long after the snow house itself is gone ... perhaps we find or make a home in the past winters that sleep in us ....

Arti said...

We had heavy snow yesterday, and now everywhere is white... but nothing as beautiful as your photo. There's something mesmerizing in snow in the country as your posts have shown, that's so different than snow in our urban landscape... nothing romantic here. I've enjoyed your lovely piece of memory you've written here.

On another note, I thank you for your wonderful comment on my review of Diane Keaton's memoir. You're absolutely right, underneath her 'dumb persona', she's a very loving and smart woman. I got a tweet from someone who had attended her reading of the book, and said DK had to hold back tears while reading.

hedgewitch said...

Home is where the heart is, indeed. So glad your childhood holds these times, in a suspension of snow and peace.

Maureen said...

Beautiful, Ruth. Have you considered writing a memoir or book of essays that would including a piece like this? I'd certainly want it!

Suman said...

I love the way you've woven memories and nostalgia in this post. So fond, so forever...

ds said...

Beautiful. What a marvelous memory to have, solid and warm. Thank you.

erin said...

oh yes, you didn't need to say it and you didn't need to think it, but my god, how glad i am that you did, temporary. and with great precision and craft you build this piece, carefully retelling us our own past, cotton and wool hooded, red galoshes with buckles, children with axes, and the full possibility of life. how i love this! that you wrote it! but that first you lived it!

xo
erin

Ruth said...

Yes it is, Cait, thanks for reading and feeling it with me.

Ruth said...

George, thank you for reading, my friend. Most of my home playtime memories were with these three brothers.

Ruth said...

To The Broad, I think ours was more temporary than yours. And did you have snowball fights? The built in benches are brilliant.

Ruth said...

Mary, there are many memories that lie dormant, waiting to be written and revived. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Louise, thank you for the reverence you live. I hope your time on the roof will be a connecting time for you and those you work with, and for.

Ruth said...

Yay, Ellen!

Ruth said...

Cathy, hello!

Is that news, is that news? Are you, too, baby-bound?

Ruth said...

Thanks, Jeanie. You strike me as someone whose little inside girl is still playing quite actively. I think you and Rick should build a snowman next snow. Too bad all the rain has melted what we had. :(

Ruth said...

Pat, we played outside for hours and hours! And when we went ice skating, when I got home it took a long time for my poor fingers and toes to thaw out. Ouch!

Ruth said...

Dear James, I appreciate your close attention to this piece, and to the deeper meaning for me. And I'm intrigued by what you say about the very temporariness being what secures the memory in my fond memory. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Arti, thank you for reading. The photo here is from a couple of years ago. We woke up and saw those prints in the snow, which seemed to be from faeries.

Thank you for the extra peek here into Diane Keaton's character. I like her even more than I already did after your review of her book.

Ruth said...

Thanks for reading, Hedge. I realize there are a lot of memories buried in here, and when winter begins, they start to flicker in my mind and want to be written. I hope you are well.

Ruth said...

Maureen, what a kind question. I would like to include a few prose poems in a book of poetry. We'll see.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Suman, how kind, how perceptive.

Ruth said...

ds, thanks, friend. I have a photo of this somewhere, which I want to scan before it's lost. We four look quite proud posing in front of our ice house.

Ruth said...

erin, thank you so much for feeling that with me. The details of our little lives is where everything is that is important. And why do we remember certain pieces? And what are the feelings we had, and what lasts into this adult time, and why?

Brendan said...

It's scary for a writer to lose the use of her hands; I've had bouts of the same, though mercifully it seems the condition was always temporary. Great to go back and remember building a house with those hands, and the joy of snow houses. It makes me remember the blizzard of 1967 in Chicago when we all built snow-forts off the swath created by shoveling the sidewalk from the house to the street. In the picture, the girl statue poking out of the snow is both reminiscent of the girl who built the snow house (and has been making habitations ever since) and the industrious girl-writer who graces to top of every blog. Thanks.- Brendan

Peter said...

I have also some nice similar memories… and when it was finished you brought some candles and some sweets and you spent a nice little moment with your friends. With some luck it was still there the following day.
I guess you know of some ice hotels you can find in Finland, Sweden… probably elsewhere. They are of course temporary. (A couple of years ago one even burnt down, which sounds surprising, but it was attached to some wooden buildings.) I have visited one – the bar only. A bit chilly, but with good covers you can spend the night. There are even bridal suits. Well, then there were of course the igloos.

Ginnie said...

The thing is, Sister, I have these memories, too, so the older "generation" of kids also played...and must have passed it down. Exactly as you descibed it, though I have no memories of playing with anyone inside. Hmmmm.

I just wish your hands had kept their youth!

Oliag said...

Beautiful, snowy memory! It triggered my memory of magical snow house creations with my sister...we were Mamuska and Babuska living in our world of snow. I wonder if kids still do this? I hope so.

"Auntie" sezzzzzz... said...

Delightful!

I read it, and then read it again, to my husband. He of course, enjoyed it toooooo.

I remember iced snow, a child could (carefully) walk on! Ahhhh, ice covered snow. Magic.

And I also remember black metal clasps on galoshes!!! HOw many years has that memory, been locked away? Many years. Too many years. After all, I'm 74 now. :-)

Thank you for bringing back memories of childhood winters. Even if we didn't build a snow/ice house, neighborhood children did build a *magnificent* slide, of snow and icy covering! Beginning at the alley up back, and built tapering, into the yard below... To FLY down. :-)

Gentle hugs,
"Christmas was close at hand, in all his bluff and hearty honesty;
it was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness."

~~Charles Dickens

Miss Jane said...

Leave it to you, Ruth, to find something positive in your aching hands. Very beautifully drawn memory. Yes, how earnest is childhood play? And are we born nest-makers? I remember making grand snow tunnels and houses in the winter, hay forts in the summer. My sisters and I would spend hours constructing play farms, but then not really play in them; the joy was in the making.
I also love the photograph here for its lovely composition. The lines of the corncrib lead to the shining trees and those magical footprints in the pink/periwinkle sparkling, shadowing snow . . . .

Ruth said...

Brendan, if I could stop using a computer, my hands and wrists would probably improve. Ah well, as long as I can lift up my grandson, or at least have someone hand him into my arms . . .

Oh yeah, the blizzard of '67! I think my family was spread out around the state and in Chicago. I bet you kids played for days in those forts. That was the legendary blizzard when my sister walked about ten miles to get milk, eggs and bread before we stopped her and knew what she was doing. I posted about it last winter during a blizzard and how I didn't know if she'd return, here.

Thanks for reading so thoughtfully.

Ruth said...

Peter, I did not even think of those ice hotels when I wrote this. You can imagine I have wanted to stay in one, under a fur comforter. And yes, that is very strange about one burning!

Ruth said...

Boots, the playing inside may not have lasted long, except in my imagination.

I try to be nice to my hands, but my job doesn't allow me to. And the quilt . . . well it's already begun, and I have to finish it.

Ruth said...

Oh, Oliag, you and your sister were far more literate than my brothers and I! :-)

Ruth said...

Auntie, well that is quite fun that you and your husband reminisced about the snow forts and galoshes. The slide sounds fabulous! We didn't have hills to speak of, it would have been sublime. It reminds me of Chevy Chase in my favorite scene in "Christmas Vacation." We did make a super snow elf a la Tolkien one year that got into the local paper.

Ruth said...

Jane, and what about sheet tents indoors on Saturday and Sunday afternoons? You are absolutely right that it was from the design and building that we garnered pleasure. I remember my neighbor Jimmie, too, and we raked leaves into walls in his whole big yard, with even a garage for our bikes.

Thanks for appreciating the photo. It's one of my favorite winter scenes here from a couple of years ago. We couldn't figure out how those horseshoe prints got there, because there were no prints in the snow before the mystical magical wind in the night formed them.

Babs-beetle said...

Lovely memories!

I used to make carvings in the snow. Mostly Bugs Bunny. How I wish I could still do that. I couldn't even bend to do it now, let alone manage with my painful hands :)

missing moments said...

So lovely ... I too remember walking so carefully across crusted snow as a kid!

Ruth said...

Babs, cartoons in snow!

I'm sorry to hear your hands are painful too. :(

Ruth said...

It's magic, Reena. Thank you.

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

What a superb piece of writing, Ruth, a beautifully wrought mix of memoir, prose and poetry. You draw the reader in so gently and casually. I can just imagine this beginning with you looking out the window, at the scene shown in the photo, while rubbing your painful fingers. A wince serves as the spark that touches off this slow fire that goes from seemingly idle bankter, to recollection, to memoir to poetry. Yes, the last few lines are pure poetry I think. And that single last word "temporary" hangs in the air long after the eyes have left the text. Temporary, I swear I can hear that word ticking softly like a clock. Or is it a warm heart in a distant igloo?

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, thank you for lending your poetic presence to this igloo heartbeat. And yes, maybe like the sense of smell that resurrects memories, pain can do the same; and longing for a youthful body to enjoy the more conscious mind of a middle aged woman. But I have little to complain about, and much to be grateful for.

cathyswatercolors said...

yes Ruth, May 15th!

cathyswatercolors said...

yes Ruth, May 15th!

deb colarossi said...

Yes, this.
It's part of what I was referring to .
The temporary home. The longing.
You are stitching both and the strength of love . The blankets and walls of now .

I do love you Ruth.
And I love that my hands ache tto . That we share some things, even something like this. Strange , but true.

I'll be back . My heart is ready for feeling again.
I cannot visit here without a certain mental state. True that.
I treasure it beyond words.

Margaret said...

Homes ARE temporary. I looked around me the other day and thought... What few things will I be allowed to keep when I am old and tucked away into one room, whether that be a nursing home or living with a daughter or son... Home truly is our memory and the now, and the dreams for the future...

I can't help but think of the igloo you made and once done the excitement and happiness you all felt inside. That feeling is a home to be cherished.

I remember many an igloo, many a ice/snow slide too... but that is a whole other feeling! :)

amy@ Souldipper said...

Many of my childhood activities revolved around making my own nest. Perhaps those are the initial stirrings of independence, but the results were so grand.

Thanks for bringing back such welcome remembrances, Ruth. I hadn't remembered those feelings of such deep, thrilling and calming satisfaction for decades.