Rendered Fat Content


Wassily Kandinsky: Picture II, Gnomus.
(Stage set for
Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition in Friedrich Theater, Dessau) (1928)
" … we're encased within this richer story …"

I say nothing profound when I reflect that we came to reclaim a home that was no longer here. We'd helped make it disappear over our long exile years. I'd returned one spring to strip the exterior to bare wood and repaint, with considerable help from my brother, his now deceased wife, and several other family members and friends. We replaced the clunky old furnace in abstentia, long distance, and by all appearances, were somewhat taken advantage of by the contractor, though our air conditioner could probably cool a typical open air baseball stadium. We replaced the roof and relocated gutters and removed and repoured front sidewalks and steps. We returned to "help" remodel the kitchen, six weeks of surprise and discovery resulting in a uniquely satisfying space. Amy's son Graig completed a thousand improvements, sometimes in lieu of paying rent and sometimes because he just could not bear not to do it. He replaced living room floors with lovely vinyl planking leftover from our venerable local hotel's remodeling. His partner Shar painted walls and worked the gardens into something far more sustainable than what we'd left. Though we're undoing some of their changes, the bones of the place are different. I keep bumping into remnants of the former place as we reinhabit what's left of it.

My legs remember the cadence of the stairways, the basement set completely different from the grand set sweeping up to the second floor bedrooms and offices.
I could and still can navigate them without thinking, automatically slipping into precisely the proper placement whether heading down or upward, still skipping the ones I always had without thinking about it. The kitchen has been taking some serious getting used to since it was completed during our absence. It still feels as though it was designed for left-handers and I'm struggling to get the hang of using it. I've noticed, though, after a month of Reclamating, that I can sometimes cook something without regaining too much consciousness. Home seems the proper place to live a mostly unconscious life, where closets and doorways stand precisely where they belong with no surprises. In the rest of the world, I can ask where to find the restroom, but at home I can safely maintain a comforting obliviousness since such questions never need come up. I suppose that we're reclaiming that steady routine, the one disrupted through long and disorienting exile years. I just seem to know where to go to find pretty much everything here.

I remember and not fondly how I had to reinvent everything once we landed in exile. If I needed a hardware store, I had to find one first, then drive to Bethesda under the worst possible traffic conditions, dreading the return trip. Over ensuing months, I came to a kind of peace with this, though I never developed any depth to my understanding. Every destination seemed distinctly one-sided with little history anchoring it. I remained a newby discovering even years after first stumbling upon The Eastern Market on the backside of Capitol Hill. I was a regular, but not like those born or living in that neighborhood. I'd creep in through Brookland to avoid the worst of the traffic then sneak back out via my secret passages as if on some secret mission. I discovered and frequented a Salvadoran ugly vegetable store and an authentic European grocery with an awesome wine department without ever really feeling very much a part of it. I was Reclamating nothing there, only attempting to recreate a lifestyle I could at best only distantly relate to. I found some fine hardware stores, but nothing like the venerable old hometown Ranch Supply where they know me.

I stumbled upon a rusty piece of rebar when excavating the kitchen garden space. I recognized it as one of the supports I'd installed to stabilize the crumbling old garden fence which finally turned back into dust during our absence. That soil I'd improved with horse manure, peat, and perlite until it was almost as light as air remains there, compacted and in need of some good old-fashioned turning. I found some intact horse apples in the cold frame, one's I'd placed there before exile to help keep it warmer in cold weather. Reclamating seems partly archeological. I find traces of the place we left behind still cowering in odd corners. We won't attempt to replicate but continually move forward. Many of the artifacts I'd once dedicated myself to preserving have gone the way of the dodo bird, thank heavens. A few of the tenacious shortcomings have still not been resolved. Some of my past Reclamatings need fixing again. That heavy staircase window still needs its stash cords replaced and every interior window frame needs sanding and repainting. This effort should properly never reach conclusion. We'll be juggling memory and possibility until they carry us out of here feet first. It's satisfying, though, to know we're encased within this richer story, one where we know of its beginnings even if its ending remain mysterious.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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