Our house in San Bernardino, California.
It is with a heavy heart that I say I that it came as no surprise to me that my father's last will and testament was designed to make certain that I would never forget how little he thought of me. My mother would certainly not have been pleased as the original document she participated in drafting was to have divided their “estate” (we are not talking big money here), equally between my brother and me, or at least that was what I had always been led to believe. Had my mother been a party to this later malicious document I would have been very distressed but coming from my father five years after her death, its impact while not negligible was not too hurtful.
A little garden of cacti and succulents at the side of the house.
In this revised will, my brother and each of his sons were to receive a share equal to mine while my children were discounted with a snippy little codicil added only months before his death, stating that indeed he knew of the existence of “other relatives” and bequeathed them a token amount. This was a legal strategy I am certain, designed to preclude any thoughts I might have of contesting all this, something I would not have done in any event. I was hurt for my children whose every attempt to connect with their grandparents was met with such harsh criticism by my father that they no longer wanted to be around him and stopped visiting. The last time they were in his presence was at my mother’s funeral. At his apartment afterwards he wouldn’t speak to John and barely acknowledged Eva while handing out one hundred dollar bills to his three other grandsons. My fathers’ mean spirited will was also crafted to remove Thomas from any inheritance in the event that I died before him while there was no such provision for my brother’s wife. None of this was the fault of my brother or his wife or my nephews, but rather an example of how everyone connected to me was tainted by my father’s disdain for me. I was truly offended for Thomas who had always been kind, well meaning and generous to my parents, especially as this last insult to him came in sharp contrast to the will that my in-laws had recently revised to include me in the disposition of their estate unconditionally.
Pantry with newly delivered washer and dryer, housewarming gift from my in-laws.
Painful as it was to be slighted from the grave by my father’s final nose thumbing, it did not have the devastating effect I imagine he desired. That he disliked me was not exactly news as he had never made a secret of that and it was his money after all to dispose of in any way he wished. For me it was just money, not something I am particularly concerned with per se; a concept he would never have grasped since it meant something entirely different and very significant to him. He must have thought he was really hurting me when all he accomplished was to confirm what I already knew about his virulent dislike of me, sad as that was. That this was to be his last word however is an unfortunate thing since nothing can ever change that or make it softer or kinder. It is what it is and I am profoundly sorry that we could never come to terms in his lifetime.
Some more cacti.
For me money has never been anything but a necessary vehicle for structuring my life to suit my inclinations. I feel very wealthy that I am able to pay my bills and have everything I need with a bit more for some of the things I would like. Having survived poverty in childhood and single motherhood with no child support has left me with a real appreciation of how privileged I am today. We save for Thomas’ retirement and for what we need. We spend what we do spend with pleasure. I have worked hard all my life and Thomas continues to do so. We earn what we have and are happy with that. As it turned out, I received my one-fifth share of my father’s estate, just in time for a down payment on our house.
A first look at the interior of the house from the sunroom with stenciling in the doorway.
After Thomas signed his contract at the university, our next step was to find a house near the campus in San Bernardino. We were advised to rent something for a year or so till we were sure about where we wanted to live and to see how the work was going to go. We were both weary from adjusting to so many short-term changes and we shared a profound need to settle down. It was the year 2,000; I was 63 years old and had never lived in anything but a rented space. Thomas was 43 and at that, late in starting an academic career. All we wanted to do was to unpack and start building the kind of home we had long fantasized about.
Thomas getting started in the sunroom.
Our dear Mikey from Brooklyn, now an old guy but still a trooper.
The sunroom as it is today.
We drove out from Anaheim a number of times to explore San Bernardino and what is known as the “Inland Empire”. We scouted housing possibilities online and finally with the assistance of a terrific realtor started looking seriously at a number of possible choices. When we first saw our house, without even having seen the interior we sensed that this was going to be our place. To appease our well meaning realtor we allowed her to show us similar houses in the area as she would not hear of us making such a decision without shopping some more.
The living room as it was on moving day.
Our house is a Spanish style, red tile roofed, stucco house that had been built in 1936 making it one year older than me. There are quite a few houses built in this style from that era in our neighborhood but many of them had been “remodeled” somewhere in the fifties and badly reflected some of those ugly mid-century notions of modernity. In that sad bit of misguided re-design much of the architectural grace with which these little jewels were originally designed was lost. Our house had somehow managed to retain its integrity and mercifully, little had been done to it over the years. The only problems were cosmetic, things that could easily be changed with some loving labor and a little money. We had the house inspected, made our decision and by June of 2000 we moved in.
The living room as it is today. Note: Rosy at her desk no doubt working on an OS post with the loyal Trixie nearby as usual.
There were some major eyesores that were going to have to be dealt with. There was atrocious yellow shag carpeting in the living room with equally dreadful wallpaper. In a fit of extreme cuteness, the previous owners had stenciled leaves and vines and assorted mass-market craft store designs on almost every un-papered wall and there was an abundance of carpeting to compete in ugliness with that in our living room. Before our actual move we pulled a badly applied layer of hideous wallpaper from the kitchen and painted it white. Everything else would have to wait but we did want to have a clean kitchen in which to roast our first chicken, by now the ritual with which we marked our territory.
Cooking, not yet that roast chicken but chicken cutlets for starters.
This is the Wedgewood stove that was original to the house and was in perfect working condition. We did replace it several years after we moved in because the oven was tiny and we had to be able to cook a huge turkey for Thanksgiving that year. Later we sold it to a collector who plans eventually to use it as part of a re-construction of a home from that era for his historical museum.
Over the next years as time and money permitted we lifted carpet to find gorgeous wood floors. We steamed and scraped away layers of ugly wallpapers to reveal beautifully textured stucco walls, we painted colors on our walls, pulled up roses and planted cacti and bit-by-bit as we removed one ugliness at a time we made this house and garden our own.
These were the roses that were to give way to cactus.
Our deck in its present state.
Fathers’ day has been an uneasy day for me for most of my life and writing this episode of my memoir on this particular week just before father's day is painful. I admit to being a bit dishonest when I try to be so cavalier about my father’s final words and deeds. It remains unspeakably sad in its finality.
To make our home even better, this beautiful pit bull named Baby Blue is our next door neighbor.