I have a confession to make. I have always wanted to live just like my deeply Christian, politically conservative, gun-owning, Ford-truck-driving grandparents.
They live in a big house surrounded by tall evergreens that are usually dripping wet from a recent rain. My grandma has room for both a decorative and vegetable garden, plus a shed and huge mulch pile. They are part of the generation that considered DIY a necessity rather than a hobby, so if my grandma decides she wants a rock-lined stream flowing down to a fountain accompanied by fake deer statuettes, she and my grandpa build it. Until recent chemotherapy weakened and made my grandpa colder, he would meander out most afternoons to pursue various experiments in his wood shop. A new method of making chess boards, turning out a couple display boxes to sell at the local swap meet, a plate or two for my grandma to tole paint.
My grandparents don’t consider themselves particularly creative, and they don’t particularly value creativity in others. But they’ve lived, in my lifetime, an essentially creative life. They get an idea into their heads, be it a new way to germinate tomatoes, or how to improve the second bathroom, and they do it. Often, together, or with the help of friends and family.
When I moved to New Jersey to live in a million dollar home with a CEO and her two daughters, I was continually surprised by their household’s need to outsource. Cleaning, landscaping, setting up a closet organizational system, retrofitting the upstairs bath, even grooming their dog fell to someone else. My efforts to solve those problems myself or find cheaper solutions usually failed to impress. To that family, doing something oneself was a sign of poverty.
To my grandparents, and my mom and her two sisters, doing something oneself give one greater control, is rewarding, and saves money. My generation is not so self-reliant, but most of us still paint our own walls, dye our own hair, and groom our own damn pets.
In my grandparents’ case, doing things themselves did make them wealthy. Not to the standards of the CEO in New Jersey, but certainly to their own standards. Building their own construction company, raising three daughters with sometimes too-severe thrift, and more than three decades’ dedication to a major Seattle construction firm, has left them with an enormous home, a cabin, that well-outfitted shop, and a big shiny refrigerator.
Perhaps more importantly, they’ve earned the freedom to pursue the activities they love. Together. With family around them. That is my standard of wealth, a standard no one in New York or New Jersey replaced.
I don’t share many of my grandparents’ values. But deep in my roots, under the soil, and hanging over my branches, they are there with that life they built together. In their partnership. In their mastery of their respective crafts. In the importance they place on family rather than status or acclaim. In their home- with the three squares a day, clean sheets in the cupboard, guest room ready, every pipe and beam familiar to each of them.
And, despite everything that’s happened between my parents in the past couple years, I still consider their traditional marital roles equally rewarding and healthy for both of them. It’s still difficult to raise children, make a pleasant home, or nurture growing people, while competing in the outside world. Particularly if you can’t afford to pay people to help you out.
Just like I did when I left Oregon four years ago, I want children, time to write, and someone who loves me enough to make it possible for me to do both, with him. Pretty old school stuff.
At the same time, I want to explore new parts of the world and pursue whatever whim comes into my head next, unencumbered by the responsibilities of property or children. I want to nest and I want to wander, and I have always wanted both. I don’t know if that conflict will be resolved by going through phases of both, or if I’m struggling to reconcile my childhood role models with what I’ve learned about myself as an adult.
I spent most of 2009 reacting to life. To my parents’ conflict, the triad of evil, my job, this town. I haven’t had a lot of time to think about my own goals or desires. Mondo beyondo wishes fell to the wayside in the face of much more practical concerns. So I’m asking these questions, looking at what I want, now that moving and finding another job have gone from theoretical needs to genuine necessities. Settling down would require making very different choices than living the catch-as-catch-can life I’ve lived so far.
At this point, I can barely keep a pair of slippers for a month without losing them.