Saturday, February 13, 2010

flatland

It's New Year's Day and we're at Aunt Ethel's house again. We don't come here often. Every other year on first day of January, we visit my mother's only living sister in Wellington, Kansas. Aunt Ethel's a short, plump, blonde and she wears the same high heels and cinched-waist dresses my mom's known for. She's married to Les, a train man, who's tall and kind, with twinkly eyes.

Aunt Ethel's house is 1950s modern. Blonde brick, gray and pink interior. Her sofa's streamlined and sleek, upholstered in that awful stiff nubby weave that leaves red loop marks on the backs of my legs. Armless chairs, blonde tables, and jazzy gray lamps with flaring shades complete the space age picture. It looks like the Jetsons could live here.

I hate it. Even at eight, I'm into old stuff. My father's house is packed with antique furniture, old clocks. My mother buys and restores old furniture, sells it. With my family, we've hunted antiques all across Oklahoma and Kansas. My mother's persistence in visiting one Kansas farm four times a year, five years running, resulted in the arts and crafts oak pedestal table she longed for finally coming to live with us.

It's New Year's day and the monotonous sound of the television droning on and on drives me outside. I don't want to watch the Rose Bowl parade. I can't bear the sound of football games on TV, even at this age. Cindy, the streamlined, sleek, black and white terrier, joins me in escaping. As often happens in this part of the country, January 1 is sunny and not too cold.

I sit in the sun on the front steps, feeling the warmth on my shoulders, looking across the road at nothing. We're on the edge of Wellington here, in my aunt's house. Everything is flat and winter-crisped dry. Brown. Ugly. The air smells dusty but the heat feels wonderful on my head.

Closing my eyes, I get the sense that this feeling I'm having will be with me forever. The sense of wanting to escape, of wanting to get away from the way things are, I think I've had it the entire eight years of my life. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be somewhere else, away. Just away.

I long to live anywhere but here. I want to free myself from the dry sameness of this landscape, the flat, unending prairie rolling off to the west. I am sure there are other ways to live, better ways. I've been to New York, to Chicago, to other big cities.

I think about how it feels on the trains we take to Wichita, to Dodge City, to Chicago, as if something's going to happen, something thrilling, electrifying. I remember how I feel standing in the space between the cars, looking out at the night as we arrive in the bigger cities. It feels as if there's a life out there and I'm missing it. I am misplaced. Lost. I know I should be someplace else. Anywhere else.

Aunt Ethel opens the door and tells me it's time to eat. She hugs me close as I edge by her, her sweet, flowery perfume at odds with the modern house I step back into. On the table is a feast. Turkey and dressing, potatoes and gravy, cranberry relish, jello salad. My family's standing around, waiting for me to come in so everyone can say grace together. The game drones on across the room. We bow our heads and pray.

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have always felt that way too. Being somewhere else was dream. I wanted to be where there was more excitement. My mom said I always expected to live with a brass band going on. Loved this issue too. g

February 13, 2010 2:03 PM  
Blogger ish said...

Your last paragraph made me all weepy. Beautiful writing.

February 13, 2010 4:46 PM  
Blogger Willym said...

As always you touch a cord - you are missed but when you appear it always gives me joy and a reason to think. Many thanks cara.

February 14, 2010 3:00 AM  
Blogger Linda said...

I think our generation was the first to have the ability to escape by air and cover great distances to see how lifestyles varied throughout the country. I'm sure it's when I first knew I didn't care about the "home place" as much as any "other" place. Maybe we all feel suffocated by routine.

Sometimes though, I wish for a day where all the relatives are alive and I am once again the little girl with no responsibilities playing with McCalls cut out paper dolls on the porch.

Then I remember that nostalgia and reality do not mix, and am glad to have moved on.

It's nice to hear your voice.

February 14, 2010 8:44 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Loved this piece! Always good to see something new from you!

February 15, 2010 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Tater said...

I have always heard that little voice as well, telling me to run, to find a different path, a new location, a life separate from. I also found many harmful ways of accomplishing just that. When I found "home" it was with such relief. I imagine that is what your Mexican paradise brings to you.

February 17, 2010 5:43 AM  
Anonymous Tater said...

I have always heard that little voice as well, telling me to run, to find a different path, a new location, a life separate from. I also found many harmful ways of accomplishing just that. When I found "home" it was with such relief. I imagine that is what your Mexican paradise brings to you.

February 17, 2010 5:43 AM  
Blogger Therese Dawe said...

Your writing feels effortless. It's a pure joy to read. Thanks for sharing.

March 08, 2010 9:04 PM  
Anonymous Mark H said...

Oh my...that was a powerful reflection you have given us ALL !! Maybe mine wasn't the flatlander issue, but perhaps the SE Oregon Desert issue surrounded by Mormons and John Birchers in the 50's, being something other than what they wanted, but not even knowing what that was at the time. Your story ending is classic, Lynette! Didn't we ALL go back in there and sit among the families gathered together, where some smoke was just under the surface despite the smiles all 'round. LOVED THIS PIECE, THANK YOU...I'm reliving those early years AGAIN!

March 14, 2010 8:36 PM  
Blogger ewe said...

I just went to the South Bronx and felt the same nostalgia. Seeing all the people living their lives and going back in my mind saying to myself "this is where i come from". The sight of these streets and buildings give me gratitude for my first generation american parents and for the sensibility and drive they have. I continued on through downtown Manhattan where immigrants of Russian, Indian and Polish descent are all smiles getting married at City Hall. And i look at them feeling like i want to cry and hug them all in their day of joy because they are my grandparents who once fixed me tea and toast in tiny apartments with their hardworking hands. I am glad to see other people experience the same sentiments.

March 16, 2010 5:28 PM  

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