Archive for May, 2009
Getting to know my family through the archives of
The New York Times:
Ricky found these a while ago and sent them to me. It had never occurred to me that there would be traces of my grandmother, formerly known as Miss Carlie Louise Mayne, and my grandfather, James Benton Lackey, Jr., in any newspaper, let alone The New York Times. Carlie died when I was very young, and my grandfather years before that. This is not to say that I do not know them–I grew up in a house–several houses–filled with traces of their lives, immaterial and material.
Although I cannot recall her face and have not seen a photograph of her in ages, Carlie is everywhere in my house, too. I wear the gold cartouche she brought back from Egypt–it reads, in hieroglyphics, “God is Love.” I write my papers on her antique French secretary, constantly amused by the strange fellowship of my 21st century MacBook and my 18th century desk. One of the only decorative elements not subject to my frequent spells of reorganization is a small framed silhouette that used to hang in her pink-wallpapered room in Colorado Springs–it has never left my walls.
“Mrs. G. Cleve Mayne of Westwood Hills of Los Angeles,” my great-grandmother, was also named Carlie. She, too, died when I was very young, but left me her engagement ring, which I wear on my right hand almost every day. It is a fragile thing, better suited to her life than to mine–but I have often thought–while wearing jeans, reading Woolf or Austen or Dickens, or teaching–what great pleasure it probably would have brought her to see how it has lived on from her life into mine.
And this is “J.B. Lackey” of Ford Motor Company, my grandfather–James Benton Lackey, Jr. Of the James Benton Lackey before him I know little, though I know a great deal of JBL, III. And whether it was a play on patriarchy by my mother or just a desire to simplify the passing-on of monogrammed goods, I’m also a JBL–although I doubt I’ll ever make the society pages of The New York Times. And what ever happened to that country home?
Ever since I bought this house three years ago and moved in (to the garage…), I’ve been waging a war against ugly. Mostly, though, my battles have been limited to the interior–ugly floors, ugly paint, ugly ceiling fans, ugly tiles, ugly windows–there was plenty of ugly to go ’round, inside and out. I hacked down ugly, light-blocking shrubs in front of the windows, hauled away tons of white rocks that were smothering the only non-ugly plants, and replaced the wild-looking gravel driveway with a new concrete one.
But while I feel like, through lots of trial and error, I’ve hit my stride in defeating the interior-ugly, the exterior of my house has continued to frustrate me. Although I frequently have run-ins with tiny door frames, fragile plaster walls, and that perpetually unfinished kitchen, the inside of my house reflects my taste (as much as it changes on a weekly basis). Those awnings, though–that burgundy foundation–I just don’t know what to say. Whose taste is that, anyway? Who wants to live inside the residential incarnation of a candy cane?
All of this is to explain why I went on an exterior-painting bender last weekend. I’d finally had enough of the burgundy foundation. After two solid days of painting and four trips to Home Depot, I’m much happier.
There’s still work to be done here–please ignore the blue test patch that will be going back to white and the filthy awnings–but, with the addition of my curious little yard birds (a gift from my dad many years ago) and a bright red door, painted on an impulse late on Sunday afternoon (maybe I do secretly like that candy-cane look), I finally feel like this at least looks like “my” house.
It’s a strange feeling, though, knowing that the decisions I’ve made about this house–robin’s egg walls, that red door–might, in the not-so-distant future, make someone just as crazy as all those little white rocks made me. I’ve probably lived in this house for almost half as long as I will before moving on, and only now is it really starting to feel like it’s mine. At least those yard birds are transportable.