Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Soul of the Matter

While I'm not a practitioner of any Eastern religion, I have to say that some of their ideas are certainly interesting, like reincarnation, for example. We all like the idea that this life isn't all there is and, while Christianity goes for the life eternal idea with the saved and the angels singing Allelujahs in the golden streets, the notion that I might come back in the next life as some sort of parasite living inside the nasal passages of a three-toed sloth in the South American rain forest does have some sort of weird appeal.

I prefer the idea of everything having some sort of soul. I suppose this is an offshoot of Animism in some regard, though I have to explain that I don't worship the things, just somehow feel that things have a soul, in and of themselves, that makes them special. I know I felt that way when a toy bomber I got for Christmas (quite cool, really; it came with a couple of lead-weighted bombs that you put into a bomb-bay that you operated with a button on top of the bomber. You would fly over a little tank that came with it and drop the bombs; it you hit it just right, the spring-loaded turret would pop up in the air and you could celebrate a kill) was damaged when the end of one of the wings was mashed a bit. I felt bad for the poor thing and somehow felt it had suffered pain. It didn't affect me the same way a few years later when it bit the dust and was relegated to the trash can.

I think I've noticed most particularly that a house has a soul. It comes alive when a particular family lives in it and it reflects them. The house I grew up in was that way, peculiar though it was. It was built by someone in the Masons back in 1925 (there was a Masonic symbol on the front walkway with a "G" initial), but my grandparents bought it in 1944, and it passed along to my parents in 1948 after the death of my grandfather. The old place was built of coquina-shell concrete ("tabby") and had jalousy windows, no air conditioning or central heat (unless you call the old oil furnace in the living room just outside my bedroom door a form of central heat, though you couldn't feel it even on its highest setting more than two feet away). It was almost a shotgun in design and probably no more than 1000 square feet in size. The floors were wood as was the paneling in the front bedroom and living room; all the other rooms had plaster walls with a rough finish. My room was painted yellow; not exactly a masculine color.

I did my best to personalize the old place. After my dad put in new blue and white tiles in the bathroom I, while sitting on the throne one day, playing some strange adventure in my head of military glory, used a pencil to draw a radar station on the tiles. Unfortunately, when I tried to erase it after I finished, I found that the radar station refused to disappear. The house had apparently decided to keep the ghost of it, somewhat like an old tattoo on a retired sailor that is kept as a story to tell the neighbors of days gone by. I actually think the old girl kept it as a means of torturing me for defacing it, waiting for someone to discover it and give me holy hell for messing up the new tile. Never happened, though; I never figured out if my parents noticed and just decided not to bring it up (knowing I was a little bit wacky) or if it was just so small and nondescript that they never saw it.

There was an indescribable nature to the old place that resurrected itself everytime I came home, whether from school, my job at the local movie theatre, from college, law school and finally with my own family from North Florida. It just felt the same. The smell was there, slightly musty and dusty, while the mugginess of the un-air conditioned air hung around like a damp towel in a lockerroom. The ritual of walking lightly on my toes continued for years after my parents complained that I made too much noise tromping around on my heels as a child on the wooden floor (since the house floor was not a slab, any tromping on the planks would make a noise that reverberated in the tiny place), a habit that has stuck with me in every place I've lived in ever since. Whenever I walked into the old homestead in Sarasota, no matter how many years later, while my parents were there, it just was always the same.

It was the same until my father died in late 2000 and my mother moved out, later to die in a nursing home in 2002. That's when the soul of the place died. It had something to do with my brother and I moving all the furniture out, mostly to a dumpster, and seeing the bare walls, empty of pictures and awards (mostly for exhibits at gem & mineral shows), hearing the sounds bouncing off the naked floors (after the remnants of ancient, dusty carpet were relegated to the dumpster) and the lack of cooking smells coming from the kitchen. The TV wasn't running, I didn't have to turn sideways to move through the hallway to avoid all the shelves holding long-forgotten artifacts and magazines collected over the years and there wasn't the odd tinkling of odds and ends of small things in mason jars and old vegetable cartons from supermarkets tapping together from the vibrations of footsteps. All the things and people that had made it our home, my home, were no longer there. The only thing that was a reminder that it had been my home, besides the memories, was the ghost of the radar station on the bathroom tile.

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