I said good-by to an old friend not long ago.
I simply held Adam, wiped his tears, helped him into the car, and drove down our driveway for the last time.
I never looked back, I had no other choice. The house that had become home for twenty-three years was
a house once again. That I did not turn around for one last glimpse in no way diminishes the importance of
my time there. I had no need to capture one last memory, I know that house perfectly.
The girls went from dolls to dating, braces to driving, grade school
to grad school from that house.
Lynn had her first date with Richard there. His Mother sat in the car in our driveway as he came to the front
door for Lynn and to face the prospect of being checked out by her parents. He survived, we all did.
Years later he called and invited me to accompany him to choose her engagement ring. I had hung up the
phone before it occured to me that I was on the verge of becoming one of that dreaded species known
as "Mother-in-law." Luckily for me, even luckier for Richard, I had been blessed with the absolutely perfect
Mother-in-law. I had a role model and if I could do half as well as Virginia had done, I would be a star.
I will always remember the day Lynn and I went to buy her Bridal gown.
Gone were her docksiders and braces,
and I had changed from Mommy to Mama to Mom, but nothing prepared me for the beautiful grown woman
whose image was briefly captured in the mirror before us and in my heart forever. Arsenal Drive holds happy
memories like that one or the night Liza left for Europe. Her excitement was contagious, she told me it had always
been her dream to study abroad. The second semester of her Senior year at Miami University was spent in Luxemburg.
As part of the program, she actually graduated on that campus.
Dreams were fulfilled on Arsenal Drive and
sometimes they were lost. My son, Ben, died in 1990. I chose not to have any visitation at the funeral home and
personally never even went there. I made arrangements by phone and by fax. I had Ben brought home before the
funeral service at the church. My child would now not grow up there, or at all. I needed to bring him home, if only
for a little while. Friends and family departed the house together, we followed Ben to the church for his service.
Later that same year I packed for Romania with four huge duffle bags
spread out on the guestroom floor.
One bag included an asortment of baby clothing, some pink and some blue, all sizes.
And then there were endless cans of formula, pacifiers, and blankets. Another bag was packed with my
personal items including enough shampoo and conditioner for several lifetimes in Romania as it turned out.
Who knew I would only have an opportunity to shower three times!
I also packed sweatpants, sweatshirts,
jeans, and two $68.00 cordurory dresses from Eddie Bauer. One dres was a navy blue print, the other in the
same print was a dark green. These were my "dress-up" clothes to be worn in Court. One was for me, the other
was for my baby's birth Mother. I had not met her of course, I didn't yet even have a baby, but I believed and I
was determined. Elana chose the blue dress, and when we eventually had our day in Court our lives became
forever entwined. The baby I had somehow known was waiting for me became my son. I named him Adam.
The third and fourth bags were for food and "gifts." The food
bag had everything from oatmeal and powdered milk
to peanut butter. It also had two things that I never need to see, let alone eat, again in this lifetime. Cheese whiz and
crystal lite lemonade were the culprits. The translator I had hired, and with whom I stayed, adored cheese whiz.
We never got in the car without cheese whiz. The lemonade was substitued for water to brush my teeth so many times
that I can't think of actually swallowing it. Gifts ranged from 100 fiftycent lipsticks to enough bic pens that I could
have signed a peace treaty. Then there were ziploc bags, paper bags, pencils, crayons, candy, cigarettes (Kent),
paper clips (plain and colored), tablets of paper, disposable razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and five inexpensive
digital watches. Inexpensive meaning less than five dollars each given that I got "quantity" pricing. I have pictures
of the bags bursting and ready to be tackled so that they could be closed on the floor of the guestroom on Arsenal Drive. And,of course, it was to Arsenal Drive that I brought Adam.
We were home at last. I kept him in my room for so long that friends
teased me asking if he even knew he had
a nursery, had I let him see it yet? There were twenty-three Christmas mornings, twenty-three birthdays
(amazing when you consider that I look exactly the same as I did on the day I moved there), twenty-three
Easter egg hunts, two college graduations, one Masters degree, one Bride, and I became a Grandmother
twice on Arsenal Drive. Of course I also got divorced, had total renal failure for unexplained causes, and
watched in horror as a stunned Bob Franken (CNN) announced the "breaking news" that I had been indicted.
These, too, are part of Arsenal Drive's history. These and the
time the police got me secretly out the back of
the property through the woods and to a waiting cruiser so that I could escape the invasion of Sixty Minutes .
I rode on the floor of the cruiser to Autolease where I rented a car. The Officers stayed with me until I was
safely installed in the rental car and I knew in that moment why I paid proprty taxes and what a bargain they
really were. That house became my safe haven once again. It was my safe haven for a short time when I was
divorced, upon my return from the hospital after kidney failure, when Daddy died, and when Ben died.
In early 1998, it became my safe place and would remain that way almost
until I moved in August, 2001.
Friends who had been frightened away never returned although a few ventured to call and ask if it was over.
The last such call came in May, 2001. I couldn't find a job, not even with the Democratic Party in Richmond.
I was too "politically hot."
And then I broke my knee and leg and that was the end of that.
It was a long road to recovery, lots of it I barely
even remember because of pain medication in the early stages. I do remember that I couldn't get up and that it took
three people to hold my leg together and to minimumize my involuntary screams when I needed to get up for any reason.
And I remember that two hospitals thought it was hopeless, MCV knew better and surgery took place there ten days
after my leap from the ladder. I learned two things: first, never jump from a ladder in semi-darkness assuming you know
how high up you really are, and second, there is a reason that you rarely see people on crutches out and about.
They can't get there from here! At least I couldn't.
The house closed on August 23, it closed following a nightmare with
movers and for all practical purposes best
described as a "mover d'jour" program. At one point we were 10 minutes from foreclosure and on another occasion
the buyer's realtor thought she could just order me to vacate my own property in ten minutes time. The ten minute
window was intended to allow me to grab anything not yet broken, stolen, or lost by the movers and that I might like
to keep and take with me. The best part of the whole story is that I was privileged to be allowed to spend several
thousand dollars paying the tormentors who professed to be local movers. Naturally the realtors all got their 6%
and the closing Attorney did finally (Sept. 27) pay off the mortgage. Collection calls had become the norm anyway,
she probably assumed I would not notice a few more. "Ms. Steele, we need your Sept. housepayment" and then,
"Ms. Steele you are going into pre-foreclosure if we do not receive your Sept. housepayment."
"Ms. Steele, we have not received your payment..."
We didn't get finished with the movers and getting things situated in
storage until after Labor Day. I actually tried to
figure out what was damaged and what was mising until I realized I was inviting more of the same by employing
these people to assist me. Obviously I could not move storage items alone and the last group was at least as bad as
the first, second, and third had been. It was finding some of my Grandmothers"s flatware out of the buffet, in a bag,
and near the door of one of the storage units that ended my "recovery efforts." I have never been back there,
it was time to move forward as "W" is so fond saying...
And move forward we did. We arrived after school had begun and
raced to keep Adam from missing more than
two days. We moved in, sight unseen, right after the shark attack that killed a ten year old boy. We were unpacking
as terrorists hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. That is to say I was unpacking, himself asked to walk down
to the beach. He would stay right in front of our street and wait for me, or so I thought we had agreed. It seems there
was a surfboard (styrofoam) right beside our door and he thought he shouild really take it with him. Evidently he then
thought he should really join the bigger boys with real surfboards and give surfing a try. He could still stay right in front,
after all. Except that of course he couldn't, the tide doesn't stand still and Mr. Surfboard traveled right along with it.
Twenty minutes later when I went to find him and couldn't, I enlisted
half the people on the beach to help find Adam.
Five minutes and one block later he emerged from the water, surfboard in hand. This is how we first came to met some
of our neighbors. It is also how we came to lose the first pair of Adam's new glasses. It turns out that you can't park
glasses in the sand and hope to ever find them again. There are other things that you can't do with glasses on the beach
as it turns out. We are experts in this dept. by now, we have also had to replace the replacement that replaced the
replacement that we had to buy on September11, 2001. We know all about what can happen to glases on little boys
at the beach. We also have a clear understanding about beach rules. Most of the rules were put in place that day,
the rest came into play the following Saturday. Barely recovered from my panic and hysteria on Tuesday, I simply
called the police on Saturday. I guess it is true that I didn't say a word about not taking a ride down the beach on
his bike, I doubt that I said anything about not riding the last block of the return trip on the edge of the street either.