I’ve spent this past week in Miami, staying at my mom’s and helping her clean out the house in which I grew up. To give you some background, the lot on which the house sits has the main house and a guest house in the back. My parents lived in the main house with my grandmother living in the guest house. After both my dad and my grandmother passed away, my mom moved into the guest house due to continuing maintenance issues with the main house. It’s important to note the phrase ‘continuing maintenance issues’ is a gross understatement.
The houses in this neighborhood were built in the 30’s. They’ve withstood hurricanes and other storms, not to mention the brutal South Florida sun year after year after year. Over time, the structural cross beams the keep the house elevated about four feet off the ground – thus creating a crawl space which was the norm at the time – have simply deteriorated and given in. As a result, sections of the floor in the house are sunken or sloped. My dad tried many different ways to remedy this, but after being diagnosed in 2002 all work on the house stopped.
My mom maintains hopes of putting money into the house and having it renovated back to livable conditions. So I decided to take a week off of work and come down and help her out, even just a little bit, with getting the ‘clutter’ out so the eventual restoration project can be done. I came down knowing I would need 4 weeks in order to deal with all the clutter, junk, collectibles, and other stuff my mom has accumulated over the years, and that’s not even tackling the mini Home Depot my dad had going in his tool shed.
So here I am with a sore back and achy feet following four days of moving this, trashing that, cleaning this and “Don’t you dare touch those. Leave those alone!” that’s. It was hardly smooth sailing for the week. I preface the following by saying my mom and I have an okay relationship. However, we have never been ‘tight’ the way my dad and I were, so we tolerate each other in doses. When it came to me trying to suggest and recommend we box up several items, the back and forth discussion turned into a back and forth shouting match. Unfortunately, this is typical in most Cuban households. Fortunately, it was a necessary evil that allowed us to finish all we needed to do for the rest of the week.
It’s as if the anxiety brought on by a sense of overwhelming, the flood of memories, and just an inundation of emotions came to a head at that one moment. It was our own, little perfect storm. We went to our neutral corners and resumed everything the next day. The truths that were aired out in that highly emotional moment brought relief from the pressure building inside each of us. It was pressure born out of frustration and from having to politely keep our mouths shut so as to not cause a problem. When we finally got a chance to release that pressure everything was better. When you stop and think about it, it’s really interesting how that dynamic works.
Even though we completed about 50% of what I had envisioned in my head when I drove down Monday morning, I am happy with the work we did get done. There is a lot of what I call ‘visual equity’ on which my mom can continue to build. Now that she can see some headway has been made, I hope she will continue to clean up and get rid of all that ‘stuff’ we all are guilty of accumulating in our lives. We got a lot done, but there is still so much more left to do.
As for me, I return to Tampa with several boxes of family pictures, paintings and tools from my dad’s shed. Yes, it’s more ‘stuff’ for me to deal with, but it’s stuff that is important to me. It is memories of rowing up in a time that seemed so simple and care-free. It’s an opportunity for me to share my past with Lee. It’s a way for me to continue to have my dad with me always.
At the end of this month, it will be 11 years since I moved to Tampa. Counting the time I spent in New Orleans, I will have lived as many years outside of Miami as I did growing up in Miami. That number will just continue to increase as time presses on. My heart and my home, however, will always here. Not so much in Miami, but in the blocks and wood that make up two houses and one tool shed on a little plot of land in Dade County. I may never physically reside in South Florida again – have you SEEN the cost of living down here? – but my emotional residence will always maintain a summer home with a 33142 ZIP code.