01 August 2012

Wake / Sprawl House

My great-aunt Luz Reyes died last week. I wasn't very close to her, so I didn't expect her wake to raise all these questions.

One of her former colleagues from Maryknoll/Miriam was there at the wake last night, asked how old Auntie Lutz was when she died (89), and proclaimed, "She lived a very long time."

Immediately, I saw the ratio of my own age to hers, saw my childhood flash before my eyes, and wondered if I was up to enduring about three more turns of my life so far. Then, I looked at my lola, Auntie Lutz's sister, sitting next to me, and thought of all the things she'd experienced in her own life: childhood, adolescence, war, heartbreak, the academe, marriage, children, more teaching, grandchildren, more teaching, the death of her spouse, and now, a quiet life of reading, solving crossword puzzles and sudoku, and occasionally travelling.

Could I live that long, and that much?

I imagined her at my age, then tried to figure out how old she'd been — how long she'd already lived — the day I was born (63; on the brink of retirement), wondered what she thought of her own life, wondered what she was thinking as she sat before the coffin of a sister who'd been just a year older than she, wondered — I'm just going to say it — when will my lola die?, and tried to remember what she'd once said to me — or was it to Mikko? — about death.

I wish I could remember, did she say that she was ready?

I don't fear death, but I want to know, how can one honestly say that they are ready to die?

And I looked at her white hair and her face and her tiny frame in that silvery gray sweater, and I wondered what it was like to be old.


This is a study of a building layout that's sort of possessed me lately. When I first posted the photo on Tumblr, I captioned it, "Small house on the water," but something like "Sprawl House" might be more appropriate.

I don't actually see a house or other structure that itself sprawls. I suppose it could, but really, I'm thinking of the house in great, sprawling environments:
  • Stilt house, with a winding wooden dock, over the water of a vast river or the sea;
  • Remains of an ancient temple, or Atlantis, or Pompeii;
  • Small chapel or shrine set into the rocky red cliffs of a desert, like Sedona or Joshua Tree;
  • Lonely shack in the middle of endless woods;
  • Little cabin on the green prairies or purple moors that stretch on to forever; or
  • Tiny scientific research outpost in the Arctic Circle, during the quarter of the year that the sun doesn't set.
Perhaps my isolated village wasn't isolated enough for me; growing up, I enjoyed stories of people surviving alone in the woods, or of fairy tale heroes finding healing or wisdom in some wizened crone's secret cave / magic hut. I was also a fan of the "Boxcar Children" series, which started out with four orphans making a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar (also in the woods), as well as "The Little Prince," "The Island of the Blue Dolphins," and the perhaps less grand but no less entertaining "Baby Island." Also, many of the stories and games I made up, whenever I played by myself, involved living on a raft or in a one-room house.

Lately, those tingly, make-believe hermit feelings have come back, and instead of stories, I have this layout, as well as the tantalizing idea of much, much bigger paper.