The other day I realized that I have lived in my Bloomington house longer than I have ever lived in one place, nine-going-on-ten years. For a girl who spent her first years in small-town South Dakota, with both grandmothers in town, my life of frequent moves has come as something of a surprise, one I may never quite get over....
Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse
I didn’t always live in a cookie-cutter house, in a subdivision where every street, every house, looked the same to me when I arrived and I didn’t know my way home for the first week.
Before that, home was a comfortably shabby two-story colonial on a fast country road, hidden on all sides of more than an acre by encroaching trees, and from my pillow I heard coyotes singing.
Before that, I lived in a box of glass and concrete, beside a lush walled garden, by a famous river, in a historic city, and walked my firstborn through the Revolutionary War history she studies now.
Before that, I inhabited a secret cottage behind a front house, where outside and inside blurred, and a tiny latched window in the bathroom looked out onto tile and skylights and our dining table.
Before that, I lived briefly in a different secret cottage behind a front house, where our golden retriever preferred to drink from the pool—the world’s largest dog dish—and we watched ripples travel out from his tongue across the turquoise expanse of water.
Before that, I lived high in a concrete tower above a stoplight where motors gunned and rap boomed all day and all night, and had to coax the dog onto an elevator for every outing.
Before that I rented the front of a house, lodger to a woman who endlessly created tasks for me to fill the time I owed her in exchange for rent, until she died and her husband was too griefstricken to speak to me.
Before that, I perched briefly on a mountain slope looking west over sparkling ocean sunsets, breathing eucalyptus and watching fog rise out of an overgrown gulch each morning.
Before that, I read Beowulf in a stone millhouse that straddled a river, behind a medieval deer park, and slept in a room paneled in dark wood with leaded glass windows that opened onto the rush of waters, and walked home lit only by moonlight.
Before that, I lived in a tenement by the el, and painted my windowsills bright green, and was the only one in the apartment to empty the mousetraps.
Before that, and before that, and before that, I lived in a succession of my parents’ Midwestern colonial homes, where the Ethan Allen furniture inhabited different rooms in changing configurations, and my mother managed to make each one feel enough like home for us all to get by, and I never knew the neighbors.
Before that, I lived in a big stucco house with a haunted attic and a scary octopus furnace in the dark basement filled with coaldust, and had my own room with four doors leading out from it, and a pigeon coop on the garage roof, and we burned leaves in the side yard in autumn.
Before that, I lived in a small frame house, and led neighbor children around the long block to my grandmother’s, where she gave us coconut cookies and licorice at the side door, and when we moved away, I vowed I would map the location of each piece of furniture in the house on graph paper so I would never forget my home, but I never did.