After the divorce, I had to move with the children away from our grand hilltop home with its pool, its tower, and its memories. I bought a house for us down on Jackdaw Street with money from the divorce settlement. My new home pleased me. It was still in San Diego, in an older district where I had a teaching job and we had friends.
We moved to a tattered old house on a street with sidewalks, tall trees, and a church across the way. I’d always loved churches; I could walk to the Mission Hills shops, and nearby houses looked as if they’d been there forever with their dark porches and wide front steps. The neighborhood made me feel settled in a reality I could understand, an ordinary place.
My husband needed to move away from the hilltop too. He had to live differently, be more authentic. He settled in a lovely beach town north of San Diego and established himself as manager of a small hotel there. I sensed a relief in him and knew he was happy in his new situation.
My Jackdaw house was where I could be authentic too. As I stood in the doorway I felt excited by the empty rooms with their traditional look. I could build a life here, supported by the two venerable avocado trees in the backyard. The house had a large kitchen, dirty carpets, a noisy staircase and a spot for Daisy, our spaniel. My furniture would fit, even my upright piano.
I found generous support from my friends who gathered to help me move in. That afternoon was a gleeful occasion, even celebratory. I was surrounded by fellow parents from our children’s school who rallied to help with the heavy lifting.
“A rite of passage,” Ingrid proclaimed to no one in particular as she lugged a heavy load of clothing up the stairs.
“The end of an era,” William added, carrying the heavy coffee table into the living room.
My son Billy, in his leather vest, watched the activity, hoping for a role in the moving project. I grabbed his arm, “Hey kid! Could you find a step-stool and hang the bird feeder outside the kitchen window?” He took the feeder, pleased to be asked to do a real job.
“You’re looking good, Elaine,” Susan called from the laundry room. “What’s that old joke about losing two hundred pounds with a divorce? You look less dowdy, I guess, less unraveled.”
“I feel quite raveled, in fact. And I’ve never been dowdy!”
After an hour of arranging and unpacking, I sat with my friends and watched Iris polish my oak coffee table, a heavy relic I cherished. Her hair tied back with a kerchief, Iris revived my table as if she were making all things new, polishing with a gravity befitting the start of an unchartered life.
“Watching Iris work on that table will be my most treasured memory of this day,” I announced. “But we need to stop a moment and let Pat play the piano. I want to hear the ‘Hokey Pokey.’ It’s become my theme song.”
“One little divorce and you’ve become a tyrant,” Pat said and went to the piano. We sang:
I put my left hand in; I put my left hand out,
I put my left hand in and turn myself about.
The music died away; we ate a picnic supper; and the work-party ended with the departure of my tired friends.
Now, in my own home, the days and nights would be mine. Everything would proceed according to the needs of two grade-school children, a compliant spaniel, and a schoolteacher mother on her own. I knew I was lucky to have a place suited to us when there were many single mothers not so fortunate.
While Billy and my daughter Mia entertained themselves outside, scribbling on the sidewalk with colored chalks, I slipped out the back door to take a walk around the block. Daisy joined me unleashed that evening. The quiet of Jackdaw Street did not require leashes.
When Daisy and I turned the corner on our return — and my new house came into view — it looked like a welcoming granny whose embrace I could feel. “Daisy, we’ve done a good thing here. We’ve come down from the hill to Jackdaw Street, named after a bird.” I went on, lecturing to my dog, “There’s plenty of symbolism in that name: freedom, flight, nesting. This place will be my birdhouse.”
Daisy understood. I blew my nose and imagined contentment and avocados in this new setting, all my own.
Elaine Jordan, author of Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp, is a local editor who’s lived in Prescott for thirty years.