Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Mom’s House

Cupertino Fog

When I first flew back from Spain in a mad dash to get to my mom’s side, I went straight to her house.  I grew up here from my birth in 1963 until I was 16, when I was sent to the old country, Germany, to learn the mother tongue.  I stayed only a short 18 months after I returned, then boomeranged once more for a year when I “took a break” from the tough college life. 

Me and My Mom, Summer 1980

Now I find myself here again, looking out across the sprawling Silicon Valley.  I have loved this view nearly as much as my mom has, whether it is in the morning, the sun rising over the eastern foothills and chasing the wisps of ocean fog that have crept over the coastal range, or at night, the basin filled with twinkling lights like a upside-down heaven. 

Moonlight over Silicon Valley

It is not easy being here, the house full of memories despite having been completely remodeled.  I still head for the staircase the wrong way, my mom having changed the entrance to her bedroom.  Some parts are still untouched, though, like my mother’s office, still and quiet and strangely clean, the consequence of her brutal illness and a 7-month absence to try and fight it.  It hurts to see the neatness; my mom is a sort-of compulsive cleaner, but just in little ways, and she makes piles of her things that mirror her propensity for multi-tasking.   So it’s been rare that I’ve seen her office so tidy, and it is yet another reminder of how close we may be to losing her.

Strangely neat and organized

Most days now my mom stays in bed, leaving only to go to the bathroom.  But these upstairs rooms are glorious, remodeled yet again to create a raised bathtub that commands a view across the valley.  My mom always loved baths, yet never had a bathtub in her bedroom until this remodel.  For the past seven years she has bathed in splendor, the neighbors too far away to catch a glimpse of her slender form submerged, a foot extended to add more hot water.   Now we must gently lift her over the high edge; it takes three of us to safely get her in and out.  But the sigh of satisfaction she gives once settled makes it worth the effort. 

Cupertino Sunrise

From her bed she can see out across the familiar neighborhoods and to downtown San Jose, and to the northeast to Moffett Field where she landed at age 11, a scared German immigrant fleeing post-war Germany.   This view is what captivated her in 1962 when she was searching for a house to buy, and still captivates me to this day, although I’ve looked at it for nearly 50 years.  The first addition to the house—built after I was born—was her master bedroom, a second-story addition that only made the view more impressive.   Watching my mom gaze across the valley seems right, confirming that this is where she needed to return after deciding to abandon chemotherapy. 

The South Bay and Moffett Field, where my mom arrived in 1948

A final (mostly) unchanged vista is from the back deck.  After buying this house, the very first thing my mom insisted on was a back deck cantilevered over a verdant, poison-oak-filled canyon.  We loved to tell people that it was part of the famous San Andreas fault.  A rope swing hung next to the deck, and we quickly mastered the hair-raising jump from deck railing to swing board, sailing out over the canyon and back and only occasionally falling off and rolling down the hill, a hair-full of stickery oak leaves and poison-oak rashes our punishment.  The canyon is filled with deer, with a little creek that runs through it; it would have been a childhood wonderland had it not been for the poison oak everywhere which kept us from exploring more than once or twice. 

New deck, no railing: 1963 and pregnant with me!

My mom has continued to add on to the house over the past 50 years, first the master bedroom, then a dining room and laundryroom, then a library and remodeled bedrooms, followed by a music room, an extensive entrance remodel complete with koi pond, and finally a full living room extension that doubled the view of the canyon.  Our friends called it the “Rico Mystery House” after the famous but crazy Mrs. Winchester’s house in San Jose, and it took a two-year remodel and a nearly-complete gutting to bring all the disparate pieces together in some kind of union.

The Rico-Ressman Mystery House, all unified.

Now I walk through the house on my way to the bedroom, anxious and emotion-exhausted and intent on my mom.  But I am glad to be here, full-circle somehow, to see my mom through this terrible silver-lining-laden journey.  Silicon Valley’s sea of lights shine out and remind me of the beauty—of the valley, of life—that my mom has taught us to see.  It’s right to be here. 

Moments of unexpected beauty

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