When we met, I, just a teenager at the time, gazed up in awe at this beauty in her prime. Her youth behind her, my parents convinced her that an alteration of attire would benefit her greatly, and so it did. She went from the entirely inappropriate coloring of pink accessorized by baby blue to a more stately, perhaps even regal off-white accented with warm green, her strong iron jewelry all in black. This matched her terracotta bonnet, and she complemented her entire neighborly entourage.
My family loved her fiercely. We groomed her inside and out, restoring all those little corners and great rooms in a soul that people sometimes misinterpret. After all, her conception had brought together all the best that creative humanity could offer at the time; we would recover all we could of where she had begun.
For over forty-five years we loved her, depended on her, trusted her. Sometimes she let us down, but in the end it was we who brought her to where she lingers now. Unkempt, disheveled, she stands on her hill, filled with memories, more ours than those of anyone else she’s known. I sit with her on Sundays as I prepare to abandon her completely, and I remember. Oh, my dear God, how I remember. It halts me in my work.
Here we once put the Christmas tree, in front of the great, paned window in the massive living room for all to see.
And there, we painted the master bedroom on March 15, 1964, my parents’ twenty-third anniversary and the day that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton married for the first time.
My balcony, a Romeo-and-Juliet balcony if ever there were one, turned out to be not nearly as well connected to her skeleton as it should have been. They had to tear up the floor in my bedroom and cable it to support beams in the far wall to make it safe.
Then there was the Sunday right before our first Christmas all together. I headed down to the basement to wash my hair and smelled the smoke. The Fire Department discovered the wooden framing for the cement catch below the fireplace, placed there thirty-five years earlier, had never been removed. An ember had caused the wood to smolder. The nice firemen put it out, then spent the next hour or so feeling walls for heat. Problem was that forced-air-heating ducts riddled the thick walls. Luckily we’d lived there just long enough to know where all those ducts belonged, and soon the gentlemen fire fighters departed, leaving my father to announce that not every kid gets a real fire engine for Christmas.
I feel her observing me as I think back. She remembers far more than I do, despite her dilapidated and slightly addled state. She watched as we moved in, and she’s watching as we prepare to walk away. It’s the right thing to do, I know. Her wounds and genetic defects will be healed once we are gone, and she will rise, a phoenix from the fire, unbearably beautiful in bright new feathers yet with a weathered eye. I will miss her terribly. I already do. But she will be the better for our departure. We have no money to maintain her. We cannot pay her taxes. It’s time to let her go.

One thought on “Farewell, California Contessa

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