2) Looking out the window...

It’s daylight right now. Just noon. That window in my parent’s room looks down into the side yard, an adjoined city lot, divided from the house by the driveway. It used to have a beautiful garden that was my dad’s joy. It was the shape of a digital ‘C’ around the perimeter of the yard. The West arm was barricaded by the thick stone wall of the garage, but mostly by the rhubarb that grew in front of it. The south faced the chain link fence we and the neighbors shared, and the East was where the peonies met the Vegetables. It was glorious. Now it’s all grassed over save the West section. The rhubarb will forever flourish in the territory we’ve allowed to take over and the tomatoes are still there too. They don’t go away. But it’s not lush like it used to be and it’s my mom’s garden now. She’s trying to hang on too. She has preserved it, but my dad was the one that cultivated it. He was an excellent gardener.

Being a gardener now myself I have an appreciation for his partnership with the earth. They worked together. My yard hasn’t quite been tamed yet and I don’t seem to manage the weeds very well. They often get the best of me. Or, rather, the best of my plants. The hit below the belt.

Gardening is an unspoken tradition in my family. I can only assume the great-grands gardened, but I know my dad’s dad did. In the town they lived in, Lily Dale, NY, he had a small plot in the community. No one’s yards were accommodating enough for anyone to plant at home, so there was a significant town plot. He grew things here.

I don’t know when my dad started, but as far as I’m concerned, about eternity ago. I entered into a cultivated earth life. We had fresh tomatoes all through the summer. I at cucumbers off the vine often leaving none for the salad my mom wanted them for. I didn’t like eggplant at the time, but I liked how it looked; rich purple with a vibrant green stem. A color combination I wasn’t so bold to yet place in my own art as I was in my dark charcoal stage, well, for most of my teen years.

We had mint along the fence in the SW corner of the ‘C’ garden and when the neighbor’s dog that I was afraid of wasn’t outside I would enjoy picking the leaves off the vine and eating a them.

My dad’s sisters also garden, and they create elaborate plans. Dad is the second from the bottom out of 4. The only boy. He’s the last male Swift, making me the very last of all Swift’s in our family. He would never be sorry he had a girl, but he wanted more children. My mom wanted a career. Thus… no siblings. I wanted an older brother. So I guess he and I wanted the same thing. I, as an adult, have that in my cousin. He’s the next oldest from me in the first generation of cousins and was just glad he missed being the youngest by 1.

Diane, the oldest and the assumed matriarch since Nana, my dad’s mom, passed on in ’94, has an exquisite garden. She also enjoys cooking a great deal, so the two go hand in hand for her. Cindy, the youngest of the siblings, lives out a ways from the city in an old farm house in Hamlin. She also has done a beautiful job with her earth. These two go to great lengths to create themes each year for their dirt. It’s the teacher in them; all things function in themes and units. Teaching and gardening: These are two things my family does exceptionally well.

I began a garden the first year I lived in my apartment in Illinois. I was fortunate to find the first floor of a house when I moved to Rock Island and the landlord was kind enough to give me the backyard and let me do what I wanted with it. I didn’t really even think much about it. It was summer… you plant things. And so the spirit continued.

1) What's come to mind... one thing to the next...

I got to Rochester this past Wednesday and have been writing since the moment I walked in the door. For some reason, this trip has incited the need to just throw a stream of consciousness onto paper... so I have...

So far...

I walked in the door around noon on Wednesday to the most familiar place I’ve ever known my whole life. My parents bought the house directly from Fred Miller in 1974. He had built in 1917. Bill and Maggie were the second owners of the house. For the past 10 years I’ve wanted to be the third.

They’ve lived here 34 years. I realize now how very much, though I am always welcome here, this was never my house. This was their purchase together, saying “this will be our life.” There have been birthdays, endless cook outs, singing sessions in the kitchen, backyard and living room. Holidays including every Christmas Dinner for the past 30+ years that, for a long time, while there were still children, included an original choreographed version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Uncle Larry. I have missed the past 7.

I have wafted in and out of a variety of events and happenings, faces that frequent the kitchen counter having coffee or dinner, house projects and various other things… and I have always just drifted through these scenes without landing… because it’s someone else’s lives: my parents’.

All these things considered, I have roots here.

In the past few years, I can’t even say when it started, I have come to miss Rochester deeply. Even though it hasn’t been a permanent residence to me, really, since I left for College, it is home. And as I continue to learn more about who I am, who I’m growing to be, “home” has some different sounds to it. And it’s not where I am now. I live in the place I have an address… but it’s not home.

I remembered that when I walked in the door that I am never home in the summer anymore. I come home every Thanksgiving. I make it home once a year really. But I opened the door and was immediately back being the age of sometime when I lived there. We’ve never had central air in the house. So we just would open every ancient window that would budge and be propped up and let the air in. Mom set up box fans in the hallways and you did you best to stay cool. This was the scene that greeted me.

The front and back doors were open, and every window in between. Curtains lifted on the breezes and danced as far out into the room as the rods would allow. The scent in the house was indescribable by any words but I knew what it had mixed into it and it was right. I knew what seasons and memories and rooms were sent into the air together.

I went upstairs where my parents were, carrying the beast known as my bag up to the second floor and found my mom making my bed up. She loves doing this. I appreciate it. Mom’s are always moms.

Where I land when I’m home is not the room I grew up in. We have a basic 4 square style house. It’s set up in quadrants: Front hall with stairway up, living room, dining room, kitchen all going in a circle back to the front hall. Upstairs, you step up into a central hall with 6 doors. Bathroom is straight ahead. Two bedrooms to the left, two to the right. Attic door is next to the stairway entrance.

My room used to be the one that faces the street in the far left corner of the hallway. The street light shined in the window every night and I don’t know why I never got wise to the idea that I had shades. I was afraid of the dark, that’s probably why.

However, I relinquished my bedroom one summer, unknowingly forever, for the upstairs back porch. The room was never anything more than simply a trash collection site for anything we didn’t just carry the extra 12 steps to the attic. It was off of what we called the den (room off the hall to the right of the top of the stairs). The “den” really was also a collection site that mostly marauded around as a guest room. A very crowded guest room.

The back porch upstairs was really untouched from the very point my parents had moved in. Every now and then I would attempt some level of organization when I decided I needed a new hide-out. It was always a place to look at the stars. I once saw the Northern lights from the North corner. But I only moved stuff around and stacked it differently. It was never cleaned.

During the time I was living at home for a few months post college I did a number of projects around the house just trying to stay sane. The back porch was one of them. It was cleared, painted, carpeted and new windows were eventually put in. This became my favorite room in the house. It’s now my room when I’m home. It’s just 5’x12', but three sides are all windows and it’s magnificent during late fall when I’m home to fall asleep watching the snow fall or looking at the stars.

But sometimes I miss theroom that I slept in as a kid because it’s like saying goodbye to a section of my life… and I don’t handle that well. My mom calls it hers now. My parents, though they love each other, just don't sleep in the same room anymore... somehow snoring has something to do with it. I don't know.

My room had the front porch roof just out of the window that faces east. In Middle School or High School I realized how easy it was to take the screen out and began to frequent evenings out on ot, sitting, again, to look at the stars. Indigo Girls, the Sugarcubes, R.E.M., the Beatles, Kate Bush, Michael Hedges… all voices coming from the tape deck inside as I would sit and watch the cars go by.

I was hit by all these things walking through the house. Enough, at least, that when my parents emptied the second floor after all greetings has been established, I laid down on my dad’s spot on his bed where I used to sleep next to my mom when he was away on business or a boat trip, and propped my chin up on the window sill that was just at mattress level. I was reacting.

I used to do this and look out the window at the stars and feel the breeze feathering my face when I was younger. It hurt my teeth to have them clenched for so long as my neck stretched to rest on the sill, but I loved the feeling, and what it smelled like when I was young: the wood of the window frame, the screen of the window, the air. Especially when it rained. I loved laying there when it rained.

They’ve since bought a new bed and it’s taller so it didn't feel quite right, but when I laid down on it I buried my nose in the stripped wood and breathed in. My senses searched until I caught the bitter depth of the scent I was looking for. I almost cried.