Valley Voices

Home for the holidays: Our houses tell stories of their own

Shirley A. Bruegman
Shirley A. Bruegman

It had been a long meeting, an excruciatingly long day, and I was ready to go home. When the meter finally flashed “go” for my lane, I stepped on the gas, grasped the steering wheel and, luckily, made the transition from one freeway to the other. My shoulders dropped three inches, finally starting to relax, when I turned onto Butler Avenue.

As I tossed my purse onto the counter, the corner of my eye caught the phone’s flashing light. Nothing important – just another offer for seniors to install solar panels. Delete key pressed, I walked down the hallway to my closet, anxiously wanting to free my feet from the uncomfortable shoes and put on my tattered bathrobe.

Holding a glass of wine, I collapsed into the recliner. It was national news time, but I resisted the temptation to click the “on” button. I wanted, as well as needed, some quiet time.

I found myself reflecting on how time slips by so gradually that one barely notices as days and weeks pass into history. I have walked through this house hundreds of times, but always busy and headed somewhere to do something, most of the time oblivious to the sights, sounds and scents.

I hadn’t taken time to sit quietly and do as a meditation guru once instructed me: “Shirley, you need to inhale and then watch your breath as you exhale.”

As the sun began its descent, I took a deep breath and looked around the room where I was surrounded by mementos, each one sparking a treasured memory.

The soft glow of the reading light was shining on my favorite picture – a small painting of lilies in a wood frame – purchased for $25 from a street vendor in San Francisco. I vividly remembered focusing on it while I rested and recovered from breast cancer surgery.

When we moved to Sunnyside, I had insisted it be hung where it could be easily seen and is now proudly displayed on the wall next to the fireplace. It might not have the monetary value of other paintings, but it played an important role at a critical time in my life.

A few feet away, on the hearth, there is an object that brings a tear to my eye. I discovered it two years ago while cleaning out my mother’s home, preparing to list it for sale. My siblings and I agreed we would make decisions about what each wanted to keep as our remembrances – all else would be turned over to the auction planner.

Mother was a passionately private person and I regretted invading her home, searching through closets, drawers, and even beneath beds. One humid and hot afternoon, we tackled the area under the stairwell. It was full of grocery bags filled with newspaper clippings, pictures and greeting cards.

Way back in the corner, I found an old kerosene lantern, still intact with its handle, glass and wick. UPS delivered it to my home in California a few weeks later.

During the years our mother lived in an assisted care facility, I listened to her memories surviving the Great Depression, trying to make a living farming a few acres of rented land. A favorite story was about shelling ear corn, by the light of the lantern, using the proceeds to purchase radio batteries.

Although those were tough times, I suspect they were also some of the best. Looking at the lantern, imagining the light, it reminds me of many things about growing up in Nebraska, including the hard work ethic my parents instilled in me and attending a one-room school.

Tonight, the room overflows with memories. Pieces of pottery, acquired from other countries, stand guard on the coffee table; original artwork, crafted by my granddaughters, is a constant reminder of their special place in my heart. And there, on an adjacent wall, is another of my favorites – two beautifully sketched pictures of wild animals encountered up close and personal while on an unforgettable African safari vacation.

Walking toward the kitchen to switch on lights, I promised myself to do this more often – slow down the pulse of life, relive cherished moments, and reflect on the varied roads and adventures of life.

Shirley A. Bruegman is retired vice chancellor of State Center Community College District. She can be reached at