Back Home to Ruins

Morgan is a La Jolla free-lance writer

If you have seen Ephesus, Turkey, or Delphi, Greece, or Pompeii, Italy, you might have recognized the courtyard of my home on that Monday morning when I drove in after a week in the Southwest.

Chunks of white marble were strewn across the bricks and leaned against tree trunks and glass panes. A jungle of grape ivy sprouted crazily from a small reflecting pool.

And there were strange mounds of smooth rocks, set like cairns to mark the way to somewhere.

I dropped my duffel bag and a sack of newspapers and shook my head. The euphoria of autumn faded before my front door was unlocked, replaced by that bugaboo they call the real world.

The marble ruins once had been a tall planter box in which grape ivy had grown for years. I don't know why it fell. There was no volcanic activity in the neighborhood. No one reported an earthquake. It may have been the strain of age, however.

As for the rocks, there were three in each pattern. Underneath one was a piece of green paper.

A Nice Note

"Sorry we missed you," it said. "Please call our office to reschedule your annual termite service control. We found heavy evidence of termite infestation in the areas marked with rocks. We should check inside the house. Thank you."

Don't thank me, I muttered as I skipped over the broken marble to get to the trash cans. Monday is our trash day and I could hear the city trucks grinding hungrily at the corner.

This was not my idea of a happy homecoming. I always plan to make a pot of rich coffee and sit serenely in the garden room, with its one thriving philodendron, and sort through the mail that will sparkle with family notes and the good news that I overpaid bills the month before. The telephone will not ring until I am ready, and then it won't be a wrong number or a whine.

Instead, marble planters fall, termites feed, drapery cords snap, newspapers keep coming and the faithful United Parcel Service driver leaves a package outside, which ensures the arrival of a gentle, soaking rain.

This is life after travel! Everyday challenges seem offensive when they hit before your luggage is unpacked.

And when it comes to amassing trash and treasures, trips by car are the worst. There is no weight limit on what you can carry; the entire vehicle becomes a tote bag.

For this journey I had packed sensibly. Thus there was room in the trunk to stash 25 pounds of dates--Medjools and Deglet Noors--from the palm groves in the desert near Indio. It was my first Christmas shopping.

There was room for an ice chest full of water, soda pop and milk. There was room to buy ristras, those scarlet strands of chili peppers that are a decorative tradition in Arizona and New Mexico, and to hang them from coat hooks by the back windows.

The car held enough loose parkas and sweaters, tossed in at the last minute, to save a dozen people from freezing in the raw uplands of northern Arizona. They went unworn because the temperatures were unseasonably warm.

The car held two king-size pillows so the driver could cushion a bad back and the passenger could nap in comfort. There were books and magazines, cameras, and a computer that was never unzipped.

Self-Unpacking Suitcase

Therefore, on that Monday morning when my courtyard lay in marble ruin, I had a lot of stuff to carry inside. I wished, once more, that someone would design a self-unpacking suitcase.

It could be based on the principle of the collating device on a copying machine: the dirty clothes would divide themselves, for laundry purposes, into whites and darker colors. The clean clothes would find their places in drawers and closets. Notes and brochures would report to the file cabinet, the food to the kitchen.

And the ultimate treat: The empty suitcases would magically be lifted onto storage shelves without straining a muscle.

While waiting for that to happen I sorted through the mess, brought in a ladder to put away the bags and moved enough marble aside to clear a path. Afterward I drove to the store to buy groceries, deodorant, toilet tissue and ant spray.

Ants were marching through the bathroom, and I suspect I heard the bamboo growing next door, which means that the plumber will be coming soon.

He seems to follow the termites in the scheme of things.

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