Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


In her house are many dwelling places…

anacostia homes

Home Sweet Home, Anacostia, Washington, DC.

When I was a little girl, my Grandmother Peacock’s house was heaven to me.

I am one of six siblings in my branch of the Peacock clan. Grandma Peacock’s row house was a safe and secure harbor – a refuge away from the scary house in which we actually  lived. Once a month or so, each one of us got a chance to go on the equivalent of a Club Med vacation — a weekend at Grandma’s  — a chance to be an only child.

Grandma’s Anacostia home was a fairy tale castle. There was a bathroom with an enormous footed tub and a telephone closet on the first floor. There was a dining room AND a breakfast room. Downstairs was the best. There was an upright piano – painted bright red and a workshop with all kinds of gadgets and tools and little jars filled with all kinds of widgets and screws.

In my tea-totaling grandmother’s house there was a built in bar with a brass rail, swizzle sticks. and Heurich beer signs. The downstairs shower had four showerheads! (Who knows what went on down there in the Roaring Twenties?!)

In Grandma’s house there were many mansions. And here over many a weekend, she prepared a place for us. When you stayed over at Grandma’s there was always plenty of food. She was no great cook — she was big on cornflakes and Cool Whip as condiments. You could fault her on her cooking — but never on her generosity.

On Saturday night we’d go to the lecture at the National Geographic Society. On Sunday morning before breakfast, we would go to St Theresa’s for 8:00 Mass. We got fed in body, mind and soul.

For ninety-six years Grandma Peacock (It seems disrespectful to call her Agnes — even now) made room — enormous room.

Grandma’s little summer place on Butternut Road is where we learned to pick Chesapeake Bay Blue crabs – the family sacrament. We’d gather on the lawn for something like family reunions. The tiny cottage was way too small to hold us all but — miraculously — somehow it did. To  me it was as grand as the Taj Mahal.

In the seventies, Grandma downsized and moved to an apartment. Still her welcome mat was always out.

In our rebellious years, we regularly  showed up on her doorstep uninvited. She’d be ready to feed us in a heartbeat from whatever she might find in her fridge. We caused all kinds of trouble in our adolescence — which I will not embarrass myself with here.  No matter what we did, though, Grandma never turned us out. I never heard her speak ill of anybody although I’m sure she did entertain some not so nice thoughts. At least in my hearing — she never let them out.

I think Grandma always thought of us as we appeared in those school pictures and family portraits that lined her hallway. In the most desperate of places, she still managed to see glimmers of hope in all of those faces.

And she had faith.  Grandma’s apartment was a shrine of Catholic kitsch: plastic statues of Mary and the Infant of Prague and pictures of the Pope back to John XXIII. Rosary beads were draped over her bed post and an Ave Maria playing music box hung on her wall. Her coffee table was piled high with the Catholic Digest and the Catholic Standard. Remarkably — all this kitschy stuff  really meant something. Faith was not just something she believed. Faith was something she did.

She kept faith with us and  — in so many ways — she was my salvation. A weekend in my grandmother’s house made living in my own chaotic and dysfunctional house that much more bearable – at least for a little while. For three short days I would be loved – the way I should have been loved as a child every day of my life. The way all God’s children should be loved all the time.

Believe in me, Jesus says. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. I go to prepare for you a place so that where I am you may be also.

I have often imagined when I hear this gospel: Jesus rushing back to his Father’s house to get the guest room ready: Jesus running the vacuum. Jesus changing the sheets; Jesus putting fresh flowers on bedside table and fresh towels in the bathroom; Jesus running to the Safeway to stock the fridge for unexpected guests – a heavenly Holiday Inn.

I know this Jesus – the Jesus who lived in my Grandma Peacock. I know that this Jesus loved me and loves me. This Jesus saved me and rescued me. This Jesus allowed me to grow up wounded, yes – but also healed and whole.

In her house is plentiful redemption.

In her house are  many mansions,

many dwelling places,

the very house of God.



The Real Estate of the Heart


Real Estate Sign (9)

Listings of homes — where the heart is.

Neighborhoods are for walking.

Walking the stately boulevards of Chevy Chase in old DC, I stumbled upon my very first grownup apartment at the corner of Connecticut and Chesapeake. On my way to a brand new book group at Politics & Prose, I took a walk down memory lane.



My walk got me thinking about all the places I have called home: the sacred places and holy spaces I have inhabited in my six decades. I decided to draw them out on a map – a map through both time and space.

I mapped them all out to see if their walls could still talk. And as a matter of fact, they still do.

Starting with….

#### 13th St, SE, Anacostia, Washington, DC

It was my grandmother’s house decorated with chintz covered sofas and overstuffed chairs. The neighborhood was blue collar and just a stone’s throw from the Anacostia River. I remember running through the sprinkler in the backyard in my underwear, an upright piano painted red, and an indoor telephone booth.

### Kenton Place, Marlow Heights, MD

A 1958 three bedroom, two bath, semi detached, in a suburb of starter homes, decorated “I Love Lucy” colonial style with formica kitchen counters. I have but one memory: standing in the yard with my face pressed up against a chain link fence watching my father pull into the driveway. Or maybe it was my mother.

#### 24th Avenue, Hillcrest Heights, MD

This six bedroom, four bath brick colonial was decked out in 1960’s Jackie Kennedy chic. Located in a “Leave it to Beaver” suburb just outside of SE DC, I remember cracking Chesapeake Bay blue crabs in the backyard; playing kickball across the street, sharing a room with my neat freak older sister, and watching history marching by: Kennedy, the first Catholic president in the White House and Martin Luther, the Jr. King of Resurrection City.

#### Connecticut Ave, Chevy Chase, Washington, DC

This teensy, tiny little efficiency – barely 12 feet square – was furnished with a bargain basement sleep sofa and milk cartons. Milk carton end tables, milk carton coffee table, and milk carton bookshelves. The neighborhood was filled with the broad leafy trees of Old DC. Tricky Dick was in the White House. I remember celebrating my very first Christmas without chaos. We wove God’s Eyes out of yarn and popsicle sticks and hung them on the tree.

#### Lanier Place, Adams Morgan, Washington, DC

This one bedroom “English Basement” was tucked into a corner of Adams Morgan. The National Zoo was practically in our back yard and we were just a stone’s throw away from Dupont Circle. The neighborhood was Hispanic and hip and we decorated our little place with a Latino flair. I remember Guatemalan coffee and churros, speaking Spanish all day, and street vendors in the park. A bit of a high crime district, we did not live there long.

#### North Troy St., Clarendon, Arlington, VA

Two bedroom, one bath in post WWII brick garden apartment complex called Colonial Village. Low budget ‘70’s décor: bright yellow plastic cubes, denim sofa, with orange shag carpet. I remember building matching desks out of wooden doors and sawhorses. I remember eating fried bologna and potato pancakes every Wednesday night. I remember “recycling” the trash for the very first time.

### East Bellefonte Ave, Del Ray, Alexandria, Va

A second floor walk-up with only one bedroom and a big back yard. Located in Del Ray, a sketchy blue collar, old railroad town, just south of the Potomac Switching Yards. Decorated with “antique”: oak dressers, chifferobe, and a dented double brass bed. I remember hearing train cars coupling in the night. I remember spaghetti dinners at Jim and Kay’s across the street.

#### Curving Creek Rd, Springfield VA

Three bedroom, two bath townhouse newly constructed in the middle of nowhere. Lorton Penitentiary was practically in our backyard and the grocery store was a five mile car ride away. Accented with a touch of country quaint, this was our firstborn’s first home. I remember baby Zach stuffed into a snowsuit being pulled on a wooden sled. I remember the Christmas tree propped up and protected by a playpen. I remember hanging a home made wreath with balls of colored yarn on our steel metal door.

### East Windsor Ave, Del Ray, Alexandria, VA

Four bedroom, two bath 1920’s bungalow located directly across the street from the fire station. Reagan was in the White House when we moved in, George W. when I moved out. This was our “first house” that turned out to be our only house. The décor was “’80’s Early Parenthood”. Only 1200 square feet it is packed with memories: I remember my children swinging on the swings in the backyard. I remember watching the Simpsons while we ate dinner from our laps. I remember Pete’s pizza nearly every Friday night. I remember Mondays at Mount Vernon Elementary. I remember Art on the Avenue, school plays, and concerts, proms and graduations. I remember Christmases and Halloweens: our front porch transformed into Hotel 666 and Frankenstein’s Workshop. I remember the cats. I remember the dogs. I remember the neighbors.

#### Snowpea Ct, Unit M, Alexandria (actually Fairfax) VA

Two bedroom,two bath third floor beach condo that is not at the beach. Swinging single’s pad with Cathedral ceilings, gas fireplace, balcony and community pool. The décor is eclectic, accented with Peacock paraphernalia, Alice in Wonderland prints, deep earth tones and bright colors. A kingdom of one, it is all Joani all the time, Mistress of my Domain. From this location I have launched each of my three adult children for the second and final time. And now I have a guest room for the very first time — ever. Here I make new memories: good ones and bad ones that I record on my Mac.

Yes, these walls can talk.

Now close your eyes and remember your own sacred places and holy spaces.

Remember the floor plans you can walk through even with your eyes closed.

Remember the bathrooms you can find without a night light.

Remember the bedrooms where you tossed and turned, gazed up at the moon, made love, and fell asleep.

Remember the kitchen counters where you unpacked the groceries, packed your kids lunches, and burned the toast.

Remember the dining room tables where turkeys were carved, wine glasses were clinked,  parents argued, and company overstayed their welcome.

Remember the basement rec rooms with the TV blasting, the transistor radio turned up loud, and board games missing pieces spilled all over the floor.

Close your eyes and remember. Remember each and every address. Map then out on a map. Take a walk, take off your shoes and walk through their doors.

God lived in all these places though you may not have known it. You may have entertained angels unawares.

Listen to the walls that can talk.

You are standing on holy ground.