Mapping the Topography of Grief - A Travel Memoir
A completed manuscript
“Step Six. (Of nine.)
If your grieving is brief, then you will need only one road,
a super-highway, upon which to hurry off to other pages of your map book.
Otherwise, draw your roads crisscrossing…”
With my slightly unruly terrier, I set off on a journey of 15,000 miles over seven months.
I carried maps. One of them I called a “Mother Map”, a crisp new map marking the destinations
for my travels around North America. A second map I named my “Map of Grief” – an imaginary
charting of my widow’s sorrow. That second map began as a blank mental image with a dot – a
blotch of consequence marking the death of my good man to pancreatic cancer. As I tell stories
from the road, the reader comes to understand how traveling alone is not so frightening and how
being a topographer of sorrow provides one with relief. Eventually, I roll and store my “Map of
Grief” and my travels continue on to new maps.
The Education of an American Houser – A Sampling of Observations
A Work in Progress
“I was a mere child at the time in the 50’s at the beginning of my education as a houser. … I
would come to specialize in middle-class houses.”
Growing up in a home built with cinder blocks in a suburb of Reno, Nevada, I began a lifelong
fascination with how houses influence inhabitants. Cruising through neighborhoods in Newport
News, Virginia in my Uncle Charlie and Aunt Margaret’s Buick, I furthered my education:
“Quietly from the spacious backseat, I took in their house critiques. By the time I was ten, I
assumed all children studied rooflines, window styles or were conversant in architectural terms
like vestibules, saltbox, and corbels.”
The Education of an American Houser, as a literary memoir, adds to the conversation with the
documentation of one woman’s observations of houser skills and ideas acquired along her path
from being a child to a widow living in a cabin in the woods. The term “houser” might be an
unfamiliar word, but in Houser: The Life and Work of Catherine Bauer, 1905-64, Peter
Oberlander, one author, describes a “houser” in this quote from the preface: “Catherine talked
about housing not only in terms of architectural or urban planning, but as social responsibility.
As a “houser,” she saw housing as a bridge between architecture and planning.”1
Like Catherine, I became aware of an imbalance of resources, ideas and roles in housing. While
design, funding and construction of common housing have traditionally been male-dominated
fields, the beginnings of female input – a new bridge – began during my lifetime. Jane Jacobs,
author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, upended the traditional notions of
residential planning. Female entrepreneurs – like Janie Lowe and Virginia Young, cofounders of
the non-toxic paint company called Yolo Colorhouse, or the tiny house designer-builders, Dee
Williams and Lena Menard – have become models to inspire other women to contribute in
making a new world of more equitable and nurturing housing.
I was older and a single mom before I began gathering tools – bear claws, a hod, a chop saw and
sanders. Becoming a “houser” with my hands, as it were. Now, there are opportunities for
young females to learn building trades, as with “Girls Build” started by Katie Hughes in
Portland, Oregon, a company offering summer camps in the construction trades for young girls.
I would have loved this as a child!
In the writing of this work, I hope to place the word “houser” into the toolbox of a wider range of
women, girls, and men as well.
1Oberlander, Peter H. and Newbrun, Eva, Houser: The Life and Work of Catherine Bauer,
(UBC Press, 2000), XIV Preface.