Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What They Leave Behind

Estate Sale. Those two words bring up different emotions in me. First, it means that there will be a house full of treasures that a family no longer wants. Second, it means that there is a home where memories are being erased and the things that were part of everyday life have come to the end of their needfulness.
Those are the things that draw me in. The things that tell the story of the woman that lived. The small things, the humble things, the workhorses, the utilitarian things that aren't thought twice about. You know them by these names- paring knives, pot holders, clothespins, dish towels, pastry cutters, rolling pins. The list is endless.
You can tell a lot about someone by how these things are worn. The well-seasoned rolling pin tells of a mother who baked pies or cookies for her family. What were their favorites? Did she let them help her as she gently blended the flour, butter and water into a soft, silky dough? How many times did she rub her floured hands along the length to prevent that dough from sticking, creating a smoothness unmatched by any sand paper? The pot holders that kept those hands safe from the heat of the oven and stovetop.
A paring knife, worn in the handle with a blade much smaller than when new. How many apples and potatoes did it peel with the help of a mother feeding her family?
Last year I went to a sale up the road from my house. Sitting on tables and in cupboards were the pretty things that adorned the life of the woman who lived there. I went directly to the laundry room. When I came home, I wrote this:

The Clothespins
It was a small brown bag, tucked just inside the laundry room door, that caught me eye. A humble thing, tied with a simple knot around a clothes hanger. Attached to it was a small piece of tape stating it's monetary value- fifty cents. It came home with me.
Turning out the contents. the years of this little bags life tumbled onto the table. Clothespins, none of them new, lay before me each with a story to tell about the rhythm of an everyday existence.
I doubt if the children realized the connection their mother had with these small bits of wood and wire. These were the things that held up her hopes and dreams. Could they possibly have imagined that something so utilitarian would touch this woman's heart?
Tracing the shape of each pin brings to mind a vivid picture-
Brand new tawny pins, standing like little soldiers across the line, grasping onto crisp cotton sheets and linen dishtowels, a gingham apron and a new husband's shirts, tails up and arms down, caught in an ethereal cartwheel.
Slightly weathered pins, side by side, bearing the smallest of burdens- soft pink layettes, smooth white diapers and the grins of little bibs dancing like scalloped trim against the edge of a brilliant blue sky.
On and on across the line they go, trusted friends always, clinging to a rapidly changing life. A family of tutus and training bras, muddy shoes and tear-stained handkerchiefs. Each pin fulfilling the measure of it's creation in the boundless sunshine of joy and the shadowy days of sorrow.
Like the woman who used them, they have developed a roundness and a softness that can only come with age. Tinged with gray, they mirror her hair. Splayed and twisted they have become extensions of her once nimble fingers.
This woman, now gone, remembered to hang them back in their place one last time. A familiar routine at the end of a day, at the end of a life.
Now they are with me, this fifty-cent bag of memories. The mundane tools of a woman who nourished and nurtured a family, set aside for more precious treasure, are waiting for the dawn of a new day. One filled with fresh air and sunshine, billows of clouds and clothes.
They mingle together with my pins newer pins now- tawny, clean and straight as they once were. In my handmade clothespin bag with softly faded strawberries and green and white checks, they wait for me. It is a suitable home for those things that will hold up the threads of my life.
So, out we go together into the soft breeze and the bright sun; me, this bag of clothespins and a cart of damp clothes. It's laundry day. It is my everyday.

If you happen by an estate sale, look for me. I'll be the one wearing an apron, clasping a lifetime in my hands.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lamentations of a Tag Sale Queen

I have been declared the queen of tag sales, yard sales, garage sales and any other sale by my children. I try to be a kind and benevolent ruler, of course. Sharing the bounty of my conquests with others is part of the job, is it not?
The onset of Spring usually brings with it that little tingle of excitement. It is, after all, Yard Sale Season. The time when people come out of their Winter cocoons and begin to clear away the clutter that has somehow grown over them. Somewhat like the barnacles that consume ships that have been berthed too long.
This is the time that my mother, my friend ("Lucy") and I cherish. Yard Sale Friday is the day we look forward to. It is what propels us through our week of laundry and dishes, breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Sorting through castaways to find a treasure to take home (or give away) is the ultimate challenge.
This year has been different. We have only found one Friday where we were able to venture out. Our lives have been busy taking care of families, friends and ourselves. I miss our time together.
I have found that beyond the fact that we are all junk collectors (honestly named, willingly accepted) we like being together. It's not necessarily the sales that draw us in, it's the togetherness, the conversations, the laughs, the time spent in the company of those we love.
It's the going out on Friday and secretly plotting to destroy those signs that advertise "Saturday Only" yard sales. (We've only done that once, and that was my mother's doing. Although she had an ulterior motive, which may not be discussed in such polite company.)
It's the trying to maintain composure in the most horrendous of circumstances, when you have surely been exposed to something that the EPA should be warned about. How have we survived? (Hand sanitizer. And lots of it!)
It's the seeing something that would be perfect in your own home and leaving it for one of the other's to find because it would also be perfect in theirs.
It's watching our eyes light up at the sight of table after table of endless delights and planning our attack before leaving the truck. ("Lucy, you go to the left, I'll take the center and Mom, you go directly to the back table where they will surely have all the things they don't value sitting on the fifty-cent table.")
It is the look on my mother's face when she finds what she knows to be something of value for a mere pittance. You can read her like a book. And it's a cheesy romance novel, blatant and obvious.
Do you see now why I miss it so much? That camaraderie, I have found, is key to my existence. It makes me happy. It creates sweet memories that I will carry forever. It fills a void in me that I did not know was there, but now that I have recognized it, needs to be tended to and filled often.
So, there lie my lamentations. People, clear out your closets, your cellars and your attics. Have a tag sale, a yard sale, a whatever-you-want-to-call-it sale. Families, learn to take care of yourselves for one day. There are three women who want, no NEED, to get out and have fun together.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Little Orbs of Sunshine

Today I was given a lovely gift by someone I do not know. My husband knows this person, they worked together. Apparently my dear spouse has been talking about me. Hmmmm. Do I like this? I'm not quite sure.
Turns out this person was very much "in the know!" He knew that I wanted a raised bed garden. (I did not get one this year. In fact, I have no garden this year at all. Sadness.) He knew that I was interested in raising chickens and that the two sweet hens I had were killed by some unseen, stealth-like creature in the night. Kind of creepy. I mean, you think that your spouse has not paid any attention to your farmgirl wants and crazy ideas then....Gee whiz! You find out he's been talking about you behind your back! To strangers! Who raise chickens. And have gardens. Well, the nerve.
After a long day of being engaged in a very worthy cause- making curtains for an indigent care home- I came home tired and weary. I was looking forward to just sitting. And then, the news came from another room- "Oh, yeah. Mr. Miller is bringing you some of his fresh eggs."
"Eggs?" It could not possibly be. "Real eggs? Direct-from-the-chicken eggs?" (Well of course they were. Where else do they come from?) A very delighted smile began to cross my face. Fresh Eggs. (Deserving of capital letters.) Yum.
After meeting Mr. Miller and his lovely wife, and listening to him talk about his chickens and his garden with such a clear sense of pride, I was handed two dozen pale brown, smooth eggs. A declaration and promise that I was having eggs for dinner was uttered and we parted ways. I think I skipped to the kitchen.
Choosing three of these delectable delights, I took down a bowl from the shelf and cracked the first shell. Slipping into the bowl was the most beautiful sight- a perfect round yolk, the color of a setting sun. You don't get color like that from the shelf at the grocery store. The other two were just as vibrant and beautiful.
A quick swish with the whisk and I was ready to make a very satisfying supper of scrambled eggs and fruit. No seasoning, no butter- just plain and simple eggs. Ah, heaven.
They say that unexpected gifts are the best. You know them, the surprises that make your day, and breathe a bit of joy around you. Mr. Miller and his twenty-four little eggs did that for me today. That he went out of his way to hand-deliver them makes them more special.
I am now thinking that my husband can talk about me to whomever he chooses. As long as they have chickens. And share.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Friends

I have a friend that I will call "Lucy." Lucy, because she has red hair. And my husband calls us "Lucy and Ethel." I'm Ethel.
We have a fair reputation for getting into trouble, just as those two did on TV. Not bad trouble. Just your everyday "Well, how do we explain this?" kind of trouble.
Take the day my friend decided that she liked my idea of a doll house in the wall. I have one in my living room. It's built into my daughter's bedroom closet. It is a pretty nice size, with three floors and four rooms. Much like a brownstone. On the bottom is a very old-fashioned kitchen. In the middle is the living room, and on the top floor is the bathroom and bedroom. No stairs, they take up too much space. So my dolls have to be well-acquainted with scaling death-defying heights.
The only place that my friend could think to put her dollhouse was on her stairway. A month or so before the plan went into operation, she had purchased a small doll abode in a yard sale. Perfect. Just the right size. And hers has stairs. It's a doll house for the unadventurous.
Finding the exact spot proved to be a bit more difficult. Where on the stairway should it go? We decided that three steps up would be a good location. Just enough room for her granddaughters to play and not be in each other's way. And it appeared that we would miss cutting into the ceiling in the family room below and any major electrical wiring. Out came the circular saw.
My husband had made the mistake of buying me a small, rechargeable saw that could cut through anything. Especially stairway walls. Into the paneling it went. With barely any effort, I had cut a rectangle big enough to accept it's new occupant. With amazement we realized that the wall itself was only 1 1/2 inches thick. How is that possible? How is this wall holding up the floor of the bedroom upstairs? Maybe we shouldn't have cut this hole out. Yikes.
At 3:00 pm we had to go pick up our children from school. Knowing that her husband would be home at 3:30, we had to find something to camouflage this incredibly obvious absence of paneling. Lucy and I stuck a plant in front of it. Subtle.
We came home to eerie silence. The head peeking up from the back of the chair did not turn. In any direction. Gulp.
We carried on, whispering so as not to disturb the head. Inserting the doll house was easy. Trimming out the front, simple. On the family room side, we put up a shelf to hold the little house. The roof peak just misses the ceiling. Talk about luck!! Still, the head did not turn.
I packed up my saw and crept out the front door, leaving my friend to suffer whatever punishment the head decided to mete out.
The next day, with much hesitation, I called to check how things were.
"Fine!"
"Really?!"
"Yes! Well, he was a bit upset until I explained why I had done this, and how our granddaughters would look so sweet perched on the stair playing in the little house."
"You are very, very lucky."
Over the next few weeks it became a project for my friend and her husband. He wired the little house for electricity. He helped apply wallpaper, carpeting and tile. When the granddaughters saw it, they squealed with delight and began their first forays into interior decorating. Lucy and her husband were delighted.

Years later, it still draws the girls to it. Things are a bit shabbier from use. But that's how it should be. And Lucy and I still get into "trouble" together. It's just that getting out of it has become a bit trickier.
I think they are on to us!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Battle of the Bulge

I joined Weight Watchers a few weeks ago. Four, to be exact. So far, so good. I am losing weight. Which to me is somewhat of a miracle, because I had convinced myself that this body I have would be like it is forever. And ever, and ever. I tried to blame it on the fact that my thyroid is underactive, that I am in menopause, that I am genetically disposed. Yeah, right. The fact is, I like food. I like to cook and I like to eat. Food is comforting when you are blue, elevating you with just a "pop" into your mouth. My favorite comfort food? Frosted Flakes with icy cold evaporated milk. Do you see what I mean? Why can it not be broccoli? Or cauliflower? Or Brussel sprouts? No, I go for the really good, luscious, round, full-flavored foods. Which has made me a very round, full-flavored gal. Oh, joy. Oh, rapture.
I spent last week at my sister's place in Cincinnati. It's a lovely little apartment in the Eden Park area. Just beautiful. We moved her there from Newport, KY, just across the river. And while it was a "working" vacation, it was also a liberating time for me. No husband. No children. No one to care for but myself. And I did just that. I ate well. And properly. No sneaking in things, because there was nothing to sneak. Good idea. Keep all tempting things out of sight. It works wonders for your self-control. I walked and discovered little treasures nearby. The Conservatory, with it's incredible display of tropical plants and orchids. The quaint park with two small ponds, where all you could see were bobbing duck bottoms dotted all over the surface of the water. (They were eating well!) The Reflecting Pond, which is .3 miles around, in case you were wondering. The Presidential Grove, across from the Conservatory, which has honored each of our Presidents (up to the first President Bush) with the planting of a tree. Beautiful, large, strong trees, each one bearing the memory of a leader who has come and gone. It was a lovely place. Very quiet and serene. Much unlike the lives that those great men led.
Anyway, back to walking. It was exhilerating. It was exhausting. It was FUN!! I loved it. Feeling my legs moving across the pavement, arms swinging and sweat running down my back, I was in heaven. The breeze coming from across the river gave me a respite from the heat of the day. I could have walked forever. It did me a world of good, and then some.
The result? A small weight loss indicated by the scale at WW on Friday. Small. Very small. But, that's ok with me. Because what I learned from that short time at my sister's lightened me more than that scale had sensed. It gave me the desire to move- forward. With vim and vigor. (No one says that anymore, do they? They should.) With intensity and focus. All with a smile on my face and a spring in my step that I am taking more often now.
What is the difference with this weight loss journey this time? Joy. With where I am, with what I am doing and with where I am going. Because on my way to the park, I found myself. Welcome back.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Starting a blog

What it is that compels people to write about themselves for public view? Could anyone possibly want to read the meandering thoughts of someone they don't know and then feel connected to them in some way?
I have found that as I travel over this vast landscape of information, that I have developed a certain curiosity about what is happening in the lives of those I read about. A sort of innocent voyeurism that has caught me up in it's wake, carrying me along to places I never dreamed of going. How many times in a day do I travel across "the pond" to see what is happening in the Cotswolds, or Paris? Or journey through my homeland, catching up on the days events of people I may never know.
I have a long list of blogs tagged in my favorites on my computer. All of them have the same appeal to me- they are written by smart, savvy women who have truly found themselves. Not the "Oh, I have to go off and find myself because I've been so oppressed!" kind of women, but the learned-by-experience, pulled-themselves-up-by-their-bootstraps, reach-for-the-sky type of women. Nothing, it seems, can stop them. They have families and businesses and good times and bad. They have real lives. They laugh. They cry. They create. They are the kind of women I think I am.
I'm beginning to understand the need to write and to share. It's like gathering around a virtual quilt, conversation never-ending, needles rocking back and forth binding the fabric and the lives together.
So, welcome to my blog. Pull up a chair and stay a while. I hope that you will enjoy reading the bits and bobs of my life. I know I'll enjoy sharing them with you.