the last of a line
it was a wisp of a thought, really. it came as i stood there stripping leaves off the mint i’d just cut from the garden. i know–because someone once told me, and these are the bits that make up the compendium of all that we know, the vast storehouse of knowledge acquired through a lifetime of listening–that before dunking the stems in the water, i needed to pluck off the leaves at the bottom, or else, sooner than otherwise, the water there in the pitcher will be yuck, will be green verging toward goo, will stink like a not-so-nice pond.
and that very thought, the thought about stripping the leaves, leapt right to a thought that was not such a wisp, really.
it was the notion, the realizing, the gathering of so many wisps into one undeniable ball, that that bit of wisdom might well be lost, disappear, vanish when i do.
you see, i have no daughter. no girl standing right by my side, taking in all that i have maybe to teach her. just as i, over the years, have stood by my mother’s side. by her ironing board. by the place where she folded the clothes. by the edge of the mattress where she taught me the crisp edging and folding known in our house as the hospital corner.
i realized that, yes, i have boys to whom i can and i do teach many things. i teach them the bits that i know about feeding the birds, and catching the firefly. i teach them to look in the eye of each someone who asks for a dollar. i teach them to sit and to listen as long as it takes after dinner. i teach them to pray.
but there is a whole realm, a whole world that was passed from mother to daughter to daughter. and it’s not that i’m gender specific, or pre-disposed in some old-fashioned way.
it’s just that the fact of the matter is they, those two blessed boys, couldn’t care less.
one is trying to gather all the knowledge there is, from all the radical, not-so-conventional thinkers. the other is trying to master the punt.
neither one gives a hoot for the so many things that keep this house ticking, the invisible wad of things that i know, and things that i practice day after day.
for instance: the hospital fold; the rotation of foods in the fridge and the pantry, new to the back, old to the front; the sprinkling of water before ironing; the need to mop under the bed; the cleaning of hair from the hairbrush; the washing of blankets in spring; the keeping of napkins in rings.
and of course, old newspaper, not paper towel, when cleaning a mirror or a window.
these are things that i’d file, if i kept a big alphabetical drawer, under H for housekeeping. or maybe HE, for housekeeping esoterica.
not earth-shattering. not even essential. but not bad to know, and quite rather dear when you can hear in your head the instructor who taught you.
whole tomes, ones stuffed with so much they could break your big toe if they fell there, have been written of late–cheryl mendelson, martha stewart, to name only two–on the care and the tending of home.
perhaps it’s to fill in the holes and the tears in the sheets of a nation whose grownups were quite very busy and not so concerned with transferring knowledge on, say, how to get rid of popsicle when it melts in the rug, or know when the eggs have gone bad, or manage to walk out the door without looking as wrinkled as pants left in the dryer for, oh, close to a week.
it is, in the end, so much ephemera. it is here, and it’s gone. and no one will notice.
it’s not the loss, i suppose, of the knowledge, so much as it’s the end of a line. some of these bits, and some of these home-keeping legends, i’m sure, go back as many generations as there have been girls born to mothers.
in my house, i can trace it, i think, from a wood-sided house on brierhill road, to another, covered with ivy, on north cliff lane high in the hills of old cincinnati, and before that, still cincinnati, to a tall skinny brick place on ludlow.
before that, to a village somewhere in germany, i know nothing. but i’d not be surprised if somewhere, in the unspooling of my housekeeping day, there’s a trace of some hausfrau’s instruction in something i just always do. why? just because, it’s the way i was told that it’s done.
with me, though, it all ends. i’ve no niece. and no sister. and my one little girl, she didn’t make it out of my womb.
it’s the voices that swirl in my head, the ones who are whispering over my shoulder. that’s what will be gone.
there is so much that makes up the whole of our soul, and so many threads, some merely wisps, some fat silken cables, that weave through the self as it spins through a lifetime.
only we know how crowded the highway of thoughts that course through our days and our years and our one blessed crack at this game.
only we hear the chorus, the racket of so many instructors inside us.
and it’s just that as i stood there stripping those leaves i was struck by a thought that has nowhere to go. the last of a line. so many whispers silenced at last.
do you have odd bits of knowledge and wisdom and facts that dictate whole strings of your life? what are some of the things that you do, simply because some voice once told you? can you still hear the voice? or is much of your wisdom now marked, author unknown? i would be curious, because i always am, to hear your housekeeping esoterica. think of this: if we all say it here, it will never be lost. and if you’d like i can try to explain how to execute that hospital corner….