It’s very quiet in my house. After a flurry of guests and companions sharing the space, it’s just me now, and in a very short span of solo time, I have managed to cover every available surface with my stuff. It would be embarrassing, but no one is here to see it, so I’m spreading without shame. The ironing board is set up in the kitchen and I skirt around it. The table is covered with notes for my TED talk and applications for new passport and visas. The study is also covered with notes for my TED talk, as is the table in the greenhouse. I’ve got notes enough to give a three hour lecture and have to condense it into nine minutes. Yikes. I’ve got partially finished quilts spread out in the guest rooms and bits and pieces of other sewing projects in the sewing room. I’m all over the place.
I spent a couple of hours last evening listening to Prairie Home Companion, sipping Prosecco, and ironing napkins and tablecloths. It was bliss. The linens were given to me by a patient’s husband back when I was a hospice nurse. I’d visited him a couple of weeks after she died and he gave me the entire contents of her hope chest: beautiful linen tablecloths and matching napkins, many still in their original gift boxes, ladies gloves, some long, some short, some with little embroidered rosebuds at the wrist, and dozens of linen handkerchiefs. He didn’t know what to do with it all, he told me. They had no children, and he hoped I could use some of it. I adore textiles and fabrics. I’ve always envied those who inherit family heirlooms; we had none in our family. I was thrilled and honored. I used the handkerchiefs to make quilts and collars for my daughter’s dresses. I cherish the linens and use them every holiday. I take great pleasure in washing and ironing them. I think about my patient’s gentle spirit and am grateful. I like to think I was part of her family. I love setting the table. I love using the good china, saying grace, sharing a meal that took time to prepare. I love having everyone seated together. I like ironing. It’s meditative. It puts things in order. When I feel frantic and indecisive, I find it soothing to get the crinkles out of something. Eventually, my mind follows suit.
The ironing board was always set up in our kitchen growing up. It had a permanent spot in front of the kitchen windows, which, as I think about it, was prime real estate. It had a can of spray starch permanently situated at the end, next to the iron. (I remember throwing that can at my brother once when my parents weren’t home. It was heavier than I expected, probably a new can, and I think I paid dearly for that action. We probably ended up watching Combat instead of The Adams Family. I vaguely remember choosing not to throw the iron, which, in my mind was exhibiting great restraint.) Anyway, the only time the board came down was when company came. Otherwise, it stood there ready to starch and iron my father’s shirts after they’d been sprinkled with water, rolled into logs, and kept in the refrigerator until my mother had time to get to them. I think all our clothes were ironed in those days.
I cleaned the oven yesterday as well. It’s amazing how much housework I do when I am procrastinating. The TED notes are glaring at me, and suddenly, for the first time in four years, I decide the oven can wait no longer. Well, okay, it really was disgusting and I do have to get the house ready to rent for a year. And, I rationalize, I can think while cleaning. So instead of thinking about the TED talk, I started thinking about how my mother would clean our oven on a regular basis, which is to say, at least once a month. It has literally been four years since I cleaned this oven, and I use it a lot. I remember her friends coming over for a glass of wine and hearing them talk about cleaning their ovens! That’s what they would talk about! There was some new foam oven cleaner on the market and someone raved about it, and yes, they tried it, and wouldn’t you know, it worked beautifully! Didn’t have to do a thing except wipe it out! I remember listening to this thinking, I wish my mother made great discoveries like that. I wish her life got a little easier with some new foam. She always seemed to be slaving away and it was a big day when she realized she could take the oven door off so she didn’t have to reach so far in to clean the back. Why didn’t she rave about that to her friends? That actually was a big discovery. I wish she’d flaunted it more. I hoped everyone thought she was really smart for figuring that out. Yesterday, I could not figure out how to take the oven door off and thought about finding the owners manual but knew that would take the rest of the day, if it even existed. So I wrenched my back getting in there, and I just want to say, it was an athletic event. No wonder women didn’t have to go out and exercise back then.
I’m asking myself why I am so consumed with simple tasks these days? I feel a fair amount of anxiety about this talk, not actually doing the talk, but taking the stand. It’s going to stir some controversy. I’m bracing for an attack. I’m finding myself not wanting to hear anyone’s political views. It seems like I’m putting my hands over my ears and yelling “WAAAAA WAAAA WAAA”. I’m happy boiling down maple sap, watching seedlings emerge, and listening to the peepers. I want to curl up inside a quiet peaceful world and read for pleasure. I’ve got a small window before the next adventure and I want to be still and absorb pleasure in simple things.
I haven’t gotten my country assignment yet, but will be somewhere in Africa teaching midwifery students for a year. I am excited about the opportunity; it’s a program I believe deeply in. I’m gearing up while turning in at the same time. It’s always when I’m about to leave a place that I see all it’s beauty and value at it’s most vibrant. Ironing will be more important next year. All clothing must be ironed to kill the mango flies that lay eggs in the damp cloth. The warmth of the skin makes the eggs hatch and the larvae burrow into your skin and emerge as little maggots to then mature and fly away. Yup. Pretty disgusting. But a simple ironing will kill the eggs and voila! The potential host can relax maggot-free. Can’t wait.
Till then, I’ll put away my pink linen napkins and find beauty in the mud season. I’ll try to stay focused on what work needs doing and how I can be most productive and helpful. I’ll put my scraps of paper into something coherent, finish up the raffle quilts, send off the applications, and tune out the screaming voices in our country that frighten me. I listened to Jesus Christ Superstar this week for the first time in a long time. The mob sounded scarily familiar.
It seems like a good time to retreat for a bit.