Country Journal/November 18, 2015

George mislaid his one and only pair of reading glasses and I mislaid my car key weeks ago; both are still missing. Our mantra is, “It’s here somewhere and eventually it will surface.” In the meantime I press on regardless with a very ambitious weeding, housecleaning, re-ordering, and organizing of my house. It’s an awful job, beyond boring, but it must be done. It won’t be done unless I do it. Everything else, including writing, is on hold. I can do daily journal entries so I am beginning a series of those. Whether anyone in the world is interested in reading them is another matter altogether.

But I did promise one friend that I would stick with it and get the house in order and the surplus removed. I promised another friend that I would relate the story of the glass-sided china cabinet key.

We’ve now been in Arkansas eight years and I think, maybe, this coming year will finally see everything unpacked and set into place. Never again will I work on painting and fixing up a house while living in it. Nightmare.

All right, then, to my story: The china cabinet is a Victorian piece from my paternal grandmother’s household. I have only three pieces of furniture that were hers. This is one of them. It rests on ball and claw feet. The sides and the front are glass. The door bows outward with a curved glass insert. It opens and closes with a small key. China cabinet is still in the warehouse in town. Before it can be moved here and set into its proper place I must do a lot of cleaning up in the living room. For one thing there must be a clear path for the movers to get this very fragile piece of furniture off the truck, into the house, and into place on the east wall of the room. I’ve quite a bit of make ready to do before this can happen.

In the meantime, in other rooms of the house I am, in addition to cleaning and getting rid of stuff that should have been thrown away years ago, making some minor changes. I decided to replace some curtain tiebacks. That sent me to the internet to see what was available and at what price. Do I want to buy something or make it myself? I investigated and discovered that there were some very handsome vintage tiebacks out there–for a price. And, if they are described as “vintage French passementerie” the price goes through the roof. Even “rustic” and “handmade” pieces were more than I wanted to spend. With twisted cords, tassels, and embellishments floating through my mind I went to bed night before last. So help me, I dreamed about curtain tiebacks. Towards morning I came wide awake and thought, “Where the heck is the key to the china cabinet?” The reason for this odd mental association is that for years, before one of the cats destroyed it, that particular small key had been decorated with a fancy tassel I had picked up somewhere for next to nothing. That fussy little pink and green tassel popped into my head because I had tassels on the brain and that led me naturally to think of that darned key.

That led to another memory–my mother’s distress when she lost the key to the Seth Thomas clock, whose striking chime marked all the hours of my childhood. “It’s a hundred years old.” she said. “Why did I have to be the person who lost the key?” We never did find that key, but eventually an old watchmaker with a huge inventory managed to come up with a replacement key that did work. The old clock needs major repairs to both the case and the works, but the key is in the clock case because I never put it anywhere else. We had the devil’s own time finding a replacement key in St. Louis in the 1950s. It would be a forlorn hope in Arkansas in 2015. Right now the Seth Thomas is gathering dust in one corner of the living room behind something else so the cats can’t knock it over.

George showed up. I related my worry concerning the key. Now I’ve been keeping house a long time and I’ve been through innumerable moves. I have learned a few things about packing and organizing so that small items don’t vanish. Also I have established some regular routines. “If I was using my head when we left Texas, which is open to doubt, I would have done the sensible thing and stacked all the shelves at the bottom of the cabinet and then left the key in the lock.” I said. “But I haven’t given the matter a thought in years and heaven only knows what I did eight years ago.”

George had to go to town because he needed something from the hardware store. He went by the warehouse, uncovered the china cabinet, which is swathed in old army blankets for protection. Sure enough, the key was in the lock. He brought me the key.

“Now,” he said, “where are we going to put it so it absolutely positively does not disappear?” Personally I wish he’d left it exactly where it was, but George is George and he did not. I found a tag and string and wrote “China Cabinet” and attached the tag to the key. Then, with both of us as witnesses, as we both have short term memory loss, I carefully placed it in a cubbyhole in the top left hand drawer of the maple desk in the home office. The desk formerly belonged to George’s mother and is typical mock colonial from the 1950s.

Gee, isn’t growing older and losing one’s mind a lot of fun?

What else? There are always a ton of nuisance value jobs to be done. I finished knitting the drawstring pouch George had requested as storage for his aviation safety wire pliers. I cut out a pair of curtain tiebacks using a remnant of silk, having decided to make my own. George installed a new perch for Paco (macaw) and a transverse perch and a new heater for Baby (macaw) and did the usual animal care. It usually takes Paco about 48 hours to chew up a two inch diameter hardwood perch and what I would do without George to constantly manufacture new ones I do not know. I restrung some beads (damage caused by mice–they ate the string). I picked up stuff and put it away. I answered a mess of e-mail questions from my first cousins who suddenly decided they could not live another day unless I supplied them with a ton of biographical information about our mutual grandmother. I wrote other e-mails. Thermometer in my room was too high to be easily read; I lowered it to a more convenient height. I boxed one Christmas present (for daughter Kit) and sent it on its way. Let her find a place to keep it between now and Christmas morning; her house is bigger than mine. A set of very cheap replacement curtains for the home office were delivered. I hung them, putting the old ones into a plastic bag to go to the cleaners or to the thrift store, whichever I decide. I did laundry. I folded towels. I figured out what to give to two family members for Christmas. George made a run to the liquor store–we live in a dry county–to place an order for the wine that will be wanted at our December family reunion.

In addition to losing my mind I am also losing my hair. If this keeps up I will be bald in a couple of years.

Now I had better go and cover the macaws. George cannot do it because the cages are tall and he has bad shoulders.

7:00 p.m. George is taking his shower. I would like very much to sit down with a glass of wine and a copy of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. That is not going to happen because before I go to bed I have three rooms to clean. Bathroom and kitchen can’t be done until George is finished and out of here. I say “out of here” because right now he is sleeping at the Cherry Hill cabin. Then there is my bedroom. First Baby shredded the newspaper on the floor of her cage into tiny confetti. Next she sat on top of her cage door and fanned her wings. The room is too fall for a big macaw to fly and she’s got to get her exercise somehow. That sent the remaining newspaper and the confetti all over the furniture and the floor. So after she is covered for the night I clean up the room.

Also must remind George that I need two clean cat boxes. One for the hall and one for Sally Bob (the Munchkin cat) in my room.

8:00 p.m. I am starting the second shift. Refrigerator is acting up. That means defrost the drain tubes leading down from the freezer. George can do, but he needs room to put the contents of freezer and room to work. That means put up dishes, wash dishes, put stuff away, get it clean and swept so he can have room to work tomorrow. After that, the bathroom and my room.

10:00 p.m. I have done everything except for the floors. I am beat and I am going to bed. I’ll do floors in the morning. I did find George’s glasses, exactly where he left them, in the kitchen, on the dresser behind Lady Jasper’s cage (Quaker parrot). I wrote this in Word and I will print out and copy onto my website. I keep backup hardcopy of everything. I’m a Luddite. Right now I’m a very tired Luddite.

A Day in the Life of a Writer Who Is Not Writing

IMGP4191September 6, 2015

I was awake at first light. I made a cup of tea. I did a batch of hand washing and hung it on the line. My washing machine has a cycle for delicates but my washing machine is not working at the moment. I got on the internet and checked the weather forecast with NOAA. I checked incoming e-mails. I told Sally Bob (cat) and Baby (scarlet macaw) that I would be with them shortly. I fed Gray Lady (outside cat). I told Polly and Paco (blue and gold macaws) to just keep their feathers on and someone would attend to them soon. I put up clean dishes and stacked dirty ones for washing.

I made a cup of Coffee for George and then went and shook him awake. He was not happy and I don’t blame him, but the fresh coffee helped. We had a brief caucus about plans for the day. I said there were two hens who were being badly pecked and must be separated from the flock. Where to house them? We figured that out. George was grumpy because every segregated bird means another cage to clean and another food and water bowl to manage. George asked if I had called the washing machine repair man yesterday. I said no, but would start calling daily on Monday. We’ve been trying to get him out here for two weeks. I said I thought I had better set up to do all the laundry by hand outside as there is not enough in this month’s budget for trips to the laundromat. George said, use the washing machine; it works except for the timer. I was doubtful but said I would give it a try. I loaded it and started it. George said he would mind it and advance it manually through its cycles. He then completely forgot about it.

We went out to inspect the work in progress on the back wall of the old chicken house where we are re-building and repairing. We discussed what to do. George said he could not finish without additional corrugated metal. I said we have some. He was not convinced of that so I walked him over to the big barn and showed him. He said that he thought he had enough materials on hand to finish the back wall. We discussed priorities. We decided that he should first carry all the household trash to the drop off point and next get gasoline for the car and for all the various gas cans that constitute fuel for the riding lawnmower and reserve gas for the car. He began loading the car.

I discovered the washing machine stuck on wash and leaking water from the bottom of the machine. I told George. He said that he would move the dryer so that he could inspect the washer. He did that. Dryer is still outside the back door (covered with a tarp in case of possible rain) and it is now 1:28 of the following day. It will stay there a few days as I hate to ask George to move anything unnecessarily; it causes him a lot of pain. George checked all visible washing machine connections and said they are tight. I said we can’t use the machine until it is repaired as I have just painted that floor and don’t want the paint peeling because of moisture.

George did the trash run and gas run and then asked again about priorities. I said stay with the back wall of the chicken house until it is finished. He did the morning animal chores and then started on the chicken house. I went into the house, collapsed, and slept for an hour. I got up, made myself tea and started on kitchen clean up. I can’t let it go; we are afflicted by both ants and mice. I watered all the house plants. That is a big job. They were bone dry. I watered some outside plants. I constantly checked on the drying clothes on the line and got them in as they dried and piled them all on top of my still unmade bed. Over the course of the afternoon I got them all folded and put away. I wrote e-mails. I ordered bird food from the internet. I can’t buy the kind I feed locally. I checked bank balances, credit card balances, and started the work of planning a short trip I will make in October.

George came in, hot and tired and hurting. He has artificial shoulders plus he is 84. He had been knocking bad wood off the back of the chicken house with a sledgehammer. He rested. He promised to water the outside newly planted trees this evening. That won’t happen. He has too much to do and he will be exhausted.

I took a shower, washed my hair, gave myself a very quick manicure and pedicure, very superficial. George brought in the mail and discovered that we have a car safety recall to refit the car with new airbags. That must be done immediately. George tried calling the dealership. No luck. He said he would go to Hot Springs on Monday (fifty miles) and make an appointment for the work on the car and also pick up the dry cleaning. I said I needed the car on Tuesday to go to Mena to deal with my medical records and my insurance problem and that is also something that must be done and cannot be postponed.

I checked on the chickens. They were overheated so I turned on their overhead shower which is an irrigation hose on the chicken wire roof of their outside pen that provides a drizzle in hot weather. They flocked to it. They like the fresh water and the wet ground.

I picked up a piece of unfinished knitting, corrected a mistake, and got the work re-started correctly.

Sometime during the day I ate two plain slices of bread, fixed myself two scrambled eggs, and drank one glass of wine.

I sent more e-mails pertaining to the October trip. I heard from the woman with whom I will be staying saying evrything is cool and come whenever ready.

I got Baby out of her cage and put her on the back of my home office chair, fed her a peanut, and talked to her while trying to figure out why a password that has always worked on a particular website is not working now. No live person is available for help–please go to our forums. I sent a message to said forum.

I thought about re-writing a speech in Chapter Two, writing the Prologue, and about what will happen in Chapter Three, but was too tired to do anything about it.

George spent the evening doing animal work. He fed the cats, cleaned the bird room, sort of, and arranged all chickens for the night. With the back wall off of the chicken house they must be crated and brought inside each night.

I composed a dramatic monologue in my head that should, let us hope, shame the washing machine repair guy into getting himself out here and fixing my machine. Over a lifetime I have had plenty of experience as a motivational speaker getting two kids and two husbands off of their butts and doing whatever they needed to be doing.

I picked up the bathroom and got all damp towels out on the line to dry.

By 10:30 I felt very tired and sleepy. I went to bed. I dozed very lightly until about midnight and then woke up and could not go back to sleep so I got up. I started transcribing a previously written short story onto my website and then I wrote this.

It’s probably a forlorn hope but I will now go and try to sleep.

The Tale of My Chandelier

DSC_0571

February 20, 2015

First the backstory: In 2005 I spent three months traveling and camping out in the northwest. I visited a number of national parks and a number of places associated with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I had no RV; I slept in a tent. I was by myself and I had a grand time. But it was in Grand Teton that I met a young woman who had a very large impact on my life even though I only exchanged a a few words with her. On the edge of that park a family has a horseback riding concession that they have operated during the summer months for years. I wanted to ride and, after going down a few wrong trails, I found the place. They had no other customers but they greeted me and I explained what I wanted. The first person who spoke to me to inquire what I needed was a girl in her late teens. I wanted to ride, I said. Yes, I knew how to ride. I had experience owning horses. I was not a beginner. What she said next was, “Oh, you remind me of my grandmother. I lost her a year ago. I miss her so very much.” It was simple and it was commonplace but I was struck by the openness and intimacy with which she spoke to a complete stranger. I had lived in large cities all my life and that was not something one would often encounter in a chance meeting in an urban setting. Years later I realized how very frequent such a response is among country people who grow up in communities where everyone knows everyone, either personally or at least by sight, and where it is still quite safe to treat everyone as a potential friend. “My brother can take you out for an hour, if you like.” she said. Brother was delighted. He would much rather go for a ride than help other family members vet mules which was his assigned task that day; he did not much like mules. It was not a quiet ride as he was one of the most garrulous people I have ever met. I heard his life story and answered innumerable questions as to where I was from, what I was doing traveling alone, my family, and on and on.  Beautiful trail, gorgeous scenery, slow pace on one of the most placid horses I have ever bestrode, but that was okay. There was not much room for a gallop anyway on a steep and winding trail through the lower wooded slopes of the Tetons.

Fast forward a few years: George retired and we moved to the Ouachita Mountains in southern Arkansas. We bought a tumble down house on two acres in Montgomery County. At one point I wandered into a business in Mena that did repairs and remodeling simply to inquire as to prices and the availability of help. The woman in the office, who was, together with her husband, the owner of the business, offered coffee and coffeecake, and visited with me in a friendly manner. As it transpired their services were beyond my budget, but she clearly wanted to be helpful and offered the names and phone numbers of several local carpenters and handymen who might be able to serve me. In country communities one still meets with a strong tradition of helping one’s neighbor and this lady was obviously distressed that she could not do more on my behalf. Suddenly she asked, “Do you need a light fixture?” Now how on earth does one answer that one? The phrase “light fixture” covers a very broad territory and what one person thinks beautiful and another thinks hideous is nowhere more apparent than in the area of lighting. In addition there is the problem of what will fit the style of the interior and the space. However, as she so very much wanted to be useful, and I thought that if the offered piece didn’t suit I could always pass it on to someone who could use it, I said, politely, “Why, yes, that would be lovely.” She disappeared into a back room and presently re-emerged pushing a very large cardboard box along the floor, labeled “Schonbek.” Now those in the know will recognize that name. They make, and have for years, a very expensive line of light fixtures, chiefly chandeliers, most of them hung with cut glass. A bit startled I said, “Surely you aren’t offering me a Shonbek.” She beamed at me and said, “Oh, I knew you were the very person for this; you know the name and what it is.” She opened the top of the box and I was staggered to see a huge, solid brass, traditional chandelier, with a dozen lights. It was also brand new and would have carried a hefty price tag in any lighting showroom.Later I measured it. It is 23 inches wide and has a total drop of 33 inches. That’s huge and ridiculously oversized for any room in my house. Nonetheless I accepted happily and graciously. Together we wrestled the unwieldy and heavy box out to my car and got it loaded.

I couldn’t bear to give it away, firstly, because it is beautiful and, secondly, because it was such an incredible gesture from someone I only met once. Obviously it was not designed for a small country cottage with eight foot ceilings. I hung it over the table in the dining room, which is a misleading description of the small semi-enclosed area off my kitchen where we eat, simply to put it in a place where there would be no likelihood of anyone running into it. Bang your head on that thing and you will be laid out cold on the floor. It’s super heavy and we had the devil’s own time hanging it. George worked for hours reinforcing the supporting ceiling structure to take the weight and getting it up involved both of us, two ladders, and some strong language. It’s completely out of place in my tiny rustic house but it certainly is very elegant. It is partnered in elegance in the dining room by my mother’s gold framed mirror, also large, formal, and out of place in a farmhouse. She bought the frame for a song in NYC during WWII and I can’t remember a time it did not hang wherever we lived. Frame is in the Victorian High Renaissance style and when my Fort Worth framer repaired it he commented, “Looks like it should be holding an Alma Tadema, not a mirror.” Over the past seventy years the mirror has acquired some marvellous vertical streaking as the silvered backing has aged and begun to deteriorate adding to the entire decayed chateau ambiance. Present owner is likewise falling apart but we won’t go there.