On Houseguests and the Laundry

Carrie packing it up to go homeFor most of the last decade I moonlighted as a massage therapist, and this story begins in those years.

It begins on the day a tall big-boned woman of 75 appeared in my office for her first appointment. After completing the intake form together, she and I entered the massage room itself where she took one look at my thickly linened table and without preamble turned to me. 
“So you’re Irish,” she said.  “How did you know?”I said back, startled.

“Hey just look in the mirror” she shrugged, and then nodded toward the table. “And I see you do a WHOLE lot of laundry!”
“I sure do!” I sigh, thinking of the Santa-sack of sheets and face-cradle covers I toted from office to home and back every day.

“Well,” she went on matter of factly, “it’s lucky we Irish are good at washing because we sure ain’t much in the kitchen!”

I laughed out loud then. And I’ll admit that for all its ethnic stereotyping, her remark about laundry has made me smile many a time since that day.

In fact I am thinking of it now. Why? Because for the last two weeks we have had five extra people in this house, three young children and their two parents.

They are family so I love them already, but the truth is I love it anytime guests come to this house and sleep over. I just find the arrangement so …cozy.

I mean sure it was a little more work having five  ‘boarders’ for a fortnight. And yes the children brought with them everything but their very beds; from favorite books to their stuffed animals to the small electronic devices all school-age kids seem to have these days.

But in general they were among the most low-impact guess we have ever had. They prepared the food. They cleared the table. They loaded the dishwasher. They emptied the dishwasher.

And when they climbed the stairs for bed each night, they did so taking every last sneaker, bookbag and babydoll with them, leaving our first floor as tidy as the rooms in a funeral home.

They left this morning, – that’s a picture of my girl Carrie above starting to make their move – which is why I find myself now once again doing laundry.

I have gathered the linens from four beds and a crib; I have dragged downstairs the tall damp mountain of towels left in their wake, and all these I have submitted to the slow churn and gurgle of the washing machine; to the busy spin of the drier.

And now, in remaking the beds, I am finding traces of this family’s stay. Here, for example: here is a tiny sock. And over here: here is a small stuffed bunny.

I’m also learning things as this task progresses. I’m learning that one child appears to have slept all these nights with a giant box of tissues right in under the covers with him. I’m learning that his mother has curled up all these nights attended by a travel pillow in a hand-stitched pillowcase case from the 1890s.

Chiefly I am relearning things I already knew. I’m learning again that I rather enjoy sending a fresh clean sheet aloft with a billow and a snap, whether it is to settle finally on a message table or a bed;

And I am learning again that I do so love the feeling of having lots of people here in the dark midnights, all breathing safe and quiet under the same roof. It’s what I imagine God must feel too, gazing down, from that Heavenly realm, on all our little heads.

callie in her bed-within-acribour littlest houseguest, 

Bag it, Baby

bagsHere’s a funny email that just zipped quicker than the Road Runner into my inbox

“Dear friend” it reads.

(I have a friend, that’s so great! I love having friends!)

“Glad to hear you’re in the market for column bags.”  

Wait I’m in the market for column bags? I am?

Well it’s true always in the market for something. Yesterday I went online to buy two nice fat wooden knobs for the ends of a pair of curtain rods I don’t even own.

And I guess maybe I can see why I’d get this email, since columns have been part of my daily life for some damn long time now – meaning I do actually write columns, every single week and have been doing that since the year Jimmy Carter found himself freshly ushered off the stage. These columns appear in papers all over the country . But gosh I didn’t know you could store them in BAGS.

Yet here’s this company saying specifically “we specialize in column bags with good quality and competitive price” – AND they’re “willing to establish business relationship with” me! Not ‘a’ ie, a single business relationship, mind, you, but ‘business relationship’. It sounds so sort of …eternal. Anyone with abandonment issues like I have has gotta love that! 

Plus I’m excited because all this time I’ve been trying to store all 10,000 of these columns in dreary old file cabinets and I get all these paper cuts and there’s all this bending over to get at them.

Bags though? You can hang a bag. Bags are always better, especially when they’re nice and new like mine would be. James Brown knew all about this didn’t he though? I do love me some James Brown. Saw him perform once in a little club in Revere Beach. 😉

Lets’ Have Another YARD SALE

I had a pile marked Scary Bathing Suits, featuring some of the steel-girded ”full figured” numbers I wore in my Just-Had-Another-Baby stage.I had a richly comic pile consisting of half a dozen hilarious bras and a pair of fanny-padded underpants.

yard sale

I should really hold another yard sale. It’s been a good 20 years since the last one and the old place is brimming again with so many items that SEEMED like wise purchases at the time but, really, were they ever? 

And I have to ask myself: how many scalp-singeing curling irons can one person own? Especially when that person already has curly hair and it turns out what she really needed was a scalp-singeing FLAT iron?

And maybe while I’m at it I could get some tips about how to properly use these cattle-proddish tools, the true big guns of the styling realm. The last time I asked at the salon why my hair sometimes smells burned, all three stylists hooted with laughter.“If it smells burned it’s because you’re burning it! Adjust the setting!“ one cried amid all the merriment.

“Wait, there are settings on these things?” was all I could think. It’s like when the repairman comes to fix your washing machine and lifts out some little doodad you never noticed was even in there. “Of course you’re taking this out and cleaning it every time, right?” he says and you nod gravely, wondering all the while how you could have failed to understand more about an appliance you have owned since Back to the Future was the movie of the year.

But to get back to the topic of useless items, why do I have a so-called “air popper” that never did anything but burp forth a listless 20 or 30 scorched corn kernels from its snout before emitting a sharp metallic smell and quitting altogether? Out with the air popper!

Where did I even get these crazy items, or were they gifts? It’s true that some who have come here as extended guests have left behind things, like the thousand-pound set of free weights up in the attic. Sigh.

I remember clearly that yard sale we had back in the 90s. It’s when I finally got rid of all those silky jogging suits done up in swishy pastel fabrics. I remember how it took me weeks to get ready, labeling things as I sorted.

I had a pile marked ‘Scary Bathing Suits’, featuring some of the steel-girded ”full figured” numbers I wore in my Just-Had-Another-Baby stage. I had a richly comic pile consisting of half a dozen hilarious bras and a pair of fanny-padded underpants.

Then I had a pile with dolls of the kind that you buy for your kids in desperate moments, when you’re just leaving for vacation, say. As I cleared a spot for them I gave them nice new names, like ‘Jury Duty Barbie’ and ‘Vasectomy Ken’. And then, God help me, there were all those Nerf toys and Super Soakers with enough power to stun a mastodon.

These last I seem to have somehow re-acquired and I guess that’s okay; younger visitors are thrilled to come upon them.

That thousand-pound weight set though? Even as I write, that thousand-pound weight set is still here, slowly working its way through the splintery attic floorboards, ready to crash through the bedroom ceiling onto our unsuspecting heads. 

I live with the danger. In my mind it makes a nice metaphor for life.

Is This the SAME PLACE?


The view from my study window
The view from my study window

Right now the air is so damp and sodden!

I feel like I need gills instead of lungs to keep on living.

And the vegetation outside is just drenched with chlorophyll..


Even the inchworms are green, to say nothing of the mold growing on that one clementine that got stuck at the bottom of the fruit bowl.

It looks like a fuzzy green bowling ball for Dopey and Sneezy and pals now.

But seriously..

Can this really BE the same block?

The same state?

Nay, the same hemisphere, that used to look like THIS?


Can this be the same hemisphere where, when  the sun began to set and the icicle below halted whatever dripping it had been doing OUTSIDE the house and instead got busy dripping secretly INSIDE, painting so many of our walls and windows a rich caramel brown?

sunset Feb 10, 2014

I mean can this above picture really be  taken from the same exact spot in my house as THIS?

the ivy from the bathroom window

It can be and it is…. and all I can say right now is Mama Nature she does like to keep us hoppin’!

“The Nuns” (and Report Cards in General)

Ages 9 and7 in the years we had the nuns
Ages 9 and7 in the years we had the nuns

After making up all those snow days, we finally came to the school year’s end around here  last week and the final quarter ended fully and for good.

Back when I was a child, the end of any marking period was a tough time, both for my big sister Nan and for me, and why? Because we had “The Nuns” and The Nuns could be very exacting. 

Ours were anyway, and they sure didn’t sugarcoat things on the report cards. 

For example, in the ‘character development’ categories at the bottom of the card, there was a box labeled “Accepts Correction,” in which I received a steady stream of NI’s, for “Needs Improvement.” 

There was another labeled “Use of God-Given Abilities” where Nan racked up her own share of NI’s. Nan was always as smart as a whip and it must have galled her teacher-nuns to see her doodling dreamily in the margins of her worksheets, up in that top right-hand corner where we were supposed to write ‘JMJ,” for Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

I am so happy to see that nowadays young schoolchildren’s report cards seem so humane. Take this one, sent home with my little grandson David in the very first year of his own formal schooling. It has these wonderful categories, like “can describe the effect of wind on people and the environment” – love it! – and “can define balance and demonstrate how it is achieved.” 

And the behavioral evaluations seem so encouraging. For example his teacher writes “David takes pride in his work and follows our routines with ease.” Excellent! Also , “We see a thoughtful and compassionate side of David when he helps his classmates and teachers. He shows genuine concern for the well-being of others.” Great!

And then there’s this part that COULD be interpreted as the bad news, but somehow doesn’t SEEM all that bad, the kindly way this teacher puts it:  

“We also see a side of David that is physical. He can be full of energy and antics. He loves to play tricks and he can be pretty sly. When reminded about our rules, he works hard to maintain self-control,” she goes on.

“This is not easy for him.”

“Growth is noted.”

I find that wording just so wonderfully… careful. Does “can be pretty sly” mean he is snacking on stolen fingerfuls of paste during Art Class? Does “works hard to maintain self-control” suggest that sometimes he loses it?

I love best that she writes that “growth is noted,” for don’t we all struggle to grow thus, ascending from our many lower selves to a higher self, whether we’re six or 96?

At close of this first day of sure-enough summer, on this brink of the fair season’s biggest long weekend I say God bless all teachers for believing that this growth is possible. And God bless too the young woman I knew as Sister Catherine Alice, who once told us wide-eyed Second Graders about how, of a snowy winter evening on the hilly convent campus, she and her fellow nuns would sometimes bind up their skirts and veils and go sledding.

Notre Dame Academy Roxbury MA
Notre Dame Academy Roxbury MA