And I’ll Take it

nanny & terry in '51-tmarotta@comcast.net,LakeWhen I was this little kid and my mom was teaching me the Lord’s Prayer I found one part to be a little ‘off.’

“Give us this day our daily bread”  sounded to me far too bossy a thing to being saying to God. And so I would stop just after that part and add, “and we’ll take it.” I didn’t want God to feel that He was just blindly giving stuff into the void. I wanted him to know I would be there, all set to receive this food and chow down on it.

I was three when I had those thoughts, and on this, the day I turn 68, I find that with each passing year I more vividly remember the child I was then: in this autumn picture above; and in my little sunsuit playing in the grass one early June morning;

Nan & Terry in Hinsdale

I was simple back then. I remember being  simple. I also remember loving absolutely everyone, from my stuffed dog Pinky, to my mom and grandfather, from hero of a big sister to the aunts and the uncles and the cousins. I prayed for them all when I knelt down by the bed each night to say my “God blesses,” as my big sister and I called them.

Today, I see how much I changed as the years passed. For almost a decade, from the age of about 12 to the age of 21, I thought that knowing things was the big goal, because if you knew things you could maybe succeed in life, and also nobody could make you feel dumb at a party. I could habe gone down that road forever had I not found myself, September of my 22nd year, standing before a class of high school kids as their teacher.

The kids were so lively and comical – but inquisitive and serious too. Plus they had such wonderful questions: about God and sex; about an adult world that seemed to them founded entirely on principles of hypocrisy; about the key question of how much a person should or could do for others without spending down his or her own stores. (There’s a question I still struggle with!)

So yes, I changed a lot in those teaching years and then changed even more when my husband and I had a couple of children. My happiness was simply tied to theirs…

the calm before the boy child

…and that was even before that third child arrived. Before the pets arrived. Before our old folks began needing us more and more. And well, after a while, I came to see that life wasn’t about knowing a lot of stuff at all.

So here I am all these years later, just happy to be going for another spin around that old sun. This wonderful Jesse Winchester tune sung by Jimmy Buffet pretty much sums it up for me here.

Forget Perfection

ready for the living rm fun OCSAPeople judge you. There’s no avoiding it.

Example: Fella comes to my house one day, wants to clean a rug that lies on the floor of a room where a zillion dust motes dance in the golden bars of daylong sunlight. But the minute he walks in, his face goes pale. “What have you done here?” he shouts. “Your rugs are all faded!”

I look and he is right: The rug he has come to carry off for cleaning used to be red, tan and navy when we bought it. Now it’s rust, cream and baby blue. “This rug is losing RADIANCE!” he shouts again.

“Hey I’m losing radiance myself,” I say. “It’s OK, it doesn’t hurt.”

“Here’s what you have to do,” he goes on, ignoring me. “Pull down the shades. Draw the drapes.” He bustles around doing this until the room that has dazzled with sunlight a moment before looks ready now for a séance.

“But we love the sun,” I tell him,  feebly adding, “We sit in this window seat here, and…” “Then AT LEAST take a sheet and cover the area of greatest exposure!” he snaps. “You owe it to your carpets!” he adds, scooping up the carpet in question and hurrying out the door.

Since that day I have thought a lot about what this man said. I was sorry to have let him down, but I just can’t run a house his way, keeping the rugs bright by locking the sunlight out. Keeping things perfect under plastic. Pleasant under glass.

I used to visit houses like that when I was little, the kind that made you feel as though silken cords were stretched across the chair arms, and velvet ropes were hung across the doorways. I vowed even then that if I ever did have a house of my own, I would never run it that way.

And I don’t. We LIVE in our house. We live all over those 19th century sofas in the living room, which are only done in velvet because velvet is the toughest fabric there is – well, next to maybe Naugahyde. And I’m proud of that fact.

But now hasn’t the upholstery man just gotten after me too: He came here once for a Victorian sofa that I’d reupholstered myself a decade ago that ended up looking like a lumpy pink bed with a person sewn inside it. He took that old thing out and turned it into a pale blue dream of perfection.

Then this past month, a small visitor set her little bones upon a sofa even older than the Victorian one and blam! one leg — ball, claw and all — shot straight out from under it. The upholsterer was here to perform diagnostics on the break, but his gaze fell first upon the toddler who was clumping quietly around in his little white shoes.

“You let your CHILDREN in this room?” he squeaked, his voice ascending the scale of disbelief.

“Sure,” I answered, as the child in question smiled sweetly and drooled a little onto the velvet.

“On THIS couch!?” He squeaked. “MY couch?!”

“It’s going to lose radiance!” I could all but hear him say next.

He didn’t say that though. Instead he picked up this most recent casualty and started for the door. “Well it’s your house,” he sniffed, washing his hands of us all.

“You bet!” I told him, smiling big. Because really, it’s fine by me if our stuff is too worn out to pass down to our kids one day. What I’d much rather pass down to them is permission to enjoy the beauty of their surroundings; permission to fade, as we all must fade, gloriously, in the sun.

me working

 

 

Once as Alive as You or I

DCIM100GOPROOn the tour of a Norman castle I took last spring, I heard all about the moat and the boiling oil, the outer wall and the inner wall and the poor souls who got tossed over the latter, to fall screaming to their deaths below.

I listened as hard as I could, trying not to be distracted by the vista surrounding us.I found it that fascinating.

at-the-castle

But for all my listening I heard very little of what the daily life in that castle was like, which is what I most yearned to know about. I had to come back home and dig out my copy of T.H White’s The Once and Future King for that; because I had bought a paperback copy of this great tale of the Arthur Legend back when I was young and sure enough, there the tattered volume still stood, on the shelf where I had placed it. I flipped through the pages and there  was the passage I had remembered, outlined and waiting for me all these years later.

In it White describes the great walls surrounding a castle of this same era in England. Then he goes on on to say how things looked from the inside in those far-distant days, and what a spell he does cast with these words:

“So much for the outer defenses. Once you were inside the curtainwall, you find yourself in a kind of wide alleyway, probably full of frightened sheep, with another complete castle in front of you. This was the inner shell ‘keep’ with its eight  enormous round towers which still stand. It is lovely to climb the highest of them and to linger there looking toward the marshes from which all these old dangers came, with nothing but the sun above you and the little tourists trotting about below, quite regardless of boiling oil. 

“Think of how many centuries that unconquerable tower has withstood. It has changed hands by secession often, by siege once, by treachery twice, but never by assault . On this tower the lookout moved. From there, he kept the guard over the blue woods toward Wales. His clean old bones live beneath the floor of the chapel now, so you must keep it for him.

“If you look down and are not frightened of heights (the Society for the Preservation of This and That have put up some excellent railing to preserve you from tumbling over), you can see the whole anatomy of the inner court laid out beneath you like a map. You can see the chapel, now quite open to its God, and the windows of the Great Hall with the solar over it. You can see the shafts of the huge chimneys and how cunningly the little side flues were contrived to enter them, and the little private closets now public, and the enormous  kitchen. If you are a sensible person, you will spend days there, possibly weeks, working out for yourself by detection which were the stables, which the mews,  which were the cow byres, the armory, the lofts, the well, the smithy, the kennel, the soldiers’ quarters, the priest room, and my Lord and Lady’s chamber. Then it will all grow about you again. The little people – they were much smaller than we are and it would be a job for most of us to get inside the few bits of their armor and  gloves that remain – will hurry about in the sunshine, the sheep will baa as they always did, and perhaps from Wales there will come the ffff-putt of the triple-feathered arrow, which looks as if it had never moved.”

I have worked as a professional writer for over 35 years, penning essays and columns and autobiographical pieces and I just know that I would need another 35 years of study to even come close to the verbal artistry of this lonely and complicated man, who took a time 1400 years in the past and brought it to shining life.