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, 

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The Give and the Get

It’s not hard to love the people who live in your house. They’re right there in your house, so you really SEE them,  almost from inside their very own eyes!

I mean here’s this one’s toothbrush, and comb, for example and the towel he uses each day for his shower, tokens of the daily care-of-the-body tasks we all must perform each day.

Here’s the book that one reads when sleep eludes him. He has left it on the porch, thinking maybe to pack it on his bike and take it to work to read at the lunch hour.

And here, under the bureau: here is a balled-up sock where it has landed after being taken off and tossed away some weary midnight.

You can never be annoyed at a person once you have seen these things.

I should say I don’t do actual maid service around here- not unless my houseguests are the ages of the two little ones I wrote about yesterday – so I see socks and such only sometimes, when these guys would be away for a week or two and I stripped their beds to washed their linens, just because everyone deserves clean linens….

But why don’t I back up a little here and explain this better: We have had four different young people staying in our house this summer, all part of the National Program for a Better Chance, all young men of on the cusp of college life.  No shower has gone forth without the muted boom of hip-hop pulsing from the bathroom. No golden summer afternoon has billowed into evening without the sound of their happy voices in the kitchen.

Two of them had jobs in this the first summer before heading off to Bard College RPI. That’s Cam and Tristan at the top here. Then a third, now a high school Senior, worked as a tech for a computer repair company, leaving for a two-week stint at Brown where he took a course in the computer operating system known as Linux . And a fourth, a high school Junior did a college tour, took a Neurobiology course at Emory and spent just a week with us, doing an SAT-prep boot camp at a great place called Chyten.  Boy Three did the same course and both came home each day at 5:00, brimming with news about all the English words derived from Latin.

The “give” By David and me was that they slept here and ate a little, though not very much I must say. They packed their own lunches so I just had to buy deli stuff , and it’s amazing how far a teen male can go on Pop Tarts and Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cocoa Puffs, foods I have never before stoked in this house. It’s true they like meat at night but hey so do we and if you’re grilling two nice fat burgers you might just as well grill six. I guess I also gave them rides to the Y so they could work out but again, I was going to the Y myself to catch those cardio classes I love so much.

So that was pretty much the ‘give.’ Not such a long list.

The ‘get’  list for me is much longer. I personally got:

  • Much more motivation to get to the Y than I would normally have.
  • Help putting away the groceries
  • Companionship in buying the groceries
  • All the emergency help I could ever have wanted with my PC, my i-Pad and i-Phone and even  my i-Pod when I dropped it in the sink that time
  • Help hanging drapes on extra-wide windows (Number Three has a six-foot wingspan) and..
  • A million laughs.

Here are House guest Numbers Three and Four, Rayvoughn and Hazees, helping me tote stuff in June.

Ray was with us almost the whole summer. He helped me, he teased David, he backed down from an arm-wrestle challenge from David (more than once) and he played with our little grandsons.

It’s  time now for him to start the long grind of applying to colleges.

He’s equal to the task I think. He’s a smart as a whip and hurdles just don’t scare him. even if he doesn’t always ZIP the life jacket even tough he put its mostly on, and maybe THAT’s the lesson he taught me this summer: Strike a humorous pose, look like you’re equal to any challenge and you might just pull it off!

Go to Your Room

Well, our boarders moved out the second their power came back on. They went home, even though trees still litter the landscape over in their town. They were up before 7 and gone within the hour.

Word is they spent their day mopping up the puddles from their long-thawed fridge-and-freezer; I spent mine washing all the linens from the beds they slept in, and the towels from their many baths and showers. It was fun actually. And with all the mindless work of the Tide and the Bounce, the smoothing of sheets and the stuffing of fat-lady pillows into their corsets I realized a few things:

(a) It’s easy to have house guests who go to bed right after supper.

(b) It’s equally great and easy if there’s a ‘no-TV-on-school-nights’ rule. The talk was excellent.

(c) I found it wonderful that I could exploit the two younger boarders, in a Child Labor kind of a way; turns out little kids like nothing better than to clean out a closet. They can’t get enough of the task of pulling things out and examining them. Someplace over the last few days I saw the bottom of one closet for the first time in 25 years.

(d) Old Dave and I turn out to bicker less with houseguests around even when one of them is our own child. Not that we ever argue that much; still, these last few days we were acting like a couple of people lobbying for sainthood. I know I don’t want to be seen as some witch in front of that sweet little family. I don’t want to come across like the yammering wife in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

I want my kids to miss me when I’m gone, not be dancing down the aisle behind my casket. I want them to remember me as the placid ventriloquist’s puppet David wishes he had married. (Click there to see me perched on his knee that week we went to Paris.)

So that’s all I wanted to say here. Good houseguests have many qualities, but that going-to-bed-right-after-supper is possibly the awesomest. If we all had a bath and a book and Lights Out just after supper, there’d be a lot less grouchiness in the world — and that’s the truth, pbbbbt!