We may have to sell our house because of that spider. This is not a joke. I don't joke about spiders like that. While I knew intellectually that such things existed on the earth, I had never considered the possibility that they may exist in the guest bath. This leads to many questions. Why would a loving God create such a thing to begin with? How did it get in? I dead-bolted the door. So even though it looked fully capable of reaching up and turning the knob, the door should have been locked. The idea that it came in the way other spiders do (and who knows how that happens anyway? I have devoted a good deal of my life to studying the cracks around my baseboards and the physics of many of the house spiders I have encountered simply do not make sense) is ludicrous. Someone would have had to leave an entire brick out of a wall and wouldn't we have noticed? Another question is, will we soon have mice? Because now that spider is gone, there will be nothing to eat them. It's troubling.
Think of it this way: a tarantula's lankier cousin. Animal-sized body on a set of impressive flying buttresses. Legs that measure in inches just to the knee! Never met a razor, but should have been shaving a long time ago. Not quite the size of a Buick, but probably drives one. When I met Russ at the door, pale faced and breathless, to tell him there is something you need to see...and bring a BIG shoe...he counted on it being my usual overreaction. (In hindsight, I am slightly offended that he secretly thinks I have a "usual overreaction." But that is another topic.) He started putting away his fishing gear. I told him that it would behoove him to come NOW. He toweled off the dog. I told him that if it got away, I would be checking into a hotel.
At least I can report that the spider had the courtesy to wait, patiently perched on the side of the wastebasket and casting its hairy hunched shadow across the wall. And when he saw the beast, Russ made a sound I have never heard him make in response to a spider. The sound a shiver makes in the spine of a brave man. Know what that sounds like? Because now I do.
I can only shudder to think what would have happened if he had been out of town. I probably would have closed the door, shoved towels into the crack underneath it, and taken myself to the Holiday Inn. The bathroom may have had to stay closed off permanently. And going from a house with two baths to a house with one would have been a serious hit to our property value. When we sell the house. Which we would be forced to.
We still may. Because although this morning I made myself "get back on the horse" with that bathroom, so to speak, I am not sure I can ever feel the same kind of affection for this house that I felt previously. My innocence is gone. And now I know that real spiders can happen. Anywhere, at any time...even to me.
my Grandma Myrl, baker extraordinaire
and 4-foot-nothing giant of my best childhood memories
Some things are important and some things aren't. The trick is distinguishing between the two. Unfortunately, I fear that I'm not always good at recognizing the difference. Maybe that's why the universe has taken it upon herself to school me a bit as of late. At least I'm learning.
First, we got the bright idea of cutting the size of our home in half. I know, sounds good on paper, looks admirable from a distance, feels lighter in the wallet, BUT -- it also means that, as a result, we've been required to sift through and discard entire decades of our family life. There's just not room for 30 years in 1900 sq. feet...you have to make choices, and that means moving in with your memories but not with the actual souvenirs of the times you spent making them. Put that in the "easier said than done" file...which is why we still have a storage unit roughly the size of our garage packed to the rafters. These things don't sort themselves overnight. Or even in eight months. But I'm happy to report that progress has been made. Take Grandma Myrl's canister set, for instance...
Grandma Myrl's canisters were just wonderful. They sat on her kitchen counter dispensing magic for all of the years I was lucky enough to know her. She kept a chipped teacup in the largest one for dipping out flour, which was not exactly measuring per se, but was somehow infallible. They were tins, in graduated sizes, with dented red lids and a nifty 50's apple motif. The day I inherited them, I remember thinking, SCORE! Hard as it was to believe she was gone, it was equally hard to believe that her magic might live on in my own newly-established kitchen. I loved that canister set.
Of course houses change, needs change, climates change...I soon came to value more room on my countertops for storing piles of school papers and art projects than baking supplies. I also moved to places where tupperware was just more useful than tin. And owning the canisters never seemed to mean for a moment that I could bake like Grandma Myrl. So they eventually moved into the decorative tin collection atop my kitchen cabinets, keeping company with things like the baking soda tin from Grant's Emporium, my great grandfather's legendary but burned-to-the-ground-before-I-was-born store, and Aunt Lillie's turn-of-the-century (the last one) marshmallow tin, used in my lifetime only for storing cookies in the back room. Some days I would look up and see them and sigh or smile...but most days when I did bother to notice them, I would dread their annual cleaning and wonder crankily how so much greasy grime could get on top of kitchen cabinets.
This is how the beloved canister set came, along with all her tin sisters, to inhabit one of the hundred boxes I opened after our move that made me roll my eyes and feel a little sick. My new house has no space above the kitchen cabinets. And not only that, I just spent $5000.00 on new countertops for the first time in my life, and my dented greasy old tins are not really the look I was envisioning in my perfect new 1900 sq foot life. So they moved into the garage so I could wring my hands for awhile longer.
I could not send Grandma Myrl's canisters to Goodwill. That would somehow be wrong. But none of my daughters knew Grandma Myrl, nor did they have homes or space or interest in vintage tins. As temperatures climbed further into the 100's, it became apparent that I was going to have to make some hard decisions if I ever wanted to get a car in the garage. So I did. I could almost hear my friend Pam, the antiques dealer, wailing in sadness and disgust that I wasn't going to at least give her a chance at the good stuff before I tossed it, but she lives there and I live here and it was time to get down to what's important in my life now. A parking spot in the shade. So I scheduled an evening where I could invite my nieces to come for dinner and shop at my free garage sale. I put out all the things I couldn't bear to send to Goodwill, for one dumb reason or another, and let them take whatever interested them. And I began to feel better the moment the evening started...lighter...better than I had felt in months. In fact, I was elated! It was almost criminal to feel so good. Because the decision to let go was the hard part. Watching them actually cart the stuff away was easy as pie.
And there hasn't been a single second of regret. I still have exactly the same memories of Grandma Myrl standing at her kitchen counter as I had before. I just don't have those memories in a box taking up space in my garage. And in Phoenix, that's important. So lesson learned. Let's hope it holds as I take on the boxes still in storage.
Next, Ms. Fate deemed me to be due for a lesson about what's important beyond the world of decorative kitchen accessories, even the most sentimental ones. She sent me on a two month, no-expenses-paid roller coaster ride with cancer. The "C" word. Yes, that one -- the one that other people sometimes deal with while I just do things like take in casseroles. Every second of the journey has been excruciating. Waiting, not knowing, more waiting, knowing even less, or sometimes knowing much more than you wish you did.
There has been a lot more hand-wringing, all the while realizing with ever greater clarity that of course canister sets are meaningless in the big picture. Also a re-evaluation of life goals. Moments of sheer panic about the prospect of what-ifs like losing my already challenged hair. A 50th birthday, to heighten the angst. And also about a million blessings as friends and family and even near-strangers have rallied around me to prop me up and carry me through. And two months later, the surgery is behind me and the final word still isn't in yet. Not only that, but I have a strong suspicion that I'm going to be watching cancer over my shoulder and out of the corner of my eye for the rest of my life. But it doesn't really matter. Because I also know some important things in more intimate ways.
I know that bad things happen, but also that we are stronger than we think we are, and that there's no time like the present for doing anything we really want to do and in fact, we should have been doing those things all along. Procrastination shows a deplorable lack of gratitude. I know that modern medicine is miraculous, and a good surgeon can become your best friend overnight. Also that caring nurses have automatically earned a place in heaven, and we should all strive to be more like them. (One of them kissed my forehead, and she wasn't even my nurse.) I know that some days the most important thing might be reading a discussion of the pros and cons of enemas vs. suppositories following hysterectomy surgery, and that I am blessed beyond measure to live in a time and place where it is possible to Google something so inane and have an entire world of information and support at my fingertips. I know that prayer works, no matter who utters it, because the simple act of exercising faith, hope and love on behalf of another always makes a difference. I also know the true meaning of the word friend, and that going forward I vow to be a more thoughtful one. Because even the smallest gestures become magnified in their impact by a needy recipient. But mostly, I know that life is truly a gift that comes with no guarantee. The only thing we should count on is being surprised.
And I know that someday -- who knows when? and there's the real aha -- my kids will thank me for going through all this stuff and getting rid of it so they don't have to find themselves completely overwhelmed in my garage, worrying about their own kids but also stressed and sad wondering what to do with a dented canister set that they don't remember a thing about except being made to help scrub the grime off it once a year.
Important stuff. Now...can I be done learning for awhile?
I had lunch the other day with a group of ladies who were all about 20 years older than I am. It was completely delightful. But about midway through I realized I was the only one at the table with gray hair. Come on...really? Normally I wouldn't care about that -- never have before, obviously -- but there was something a little disquieting about being confronted with that kind of (unintentional) peer pressure at age 50 that got my attention. It honestly has just never occurred to me to color my hair. And then suddenly - BAM - the nagging suspicion that people don't like to be reminded that they are old, and therefore if I continue to insist on looking my age...perhaps my friends won't want to play with me anymore.
I have another friend who is gray and proud of it. She's truly a salt-and-pepper beauty, so I'd be proud of it too if I were sporting her striking do rather than my own mousy one. But we had a conversation one day in which she insisted there was a trend called "granny chic". I scoffed loudly and repeatedly. Maybe even snorted. That phrase was most certainly invented by a group of 60 year old women sitting around a table at lunch trying to feel better about the fact that they were no longer eating lunch together in a school cafeteria, but somewhere their grandchildren might be. Grannies are the anti-chic. Everyone knows that. That's part of why we love them...their well-used laps are made for sitting in, which more than compensates for any wrinkles. Or even whiskers.
Sure, there's something to be said for making the most of what we have in any situation, but I'm all for letting Barbara Walters look 83 because she's earned that privilege. I give her permission to relax, find a nice chair, and enjoy watching TV for a few years rather than making it. Not that I'm opposed to a little help if it's easy and won't make me end up looking like Joan Rivers -- I apply my sunscreen religiously now that I'm in Phoenix, for instance, fearful that I may age 10 years in the first 2. But I'm just saying that, as far as I'm concerned, Aunt Lillie's saggy breasts only made her more lovable, not less. I didn't care one whit that she forgot to wear a bra most of her life and certainly had no intention of putting one on for the big finale. I'm glad she liked herself enough to just be herself.
My mother has done a remarkable job of self-preservation. Her hair looks 15 years younger than mine, her teeth were purchased mid-stream and therefore still look great, she's worked hard to preserve her figure, and she never leaves the house without full makeup and freshly pressed attire. She hasn't missed a hair appointment in years, if ever. But somehow she failed to pass along that gene, and while I'm sure it causes her consternation, I'm grateful because sometimes looking at her makes me tired. She's been beautiful for a long time, and shows no signs of letting any of it slide. (Some husbands just get luckier than others.)
So to everyone who enjoys the hobby of making themselves look younger -- because at 50 I can see it's definitely going to have to become a full-on hobby, fighting an uphill battle to the finish -- I say good-luck and I will probably be a little envious of the results, even though I won't admit it. To my friends and family, I say oh well -- it's only going to keep getting grayer. And when the time comes, please don't have the mortician paint my fingernails or put lipstick on me either, because then no one will recognize me at the funeral.
It shouldn't be a surprise. As a school kid I consistently failed to wear what was in style too. And come to think of it, they didn't want me at the popular table then either. Proof that the older we get, the more like ourselves we become. Or that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Or maybe that girls just want to have fun, and if sitting in a beauty salon hasn't ever been fun before, this dog isn't likely to start sniffing around one now.
so many birds, so many
songs and all
the sunlight in the world
to wake me, still --
unmoved I listen, looking
to lure me, take me up
and up until the ground
is only wind beneath my feet
clouds to boost me
higher, there is nothing
that will hold me then, nothing
that can keep me down at all