We continue slowly to clean up and fix up this old farmhouse, health and money permitting. This month I took the bit in my teeth and decided that six years was a long enough period to be without a ceiling light fixture in the living room. My first thought was to move the big chandelier from the dining area to the living room. George mutinied and I don’t much blame him. It wasn’t a good idea. We had the devil’s own time hanging that monster the first time.
I began cruising the internet for something suitable. I tried Ebay and Etsy. I wanted a vintage piece. I turned up an “early Empire Russian birdcage chandelier in bronze doré and rock crystal” for sixty-four thousand dollars which is more than the house is worth. I did like it but it fit neither my budget nor this sorry little shack. I also turned up an enormous number of lighting fixture horrors from every period, most of them, in my view, overpriced. It was one of those I don’t quite know what I am looking for but I will know it when I see it shopping adventures.
I ended up with something very different from my usual style but it looked okay for a rustic farmhouse without being a country cliché. It was hand made wrought iron from Italy. The seller said he thought it was mid-twentieth century, undamaged, but it needed re-wiring. His price was very low, so low that even with the added costs of shipping a fifteen pound item from Italy to Arkansas it was still reasonable.
I ordered it and in due course it arrived. I do a lot of internet shopping so I get tons of packages. After having a couple of small boxes that were left under the carport stolen by the neighbor’s dogs, who chewed everything to pieces and scattered tiny bits all over the yard I made an arrangement with my local post office that they should leave anything small enough to stuff into the mailbox but that larger items should be held at the P.O. until I could drive over and pick them up.
The big box from Italy arrived. The postmistress, trying her best to be neighborly and to provide good service, did as I asked. She held the box and sent me the usual regulation pink slip. Ordinarily I would have retrieved the box the next day. But ours is a one car household and George needed the car to go to a medical appointment in Hot Springs. Thanks to the higher ups in the USPS our local post office is open only in the mornings. At the time the hours were shortened, a couple of years ago, the USPS representative justified this by saying that most people pay their bills on the internet nowadays. One neighbor remarked that this area is full of older folks who don’t use computers, regard them as satanic, and have never paid a bill on the internet and never will. George left before the post office opened and returned after it had closed for the day.
The next day he also took the car and set off to run errands. I was mildly annoyed, but there was no real urgency about the box so I did not stew overmuch. But, at one o’clock in the afternoon, our postmistress was knocking my front door down and, in addition, she was one seriously upset woman.
“Please ride with me to the post office, sign for this box, and I will bring you and the box right back here. Also, if you don’t mind, open it and let me have the packaging. I am in a heck of a lot of trouble over this shipment from Italy.”
“Hang on.” I said. “Let me get my handbag and lock up the house.” Now at that point Paco and Polly, the two blue and gold macaws, were on T perches in the living room instead of being in their cages. I told them I had an emergency, that I would be right back, and to please sit tight and not destroy the living room, which they are perfectly capable of doing, either singly or in tandem. To my later amazement they did stay put and they did mind me–for once.
My agitated postmistress continued her disjointed explanation as we drove from my house to the P.O. “That box was shipped Express. When it was not delivered in the proper time frame my supervisor called me and chewed me out completely. To complicate matters I am required to scan a barcode when I receive a package. There should be only one barcode but in this case someone somewhere slipped up and there are two. That’s why I need the box. Tomorrow I must drive to Little Rock, with the box and with my union representative, to meet with my supervisor and try and explain what happened.”
I apologized profusely and told her that I had no idea our actions had caused her any grief. I explained about the one car and about George’s trip to Hot Springs. I also told her, truthfully, that she had always gone out of her way to be helpful and that, as far as the community was concerned, she was an exemplary postmistress. If the P.O. is scheduled to be open then it is open because if there is ever any bad weather in the forecast she sleeps there in order to open at the usual hour. I offered to go with her to Little Rock to speak on her behalf if that were necessary.
By this time we were at the back door of the P.O. She let us both inside. I signed the appropriate paperwork. She carried the box out and put it in the backseat. When we arrived back at my house George was also pulling into the driveway. I unpacked the light fixture and gave her the box. At this point I have heard nothing further about her meeting in Little Rock so do not know the final outcome.
To top off the postmistress’ tale of frustration, she said that she had been without money orders for three weeks despite numerous requests that they be sent to her. “I’ve lost track of the number of customers I have not been able to serve because I have no money orders.” she said.
There is so much wrong with our poor country right now that one does not know where to begin, but obviously one big thing that is wrong in the workplace (and in the public schools) is the insistence that everything must be done by the numbers. My postmistress found herself in hot water, not because she did not go above and beyond the call of duty, but because she did. But it threw the numbers off and her supervisor will be judged by “the numbers.” It’s all very well to talk about accountability, but this is ridiculous. Systems that make no allowance for the variability and flexibility needed in all human interactions do not work. Factor in the fact that the woman is trying to do her job without being supplied with the basic tools that she needs. Then add forty years of stagnant wages to the mix, not in the P.O. necessarily, but in the country in general. It is a wonder anyone finds the motivation to do excellent work.
The other thing that is wrong here is the simple injustice of a system in which those at the bottom of the totem pole are judged by the most draconian standards with no forgiveness whatever for mistakes while those higher in the chain of command get away with murder. Will anyone be dragged to a meeting in Little Rock (It’s a two hour drive.) and court martialed because of a failure to keep our post office supplied with money orders? Somehow I doubt it.
Now granted there has always been one set of rules for the rich and another for the poor, one standard for whites and another for blacks, but this difference is now so obvious and so large and so brutal in its consequences that I do not wonder that the entire country is in a state of civil unrest. What amazes me is how long the people have been patient in the face of such monstrous oppression.
It’s all very well to point to, say, an Oprah Winfrey and talk about this being a land of opportunity, but, if you want to play by “the numbers,” then plain statistics tell another story. Wages have not risen, at least not when adjusted for buying power. Women are not paid equally. Every broad based opportunity for upward mobility has been curtailed. That gateway has narrowed remarkably over my lifetime and it continues to allow fewer and fewer to pass through.
The danger is not that people are angry. They have every reason to be angry. The danger is that so much of that justifiable anger is so terribly misplaced. Anger is the hardest of all human feelings to deal with and the often the most difficult part, which most never master, is to learn to ask oneself clearly and answer accurately, “Who am I angry with and why?” If we cannot answer that question logically then it is not only likely that we will shortly find ourselves in a far greater quagmire it is a certainty.
On the Subject of Chickens and a Year End Summary
The perfect chicken and the ultimate chicken coop–they don’t exist, but after several years of keeping chickens we are both older and wiser. This place came with a chicken house, in a manner of speaking. It was far from ideal and it bore no resemblance to clever little backyard painted coops that grace the pages of chicken keeping magazines. It is an eleven by eleven pole building with a shed roof ranging from 7 feet to 9 feet. The outside is covered with corrugated metal. The roof leaked until this year when we were finally able to get that fixed. The roost was falling apart. The nestboxes were ancient and badly designed. Worst of all, it had a dirt floor and the absence of anti-dig skirting meant that there was no protection against nighttime predators, most of whom are excellent diggers. There was no outside run. Our first round of improvements was to add an outside run with a chicken wire roof, replace the missing chicken wire on the front of the chicken house, and install a makeshift anti-dig skirt. It wasn’t pretty but it was safe. The chickens were thrilled. For them it was a step up in the world. This year, in addition to replacing the roof and the roof rafters that were rotting, we also re-built two walls. George did this work. He dug trenches and installed concrete block footings–much better than our temporary anti-dig skirt, poured concrete to fill the blocks, beefed up the framing, and turned the corrugated metal from horizontal to vertical. I managed to get one wall–the back–painted. Then we stopped for the season as we were out of money and out of good weather. George re-built the roost, putting the back of it on wheels so it can be moved back and forth to facilitate cleaning. I saw an idea on the internet that featured a wooden rack that held five gallon buckets for nest boxes and George undertook to build that. He is part way through this, but has decided that rectangular plastic tubs would be better than buckets. I hate that dirt floor but there is nothing I can do about it right now. I went out this morning, shooed the chickens outside, and cleaned. I attacked the cobwebs, raked the floor, cleaned the water dispenser, cleaned the feed bowl. I threw out chicken scratch and cut up a butternut squash to give them for a treat. George came out and did a little more work on the nest box rack which is a work in progress–one of many. And, as always, it took much longer than I thought it would. My original flock, plus a motley assortment of donated birds, are now middle-aged to elderly. They still lay, but it is probably time to add some younger birds. I’ve now experimented with several different breeds, both standards and bantams. I reviewed the possibilities and decided that I will now concentrate on just one breed. I picked the blue-laced red Wyandotte. I like the color. I like chickens with “camouflage.” I love the look of feathered feet, but, in view of that dirt floor, I think I’d better stick to clean legged birds. Plus the Wyandotte has a rose comb that is less likely to get frostbitten. They lay light brown eggs. I won’t order them now; I will wait until warmer weather. In addition to the chicken house flock I have three spare roosters and they are a royal nuisance because each one must be separately housed. There is also one odd hen who is the consort of my bantam rooster. What is ahead is the re-building of the remaining two walls of the chicken house, re-working the original pen, building a second pen. I’m guessing we are talking two to four years because there is also much other work to be done. We can’t just spend all our time on the chicken house. The present chicken census: 1 Blue Cochin rooster, rather elderly, a bit lame, very sweet, named Mr. Blue 1 Buff Brahma bantam rooster (called B.B.) and his mate who is a small black “Easter Egger” of unknown parentage. She’s a cute little thing named Ebony. She lays pale turquoise eggs. 1very elderly black Australorp rooster who is quite lame. That is Mr. Black. The inmates of the chicken coop consisting of a Hamburg rooster, one Brahma light, one buff “Easter Egger,” two barred Plymouth rocks, three silver laced Wyandottes and two golden laced Wyandottes. George also moved three ancient appliances that must be sold for scrap from the inside of the big metal barn (Alice’s Barn) into the yard. He will begin hauling them to the scrap metal yard on Monday. George had improvised heating lamps above the roost, but that is not doing the job. I ordered heating pads for the separately housed chickens and a poultry heater that will create a “warming hut” inside the chicken coop. The downside, as I said, is the dirt floor. The upside is that it is roomy and there is space enough to add “furniture” as needed. This is the first winter I have had a heated waterer that does not freeze. I came inside, took a short nap, and spent some time on the internet pricing accessories that might dress up this very shabby place: new house numbers, new mailbox, that kind of thing. I didn’t order anything; I was just getting a rough idea as to availability and prices. The actual ordering will come later. Now for the summary: We have now been in this house almost six years and we started with one horrible little house and some long neglected outbuildings. We’ve done a lot, but there is still much to do. It doesn’t look pretty. It doesn’t look anything close to pretty. That may come later. Key word there is “may.” And then again maybe not, depending upon how our health and strength hold up.
- We ripped out all of the old flooring except for the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen and painted the slab. That was, on our budget, the only solution I could manage. It was not done properly. We didn’t have the funds to grind or level.
- We tore out some walls, re-built some walls, tore out some kitchen cabinets and all the bathroom cabinets. They were too awful to salvage. We added baseboards, top molding (very plain), and corner moldings to fill gaps.
- George tore out the brick chimney that was located in, of all places, the hall. I don’t know how he did it but he did it, bringing down a pile of bricks, mortar, soot, and clinkers. We repaired holes in the ceiling.
- George tore out an ugly built-in cabinet in the back bedroom.
- We re-built the interior of every cabinet and closet in the house.
- I painted the inside of every cabinet and every closet–multiple coats as they had never been painted.
- I painted the entire interior, ceilings, walls, floors–multiple coats as I was covering dark paneling and the previous owners smoked.
- We changed light fixtures. George did a lot of work on the interior wiring. It is still a long way from code, but it is much improved.
- Besides the work on the chicken house, George re-built three walls of the big metal barn (Alice’s Barn) and added two small stalls inside. We have plans for more improvements. The south wall still must be re-built. I painted the three walls that he did re-work.
- We installed a new kitchen sink and cabinet.
- We replaced all the single paned windows with double paned windows.
- We did a whole lot of caulking
- I replaced the lower third of the tile surrounding the bathtub and patched missing tile in the pantry and kitchen.
- We put in a new propane heater that vents to the outside in the living room.
In the same period of time George had two shoulder replacements, one hospital stay while recovering from an accident on the scooter, and cataract surgery. I spent five months in bed with the shingles and had two hospital stays. We had almost no money to work with until this year. I don’t know how we did it. This past year has been much better. We paid off the mortgage and the car note, put a new roof on the house, put new roofs on all three outbuildings–“Alice’s Barn,” “George’s Workshop,” and the chicken house. We installed the big steel canopy in the pecan grove for an outdoor seating and cooking area. We are now able to keep the place mowed. We got all the trees pruned and that’s a lot of trees. We have a new electric line between the well house and the breaker box–George did that. And, last but not least, we were finally able to get a new toilet, new bathroom lavatory, and get the plumbing fixed. For the first time since I came to Arkansas in 1907 I can take a hot shower whenever I like and I live in a warm house. The entire adventure–the final years in Fort Worth and the time in Arkansas–is ten years I don’t ever want to repeat. There is still much to be done. The Lord willing and the creek don’t rise we will have a nice little country place in about 4-5 years.
It is the middle of the night. I can’t sleep. I have one huge life goal and that is to become the person I want to be and think I should be. I think each of us has an internal picture of that and I’m sure it varies enormously from one individual to the next. Right now I’m not talking about achieving nirvana or even becoming morally better, although those are laudable. I’m talking about inefficiencies, niggling bad habits, getting in one’s own way, not working at one’s peak.
I can promise you, every time I make a change directed towards improving my health habits one certain result is insomnia. The spirit may be willing but the flesh will trip me up every time. So, let’s say, for instance, that I decide to forego the evening glass of wine, eat healthy, and exercise more. I guarantee that I can’t do it all at once because if I tell my elderly body that we are suddenly going to make big changes said elderly body will lay me out flat in bed in addition to making sure I don’t sleep at night. I guarangoddamntee it.
Then there’s Polly, my poor unhappy, obnoxious, loud, difficult macaw. Who ever heard of a bird with insomnia? Every other bird in the house goes to sleep when it gets dark and/or the cage is covered and sleeps, with only a few half-awake noises, until morning. Not my Polly. My stealthy footsteps down the hall, the tapping of the computer keyboard, any sound at all will wake that unfortunate creature. Then I will hear her gently fussing and tearing up the newspapers on the bottom of her cage. No harm in that but she needs the sleep. A pin drops and that macaw wakes up. That severely limits what I can do during the nights I can’t sleep. The only thing I can do that doesn’t bother Polly is to sit up in bed and knit. Right now I am in no mood for that.
“Polly, it’s just mom. I love you. Go to sleep.”
I have accomplished distressingly little since I last wrote. Today was the worst. I was doing the monthly budgeting and bill paying. For once, there’s no particular monetary crisis; it’s just routine. I was unaccountably wound up, wired, unable to concentrate, and just plain nutty. It got the work done, but it took far longer than it should have done. Now I can’t sleep. I am nibbled to death by ducks, as the saying goes. My mother called it the “screaming mimis.” Not sure how you spell that. Better look it up. Okay, it is spelled two ways–“mimis” and “meemies.” Not to be confused with the heebie-jeebies which word conveys both jitters and vague fear.
I said something to George about my state of mind this afternoon.
“Been there.” he said.
He ran errands. He took care of the animals. I paid bills and quietly fell apart. Not fun. Not fun at all.
Later the Same Day
Too many things to do and too little time. Too many needs and too few dollars. The weather cleared sufficiently that cleaning the car was possible, so we went to town. Mailed bills. Did a small amount of necessary shopping for supplies at Walmart. Got the car cleaned at our local DIY car wash. Actually, that is not accurate. We got the top layers of grime out of the interior and off the exterior. I don’t like to ask George to do this by himself. He won’t admit it is difficult for him, but he’s not very agile and vacuuming odd corners of a car interior does require that.
By the time we finished we were both chilled. I wanted something hot and fast. We went to McDonald’s for a sandwich and hot coffee. Then we went home. I unloaded the car and re-arranged the car. This is make-ready for inserting tarp and traveling macaw cage into the back seat while leaving space for Star in the hatchback area. George went to work doing animal care and I took a nap. I got up, made a cup of very strong hot tea and started wrapping Christmas presents. I did not get far, but at least I made a start.
We did stop at the bank this morning. Unfortunately someone had left an issue of Flying magazine in the lobby. George pounced on it and has been buried in it off and on all day and will remain buried in it until he has read every word and he’s a slow reader. He did take care of the animals, but he will be good for nothing else until he is finished with his magazine.
It’s not what we did; it’s what we didn’t get done that bothers me. I need to re-work the heating arrangements for the chickens and for Gray Lady (outdoor cat). That is a must. Freezing nights are in the forecast. I am once again behind on routine house work. I have barely begun the clean up work in the living room. The car port is a mess. George won’t keep it clean and is incapable of cleaning it. Cleaning he can do only if walked through the process. I can’t supervise George and do anything else. After thirty years of living with George and his very odd brain I’ve learned what will work and what won’t.
I need to do some cleaning in the kitchen. I can’t; it will wake Polly who is in the adjoining dining area. It’s no different from having a sleeping baby in a small house. House is too small to give the macaws a dedicated room and, if I did that, I then create the problem of lack of social interaction with us which is also very important for them.
After working with the monthly budget I asked George, “Would you rather have special holiday food or liquor this month?” He didn’t hesitate; he wanted his evening snort. Okay, but that means a long drive to a liquor store because we are in a dry county. It’s an incredibly beautiful place and two-thirds of our county is pristine national forest, but there is a downside to everything. Arkansas has some of the strictest liquor laws in the nation.
George explained that he has been observing a learning curve among the cats. We have too many cats to have them all inside. They are outside by day and in crates in the barn at night. That protects them from nighttime predators. They are fed in their crates in the evening and then George fastens the crates for the night. Last winter I had to bring all of the critters into the house every night to keep them warm. That was an incredible amount of work and obviously not the way to go. No one needs a crate of 12 chickens in the kitchen every night and 12 cats wandering about on top of a large dog, multiple birds, and two elderly roosters–one in the bathtub and one in a large tub. This year I bought heaters, heated waterers, various other equipment, and plush and foam domes–enough to equip each cat crate plus some extras. At first the cats just pushed the domes down flat and went to sleep on top of them, creating little cat nests. I was not happy because that defeats the purpose of the domes. To stay warm each cat needs to go inside and curl up. But George reports that last night, with a forecast of a light freeze, each cat had figured it out and every single one was tucked away inside his dome
A Meditation on a Lump of Beeswax
November 20, 2015
I woke up early this morning because I was cold. I investigated. Space heater was not working. Is it the space heater, the extension cord, or the wall outlet? I didn’t want to waste time with this so I mentally designated the task to George, who is the house electrician, went to the living room, switched on the lights, drew the doorway curtain (so the lights would not bother the birds), and did a little more work on the tedious task of sorting and organizing the sewing tools.
This means combining what was already in the living room, in the area designated for sewing, with items recently unpacked, and putting like things together. Some items had been stored in cardboard boxes near the little propane furnace and these I planned to transfer to new storage bins. I came across lumps of beeswax which, fortunately, I had sufficient sense to have placed inside freezer storage bags.
Good thing I did that because the heat from the propane furnace had melted the beeswax which was now in very odd shapes.
There are both benefits and disadvantages to our fairly new propane furnace. It is about the size of a small suitcase and penetrates the front (south) wall of the living room. It vents to the outside. It is efficient and there are no propane fumes at all in the house. That is necessary for the birds. This house was never equipped with central heat. The propane furnace does an amazing job, but it doesn’t heat the house evenly. The living room is toasty, but the north side of the house is always cool. I must keep some doors closed for animal control so the bird room and my bedroom are equipped with electric space heaters to supplement the living room unit. The electronic controls on the living room heater mean that if we lose power, which happens fairly regularly, we also lose all heat. Eventually I will have a wood stove for backup. Woodstove is in place and stovepipe is purchased but not yet installed.
I discovered that I must keep an area of about three to four feet in all directions from the furnace clear of anything that can be damaged by heat. I overlooked the beeswax.
I didn’t want to lose the beeswax. How do I go about heating it to reshape it. That question sent me to the internet where I searched “how to work with beeswax.” I was thinking double boiler but the answer was much simpler. Heat it in a bowl of hot water and that makes it sufficiently pliable to shape.
I carried the beeswax into the kitchen and then I remembered how I came to possess it in the first place. When we first moved to Arkansas we lived in a portable metal building on the Cherry Hill property. We had no electricity and no plumbing. We did have water at a frost free spigot in the yard. Eventually we had electricity installed. The place still has no plumbing. I had brought a modest sewing kit with me when we moved, but most of the sewing supplies and the sewing machines were packed. I was trying to mend something or other and I had trouble with kinks and knots in the thread. I said something to George, “I wish I had beeswax for this thread.”
George said, “No problem. I have two pounds of it.”
I looked at him.
He said, “What?”
Now granted that in all discussions with a person of the opposite sex one must keep firmly in mind that one is dealing with an alien intelligence.
“George, why did you think that you would need to bring two pounds of beeswax with you when moving to Arkansas to homestead in temporary housing? And how did you happen to have it in the first place?”
“Waxing thread.” That’s the way you do it when you restore a ragwing.”
I tried to understand why on earth he thought that restoring an antique aircraft would be the first thing we would do in Arkansas. Or the second, the third, or even the thousand-and-first thing. It made perfect sense to George. It made no sense at all to me.
He unearthed two pounds of beeswax from somewhere or other. I think it was from the depths of an old navy duffel bag. He cut off a generous portion and gave it to me–enough to keep me waxing sewing thread until I am a hundred and twenty years old, at least.
I stood at the kitchen sink and cut the beeswax into appropriate sized pieces, some larger, some smaller. I molded it into lumps that were more or less cubical. I refrigerated it briefly to harden it. The big bits I wrapped in aluminum foil for storage. The small bits went into my various sewing baskets. The reason I keep multiple sewing baskets is that I am apt to do hand sewing wherever it is convenient–the living room, my bedroom, or the home office.
After that I got a mug of coffee, went back to the living room and cogitated.
If there is to be a new arrangement, then what pieces will stay as they are, what will go to the warehouse, what will be brought from the warehouse, and in what order shall the work be done?
My mind went back to the beeswax. That stuff keeps almost indefinitely. How many years has George had that hoard? How valuable will it become if the bees continue on a path to extinction? The world’s honeybees are in big trouble. By the time the soaring price of beeswax regularly makes the news I will probably be long gone, but that is okay with me. I don’t think I want to live in a post Sixth Great Extinction world.
I pondered the arrangement of the living room. I’m stuck with the placement of the wall furnace, the corner cabinet, and the wood stove. That doesn’t leave much scope for arranging furniture. I’m also stuck with the fact that the only place to set up a sewing station is the living room. I reviewed the problem of the ironing board. An ironing board in the living room is–peculiar. Even more peculiar is hanging it from the living room wall to free up floor space. But putting it anywhere other than near the sewing area makes no sense at all because sewing and pressing are done together always. Never trust a seamstress who doesn’t press more than she sews. I went back to the internet and reviewed gadgets that allow one to hang a board on the wall together with the iron and other parts of the ironing operation. I read the reviews. Some were enthusiastic; some were not. Every single ironing board hanger I could find for sale received only qualified commendations with the most common criticisms being, in summary, “This is the finest workmanship from China. Wrong size screws, screws not long enough, screws and holes don’t align, this or that is flimsy. We managed to install it but it required a lot of backyard engineering.” What does not?
I caucused with George about the living room and about the bedroom space heater problem. He reported later that he had done the requisite troubleshooting. He had not, but that is another story. He then took off on a round of errand running. I persevered in the living room.
And, in the meantime, The rooms already cleaned and organized are immediately beginning to lapse into disorder, a process accelerated by macaws shredding newspaper and throwing food and water several feet from their habitats. Daughter Kit once described my cleaning operations as “Mom’s snowplow method.” But the snowplow slows down as one moves through the process because one must constantly backtrack to keep the rooms already completed from relentlessly returning to total mess.
By four in the afternoon, after hours of bouncing around among screaming macaws, trying to keep George on track, working on the living room, and also trying to get words down on paper, I had completed a section of the living room roughly four feet by ten feet. Time to open a bottle of wine.
Several more hours this evening were taken up by the continuing saga of the bedroom heater, but at this time, 8:00 p.m., I do once again have heat.
Photo by George Rains
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.