handy

hand

I had a little epiphany the other day. Someone was chit-chatting casually with my son, and in the course of this casual chit-chat asked him if Mom was “handy.” He confirmed that indeed Mom is.  When I heard this, I was tickled pink. I was BEYOND tickled pink. I was tickled rose sunsets and bubblegum-flamingos-in-pointe-shoes. I was tickled despite the fact that my late husband, who had worked in carpentry and construction for many years before switching to journalism, HATED HATED HATED the word “handy,” considering it an infantile reduction of his skills.

But I don’t deceive myself. I have no skills. When it comes to repairing things, jury-rigging things, piecing things together and persuading things to fit and function inside my house, I am exercising neither art nor aptitude. Instead I am exercising my inborn propensity for Repairman Avoidance. I am being the stubborn white-haired lady who might not believe she can fix a damn thing but is damn well going to try, anyway.

When the basement trap clogged and overflowed with toilet unmentionables, and I couldn’t reach the Sewage Dude immediately, I went down with a shovel and started to dig out. It was late at night, and it was disgusting. But you know what? As I shoveled and gagged and shoveled and gagged and shoveled and gagged and gagged, I felt a crazed pride welling within me, as in: Yee-haw! I am one sick motha! I can shovel shit! Yes, I can!

The next day, Sewage Dude arrived. Standing by as his finished the job, I engaged him in casual chit-chat.

Me: Soooooo. . . ummm. . . when my husband died, I wrote a book about it afterward called Figuring Shit Out.

Sewage Dude: Really.

Me: Yeah. And this would have been a great chapter.

(Sewage Dude laughs.)

Afterward, it occurred to me that shoveling shit was something my mother would have done — and might have done, for all I know. I think a lot about Mama, a tough, wise, loving lady whose stick-to-it-iveness carried the family after Daddy lost his short-term memory. Exercising her own inborn propensity for Repairman Avoidance, she fixed furniture, plumbing, windows. She painted the downstairs. She built a shower upstairs. When the cushions died, she took apart the living-room sofa and rebuilt it as a simple wood settee. She repaired hings, jury-rigged things, pieced things together and persuaded things to fit and function inside her  house.

I’d always admired this about her, but I’d always assumed her handiness was innate, not acquired. I assumed it was something she’d brought to her marriage that I didn’t bring to mine. But when my son called me handy, the revelation finally hit me: I was just like Mama! Mama was just like me! She hadn’t started out with a hammer in one small fist and a paint can in the other. Life had turned her into a jury-rigger and handy-woman, a stubborn white-haired lady who did what she could to patch things together. She she became what she needed to become. She fixed what broke. She figured shit out, and showed me the way.

 

 

 

the sun, when it comes

sun pic

I was feeling a little glumpy. My late husband coined that word, a cross between “grumpy” and “gloomy,” and it captures my mood as I hauled bags of disgusting wet crap out of my recently flooded basement

I had crawled inside my belly button and, not liking what I found there, crawled back out and started whining to God about the tempests that have periodically swamped my realm. I got a little pissy about it, wondering whether my life would, in fact, unfold in a non-stop parade of literal and figurative shit-storms (which reminds me of “shit magnet,” my brother’s apt coinage.)

SERIOUSLY, GOD!, I howled in silence from the depths of my soggy basement. IS THIS HOW IT’S GONNA BE  FOR ME? JUST ONE SQUALL AFTER ANOTHER UNTIL I KEEL OVER MELODRAMATICALLY IN AN EXHAUSTED, PATHETIC, MOLDY, STINKING HEAP, MY DENTURES RATTLING SADLY IN MY HEAD??

As I said. Pissy. And God, as it turned out, had something to say in response.

But I didn’t realize this. Not at first. All I knew was that I needed a walk. Emerging glumpily into the daylight with a final bag o’ crap, I looked at the sky, blinked at the sun and set off for a hoof around my chipper little neighborhood. I’d been walking for 40 minutes or so when I saw a man — a stocky fellow — step to the edge of the sidewalk about half a block ahead.

As I walked up, he regarded me closely. He said something I couldn’t understand, contorting his transparent, gentle face with some obvious effort. He looked worried. He lacked a few teeth. Maybe he had some other deficit, too.

Hello!, I said.

“I wanted to give you enough room,” he explained, taking another step to the side.

Oh, thank you! But that’s not necessary — I don’t need a lot of room.

“But I just wanted to give you more room.”

Well, thank you, sir. You’re very kind. Have a nice day!

“I don’t know if I can. That depends on the weather,” he said, looking worried again.

It’s sunny today. That helps, right?

“But I don’t know what the weather will be. When it’s windy, that makes it colder. It just happens. I can’t do anything about it.”

That’s true. But at least it isn’t windy now. Just a slight breeze.

“But yesterday — yesterday was cold. And it was windy. That made it colder. We just can’t tell what weather will happen. We don’t know if it will be cold. ”

You’re right.

“It’s not up to us. It’s up to Mother Nature. We can’t really know what we’re going to get. Mother Nature does that.”

You’re right.

“We can’t do anything about the weather. It just comes.”

You’re. So. Right. It’s not up to us. It just comes.

I looked at this dear man — this sweet, simple, wise stranger issuing necessary truths — and I recognized God’s rejoinder to my glumpiness. No, I can’t predict or control the storms that come my way. It’s not my business to know when they’re coming. It’s not my business to even ask, and it’s certainly not my business to complain about it.

All I can do is accept what happens. Cope and clean up. Look to the sky and rejoice at the sun, when it comes.

Amen to that, and to strangers.

 

 

 

 

 

life’s rich pageant

Remember that time the temperature plunged to -1,000,000 and my pipes froze and sprang a leak and I swore and swore and swore? I remember that, too. It happened — ooooh, let’s see, now — less than two weeks ago. The leak’s been fixed. Yay Hurray! Happy ending!

BUT GUESS WHAT.  Today I’ve been dealing with a flooded toilet AND a flooded basement, and when I say “flooded basement” I mean up to my floppy soppy ankles. As I type this, The Mighty Sump Dump is doing its job while bowls and buckets and laundry baskets and other plasticky vessels and shit are floating around my cellar like abandoned dreams in a sad Scandinavian arthouse movie. plunger

But I’m not complaining. No way! I’ve only sworn once so far! I know how lucky I am to own this house o’ mine, just as I know how lucky I am to traverse a life that’s been chock full of oh-so-interesting triumphs and disasters. This is all part of the daily thrill of being alive. Just the other day I was thinking, “Wow, I’m only 52, and already I’ve done a lot of living!” It hit me: If I died tomorrow, and I so hope I don’t, I’ll have led a rich and interesting life.

And I have. I’ve loved like crazy, given birth three times, watched my children grow, traveled bunches, read books, written three, played soccer, played Dvorak, sung Bach, worked as a journalist for 34 years (holy old farts!), MET SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS, been assaulted by turkeys and assorted South American creaturesfallen hard, gotten up, felt the sublime, laughed like hell AND undergone minimally invasive cardiac surgery for a wacky heart condition that I’ll write about some other time, but don’t worry, I’m fine. Plus! I got to have a colonoscopy when I turned 50, which is something my dear late sister Lucy never got to experience. That was quite a trip. Everything was.

Even the painful stuff has been a blessing, in its way. Even the failures, the flooded basements, the floating receptacles of crap. Even the broken bits inside me, the wild furies of fear and human weakness. Even the losses — everything that cracks me open and lets in the light and warmth. I feel. I live. Can’t do one without the other.

A coworker reminded me, today, of that bit in “A Shot in the Dark” where Clouseau falls into the fountain and emerges sopping wet. The sexpot maid played by Elke Sommer tells him he should change his clothes or catch his death of pneumonia. He replies: “Yes, I probably will. But it’s all part of life’s rich pageant, you know?”

As I drove home to deal with the basement, I thought about this. And I realized: My life is a “Pink Panther” movie! AND I AM JACQUES CLOUSEAU! Minus the accent and the mustache. He was the embodiment of slapstick catastrophe, whether smashing a priceless Steinway (“not anymore”) or vacuuming a woman’s boobs. And he coped. He fumbled forward and figured shit out.

So here I am. My basement is flooded. My bathroom’s a mess, or it was until I mopped it with bleach. My whole damn house is a mess. My whole damn self is a mess.

But I’ll live, I guess. I have already.