I may have mentioned before that I’m not a fan of house cleaning. Once in a while, though, I have to do a few basics. Vacuum up cat hair. (Tell me again why I love Lulu.) Wash the toothpaste spatters from the bathroom mirror. Clean an occasional window when it becomes so foggy I can hardly see out.
It was that last job that recently brought a tear to my eye. It made me think of Jeanette, my dear friend, and the woman who kept my house spotless for several years. There I stood trying to get the damn streaks out, wishing I were reading a book, lifting weights, going for a walk, standing on my head — anything but cleaning windows.
Not only do I miss J’s cleaning skills, but I miss her. She was my friend from the time we first met, but I learned what her friendship really meant to me when D moved out. She held my hands and hugged me and cried with me. She loved me the very best that she could through the toughest time of my life. I never had a better friend. We still talk on the phone from time to time. She stays constantly on the go, raising a young granddaughter all by herself. She’s older than I am. I don’t know how she does it. But she does, without complaint.
And so I went from feeling pitiful for having to clean windows (How silly is that?), and missing Jeanette (not so silly), to singing my favorite window-cleaning song along with Van Morrison, both of us at high volume. Sadness evaporates like Windex on a window pane when Van’s in the room.
This afternoon my grandson came over to help me with some chores around the house. He’s very handy. He repaired a light switch in the bathroom. Now I don’t have to worry about the light suddenly coming on at three in the morning. He programmed my thermostat so it would stop clicking on at odd times and making the downstairs too hot. I probably could have done that one myself if the print in the instruction booklet wasn’t so small. Once he had finished a few other minor odd jobs, he came in from the garage and inquired, “Grandma, are you ready for your tree?”
Until that moment I had been undecided. I wrestle with the tree issue every year. So far I haven’t figured out whether it’s sadder with or without it. Spontaneously, I gave him my answer, “Yep, let’s bring it in.” And so we did.
As he was putting the tree together, I reminded Grandson that he has helped me reconstruct the tree every year I’ve had it except the year I bought it. That year I did it all by myself just to prove I could. The memory brings back a flood of emotions that I tried hard not to show in Grandson’s presence.
It was my second Christmas alone, my first in this house. I knew I couldn’t handle a real tree by myself. We had always had the real thing in the past so buying a “fake” was a difficult decision. But I knew it was the only practical thing to do so I headed off to Peppermint Forest in search of the perfect not-so-perfect Christmas tree.
I walked around the “forest” many times as I struggled to justify the prices on the tags of the best quality, prettiest trees. I finally bit the bullet and chose my favorite, rationalizing that over a period of several years the price would become roughly the equivalent of having bought a real tree each of those years. I stood in line, paid for the tree, and waited for the giant elves to load it into my car.
I got home with my precious purchase only to realize I might not be able to get it out of the car by myself. I was able to pull the box to the garage floor, open it, and carry each piece/tier of the tree into the house. As soon as I started to put the tiers together I realized the tree was too big for my room. What was I to do? What could I do? I did what any
not so sane person would do. I sat on the floor and cried. I’m talking BOO HOO crying.
Then I got tough again. And I started putting those heavy, prickly branches back in that damn shrinking box. By then I was crying angrily. Angry at the world, and most especially at my ex. This entire fiasco was his fault.
I know that fear often causes a surge of adrenaline, giving a spurt of strength that a person doesn’t normally have. I did not know until that day that anger and frustration can have the same effect. Now I know. I put that box, tree and all, back in my car by myself, and drove back to the “tree farm”, despite the fact that they had a no-return policy.
I locked the tree in the car, took my receipt inside, waited in line again. I had practiced my spiel as I drove. In my calmest, steadiest voice I explained that I couldn’t use the tree and wanted to trade for one slightly smaller. When the clerk hesitated, my voice stayed calm but my teary eyes betrayed me as I said, “I have never done this Christmas tree thing by myself. I misjudged the size. I’m asking if you would be so kind as to make an exception for me.” By that time I had an audience which included three clerks, one a manager. The manager stepped up to the plate and told me (and the rest of the gang), “Yes, ma’am, we will.”
I suppose I still feel the trauma of that experience each year when we bring out the holly and the ivy, and yes, the magnificent tree. I’ve laughed and cried as I’ve written this piece. I’m grateful for both, I think. At least I’m no longer numb. Feeling deeply is a good thing, isn’t it?