Sunday, January 21, 2007

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile... join us if you like.

4. If, growing up, I had any trouble with my step-father, it was in this area:

It was about chores. We started off on the wrong foot and never did get on the right one on this.

Before Mama married Daddy, I was in a boarding school for two years. Chores were part of life at St. Mary of the Palms; everyone had a chore and no one thought anything about it. For us littles, the chores were on Saturdays. We would get up, go to mass, have breakfast, and then do our chores. For 2nd and 3rd graders, which is what I was when I was there, the prize chore was the staircase. You only got to do the staircase when you had proved that you were thorough and could be trusted to work alone. Many of the other chores were either for more than one girl or were done in the same room as another girl or two. The staircase was a single girl chore, and no one else was around when you did it. No one to joke and sing with; no one to notice if you goofed off.

I worked very hard to get the privilege of doing the stairs, and once I got them I didn't let them go. Not only was it recognized as a special chore, but it was very sensuous. The stairs were a wonderful hardwood, with a lovely grain. First trip down was polishing the banister and posts. Then I started on the top, backing down on my hands and knees to the bottom. I would kneel on one step and clean the one above with a soft bristled brush; finally a trip with a soft cloth that had been soaked in some solution the nuns made themselves. The grain of the wood gleamed and the solution smelled of lemon and something else. On winter days, it was warm and on summer days it was cool. It was always quiet, that kind quiet that you find in convents. There would be an eighth grader who brought in flowers and a nun who arranged them in the hall. I could hear one of the nuns practicing the organ for mass. Sometimes I would stop part way down and look between the posts at all of the paintings and flowers in the hall below. Sometimes someone would use the stairs while I was cleaning them, and if it was an adult I would get a smile and if it was a student she might tell me a joke or something funny that had happened in the kitchen. Because I did stairs, all of the older girls knew me and I knew them. They said hi to me on the playground.

I had great pride in my ability to do things well. I also used to go occasionally for a week long visit to a friend of my mother's who had two daughters about my age. At that home, we got up and got the house cleaned together the first thing every morning and then had the rest of the day free to play and explore the world. I liked being included in that routine.

So, when I was nine Mama and Daddy got married and after their honeymoon, Forrest and I moved into the house in the country with them. The first day of school, being used to living at the school and unaware that terrible things can happen to little girls, I stayed after to help clean blackboards and then had a wonderful time with the swings all to myself. I got home very late and that wasn't a good day.

The second day of school, I remembered that now I had to come right home when everyone else did. When I got home, Daddy had left an envelope with my name on it. In it were a note and a second envelope. The note said, "dust mop your room, and then open the next note." I had a wonderful time, I made the floor gleam, I was very proud of myself as I approached the treat of the second envelope. Inside was a note and another envelope and the note said, "Now go back and do it right and then open the next note." There were nine of them, all told.

Mama and Daddy had been married for about two weeks. I had been living with them for less than a week and gone to school a total of two days.

Battle lines had been drawn.


kenju said...

Apparently, he GREW into his wisdom and sensitivity, huh?

I can't wait to hear how it all played out, MG.

Maya's Granny said...

Kenju, he was a contradiction. He could be both wise and sensitive and incredibly whatever the hell this was. He confused the hell out of those of us who loved him, and the rest of the world as well.

It took us years to figure out that he would always be there in the big things, it was just in the little ones that he was sarcastic and controling and stupid. If we needed him, he came through. But, day to day, he often underrated not only us kids but Mama and the rest of the human race as well.

J said...

Ugh. I think I would have seriously considered running away.