“Mama, I’m hungry.” If I had a quarter for every time this was bellowed down our hallway, whispered into my ear, or declared aloud at the exact moment I finally sat down from any number of chores, I’d be a millionaire.
After nearly two weeks at home over the holidays with my boys, I’m convinced one of the reasons I am not a millionaire is because Jamie and I feed two children every three hours. They go through food like a buzzsaw through plywood.
The hamster was not my idea. The hamster was Ginny’s idea and somehow, she roped Jamie’s sister Keisha into it, too.
Colin had been asking for a kitten, but we already have a dog. Paisley, our miniature schnauzer, was bought for Jack after he turned three. Buddies for the last 11 years, Paisley follows Jack from room to room, sleeps at the foot of Jack’s bed and gets antsy when Jack isn’t home.
Colin wanted a kitten, but he is allergic. Enter hamster.
Every now and then when Ginny and I still lived at home, Mama got a wild hair to clean out the tin house behind Nanny and Pops’ house. We didn’t have an attic, so we stored all the flotsam and jetsam of our lives in the tin house. At any given time the tin house stored: assorted Christmas decorations, a table and chair set Mama and Daddy had when they first married, some steamer trunks full of baby clothes. There were a couple of shelves for books, some records, and magazines. Always there were cardboard boxes of different size and shape. Daddy also kept old tax records and used checkbook stubs in nondescript black trash bags for safe-keeping. That’s right, safekeeping.
Cleaning out the tin house meant we dedicated an entire Saturday in the fall to hauling everything out into Nanny’s backyard so we could clean the inside of the storage house first. Then, we made a burn pile in an old rusty barrel and sorted treasure into four piles: dump, burn, dust and put back. I hated those days. It usually took us approximately forever to finish.
When Ginny and I were around thirteen, Mama and Daddy started giving us someday house presents: a set of pewter candlesticks, iced tea glasses, a piece of silver. I romanticized the gifts, of course, and thought of them as a kind of modern dowry.
When Jamie and I moved into our first apartment, I unpacked those someday house treasures from my steamer trunk, where they’d been stored since I was a teenager. As a new bride, there were lots of happy dreams in each candlestick, hand-carved wooden bowl and tablecloth I put on our very first mantle, bookcase and kitchen table.
When I was a little girl, Mama cleaned house by first opening all the windows to “air things out and let the sunshine in.” Then, she put a Broadway soundtrack on the record player.
I was of the age that chores were fun and helping Mama made me feel accomplished. She taught me how to starch and iron the dishcloths and pillowcases. Sometimes, she would let me wash the hairbrushes. I remember only bits and pieces of those days: how water would flick up into my face when I washed her round brown hairbrush or Daddy’s turquoise one with salt-and-pepper bristles, how the hot soapy water made the kitchen smell, the squeak of the bathroom mirror as I wiped it clean with newspaper wet with vinegar and water. I remember curtains catching a breeze and billowing out into the room.