I take showers in the mornings, a foggy stumble into the bathroom for a quick in-and-out of a hot shower and hair washing. In high school, I took a bath just before bedtime and had enough time for a little ritual.
Balancing my little black boombox with a cassette player on the towel rack, I’d put in a mixtape, fill the bathtub with hot water, and soak. Then, right before I got out of the tub, I’d slide down under the water, my hair floating around my head, knobby knees pointed to the ceiling. Underwater, the music sounded muffled and warped. I’d stay as long as I could stand it, and then I’d pop back up, and wash my wet hair under the faucet. Stepping out of the tub, my skin pink from the hot water, I’d dry my hair, put on my pj’s and climb in bed. It was a moment of calm and relaxation in what I considered a tumultuous senior year.
The back-to-school honeymoon we enjoyed in those fresh-faced few weeks of summer is clearly over. We are swimming in the deep-end now. We are in full-on homework agony. The scheduling squeezes of after-school clubs are putting a vice-grip squeeze on us now. The once sparkly-new, back-to-school tennis shoes have turned into worn-down stinkers that fill the mudroom with an aroma worthy of a Febreeze commercial.
Just like nearly every other woman I know, tonight after I got home from my full-time job, I started my second full-time job. On this particular evening, in addition to the typical routine: supper prep, supper clean-up, laundry, and homework assistance, I also peeled 8 pounds of russet baking potatoes.
Loaded baked potato casserole is one of the essential side items requested for Colin’s birthday dinner. The menu also includes fish sticks with honey mustard on the side, steamed broccoli with homemade cheese sauce and something he calls ranch salad. The recipe for ranch salad for those who are curious: chopped iceberg lettuce, ranch dressing, and croutons. For dessert, he’s asked for a Dairy Queen ice cream cake. I’ve got this.
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.
Everyone has a sacred space. A place that allows time for quiet and adjustment, a reset, a place to listen for God. It’s a deeply personal space and can be found almost anywhere: a bedroom, broom closet, inside the car on a morning commute. Some can even create space in their own minds, no matter where they are. Folks around here will tell you they find God on tractors, in gardens or front porches, even deer stands. One of my students wrote once about finding God in a duck blind on Christmas Eve morning when misty fog still covered the lake.
My sacred space is our century-old country church, the actual, physical building. Theologians warn that church buildings should not be so important in the life of a Christian. A valid argument is made that the church universal – a living, breathing congregation of like-minded people – is more important than a physical space. I understand the point and I agree; however, I also believe both can be true, especially in Elmodel.
When Nanny and Pops went to the camp, they most always took me. Pops built the camp in 1961 on a shady lot on the banks of the Itchuaway-Notchuway Creek in Baker County, Georgia. It was a joint purchase between Pops and four of his siblings, but he constructed and wired the house himself.
By the time I started going fishing with them in the early 1980’s, Pops had bought out his siblings, and the house had fallen into some disrepair. It sagged a little. The bathroom toilet was tricky. The refrigerator had rusty racks. Time and age had taken their toll, but Nanny and Pops didn’t seem to mind.
From what Daddy has put together, my great-great grandfather William Thomas Morgan was twenty-five years old and a member of the field artillery fighting at Gettysburg when he got word that his wife and children were sick with typhoid fever. So, he left his battalion and walked most of the 844 miles back to Quitman, GA.
We do not know if he made it home before both his wife and one of his little girls died. His only surviving child, Carrie, continued to live with her maternal grandparents until Mr. Morgan returned home once and for all after war’s end.