Thursday, September 20, 2007

Walhydra cleans house

Walhydra has just returned from another extended ordeal back home in South Carolina, once more struggling to settle the property and financial affairs of her mother, Senior Witch, who moved to Walhydra's sister's home back in March.

This time Walhydra's goal was to empty out and clean Senior Witch's house, already on the market now for a month, but still cluttered with Walhydra's "inherited" furniture and other odds and ends.

Already worn down by six months of daily pre-dawn angst and grief clutching her sternum, Walhydra got on the road an hour late on Saturday. Hubby Jim's bright red Outlander had an almost flat tire, and it took Walhydra four gas stations before she found a working air pump.


Walhydra hates this drive. Four hours north on I-95 (the Miami-to-Maine drug run). Then one west on I-26. Ugh!

She broke free by slipping instead up the old two-lane Highway 21, running from Yemassee to Orangeburg through farmland, tiny 19th century railroad towns—and convenience store stops where all the rural folks speak Spanish.

A slower road, but scenic and no traffic—and it's the hypotenuse of the triangle made by 95 and 26.

She arrived in the late afternoon and visited for an hour with Mom's dear neighbor Grace.

True to her name, Grace is a real evangelical Christian. That is, not one who professes; just one who practices at every moment, with every person, never proselytizing or voicing judgment, but simply offering gentle encouragement and support. It was a genuine blessing to reconnect with this saint.

Empty RoomEven so, when Walhydra went in to wander the nearly empty house, room by room, her sense of loss, in combination with her sense of too-much-to-do, was overwhelming.

She finally gave up and went out looking for dinner...but couldn't find anyplace which felt like home any more.

With a start Walhydra realized that Columbia, where she lived for over half her life, now feels suburban-sprawly and strange, whereas Jacksonville, which she hated when she arrived seven years ago, she now longs for as home.

Worse, hubby Jim wasn't with her.

She called him twice on her cell to whine about not liking this trip, before she finally found a branch of the local Mexican franchise they used to enjoy together. Not really home, but close enough to pretend.

Then she wandered through their old Barnes & Nobles haunt...but that felt too lonely, too.

At last she gave up and managed to lull herself to sleep in the guest room of Senior Witch's home, where her divorced parents' bedroom suite—Walhydra isn't ready to tell that story—still sits.

Sunday morning Walhydra popped awake at seven.

She's learned she daren't lie abed once her brain starts listing likely reasons for the angst-and-grief knot, so she jumped out, did limbering exercises, dressed, and roamed the rooms inventorying the tasks to be done...all before devotions or breakfast or any of that other sane, normal morning stuff.

After trips to Lowe's, Food Lion and BiLo for cleaning and packing supplies, she plunged in.

This is a beautiful one-storey brick house which Walhydra's step-father built with his GI Bill loan back in 1954. About midway through the day, Walhydra was using Murphy's Oil Soap on the handmade, built-in bookshelves in the den, when she started to feel the humble pleasure of that dear man's work in creating this home for his first wife—and sharing it with his second.

What's more, as Walhydra struggled—knee brace and back brace dutifully in place—to scrub the second...ugh!...application of Easy Off out of the 50-year-old Westinghouse range's ovens, she started to reconnect with what she remembered as Senior Witch's joy at housewifery.

As the eldest of three preacher's kids, Walhydra had been the one to absorb with the most doctrinal correctness—but also the most genuinely Pagan appreciation—the arts of taking care of a home.

Now, gradually, she found herself doing for her mother that same, reverent sort of house-cleaning. Making sure that every little detail—even those a potential buyer might not notice right away—was as well done as Senior Witch would want an eventual housewife or househusband to find it.

She remembered what she had told Senior Witch:

"My brother Marty told me that, even with the furniture gone, it didn't feel like an empty house. It still felt like a warm, lived in home. Your home.

" have the sadness of having left your home behind. But you have left behind a home, not just an empty house, for the next family to move into."

Walhydra spent another day and a half on this chore, squeezing in visits with the financial advisor, the tax accountant, the listing agent, the Orkin man, and the firm which reinforced the sagging foundation of the den.

All that plus three ultimately unsuccessful trips to Lowe's to try to match the drip bowls for the 50-year-old range. Oh, well....

(She finally gave up and restored the old ones, "hiding" the rusty one in the back.)

She also managed a very good evening with her Dad, the Lutheran pastor, and her step-mother, and another with her dear computer guru friend Jay.


Oh. And there was the matter of deciding what of Senior Witch's trove of lifelong "saved items" to keep, what to give away, and what to kick reverently to the curb.

Namely, all the neatly folded paper and plastic bags, the washed and flattened aluminum foil, the jelly jars and plastic take-home boxes, the thread-bare towels and wash clothes kept as rags, the salvage from various hospital stays, the 1963 Encyclopedia Britannica, the reams of discontinued letterhead from Senior Witch's last job. And so on....

Today, back at the library, Walhydra was talking about these marvels with a colleague who shared a similar story about her own Depression-era parents.

"They were using frugality to take care of their families and, at the same time, taking care of the earth without knowing it," the friend said. "They didn't think about 'ecology' or 'sustainability.' They just didn't waste anything."


So Walhydra—both alarmed and amused by her own 21st century ruthlessness—admired once more Senior Witch's consummate housewifery, even has she tossed out a nearly 10-year-old bottle of murky cooking sherry.

Well, it all got done. By Tuesday, 4 PM, the house was clean and empty of everything but Walhydra's piano, sofa and bedroom suite—which she still has to find someone to move.

She gathered the odds and ends she was carrying home into the Outlander. Packed the vehicle with all the precision and efficiency she remembered her preacher Dad using for summer cross-country family vacations.

Then she went for one last walk-through...and realized that she had to—oh, no!—do a ritual of parting.

What she did was spontaneous, yet almost as familiar as breathing.

When Walhydra was a little boy back in Ohio, she used to love the quavering voices of the old ladies in her Dad's Lutheran church as they sang the Offertory from Psalm 51.

A couple decades ago, Walhydra rediscovered these verses as a mantra and prayer, one she uses daily, sometimes several times daily.

Usually Walhydra associates each line with a chakra, which she clears and opens as she says the words. But on this day, she sang the old, simple melody.

She walked from room to room, stopping at each doorway to picture Senior Witch, her stepfather, the family who grew up in this house, or hubby Jim and herself on the many Thanksgivings and Christmases and regular weekends when they visited or stayed over.

"Create in me a clean heart, oh God...."

The guest room. Already her throat felt tight.

"...and renew a right spirit within me."

The back room, where Senior Witch liked to lounge and read, and where the ancient computer used to sit.

"Cast me not away from thy presence...."

The master bedroom. Two marriages, two families, and then Senior Witch's last years here alone.

"...and take not thy holy spirit from me."

The master bath.

"Restore unto me...."

The breakfast nook and kitchen....

And here was where Walhydra started crying.

All that life, from as early as she can remember, of watching Senior Witch cook meals. And those last decades here, after her stepfather's death, when her Mom quit cooking, but Walhydra and Jim would do special holiday dinners.

Kitchen. Hearth and home.

Walhydra wandered on into the den. Walked over to the space where Mom always read or watched TV in her rocking chair.

"...the joy of thy salvation...."

At last, into the living room, singing weakly.

"...and uphold me with thy free spirit."

Walhydra walked out, pulled the door shut and locked it. She went next door to Grace's, wiping her tears on the way.

Grace was true to her name again. "It's been a very profitable visit for you."

"Yes. Thank you so much."

"Thank you."

They hugged and parted.

Walhydra realized she had left a water bottle in the fridge. She went back into the house, the kitchen, to get it.

And she found herself retracing her steps from room to room, saying "Joy!" at each doorway. "Joy," especially, at the site of the rocking chair.

She left and locked up again, and headed back down I-26 and I-95.

A couple of hours later as she drove, Walhydra was listening to hubby Jim's newest CD, a Hear Music compilation of Jim's favorite Motown artist, Marvin Gaye.

All those marvelous songs from their teens and 20s.

"How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)."

And those wonderful duets with Tammi Terrell. "You're All I Need To Get By." "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

Songs that reminded Walhydra of how she feels about hubby Jim.

Finally, Marvin and the crowd kicked into Walhydra's mostest, favoritest one.

She could feel her excitement, and—there's no polite way to say this—she got to where she was bouncing her pelvis on the driver's seat as she sang along.

Picture this aging, gray-bearded white guy in a bright red Outlander, cruising down the highway past the truckers and third-generation yuppies, singing out:

I used to go out to parties
and stand around
'cause I was too nervous
to really get down
but my body yearned to be free
I got up on the floor and thought
somebody could choose me
No more standin' there beside the walls
Finally got myself together baby
and I'm havin' a ball
As long as you're groovin'
there's always a chance
somebody watches
and might wanna make romance
Move your body, ooo baby, you dance all night
to the groove and feel alright
Everybody's groovin' on like a fool
But if you see me spread out and let me in
Baby just party high and low
Let me step into your erotic zone
Move it up
Turn it 'round
ooo Shake it down
You can love me when you want to babe
This is such a groovy party baby
We're here face to face
Everybody's swingin'
This is such a groovy place
All the young ladies are so fine
You're movin your body easy with no doubts
I know what you thinkin' baby
you wanna turn me out
I think I'm gonna let you do it babe

Keep on dancin'
You got to get it
Got to give it up
And so it is.

Blessèd Be.


Cat C-B (and/or Peter B) said...

Oh, my dear friend...

I read this column over lunch, and here I am blinking back tears over the 15 minute mini-study hall that followed it. (Rule #1 of high school teaching--never cry in front of the kiddies.)

Reading this was so moving; my heart has been graced by this story. Grace over lunch, right in the middle of a working day. Such a deal.

Senior Witch has been blessed to have you for her child... when my time comes around, I can only hope my own daughter will close the doors on my past with her with such tenderness and understanding.

Blessed be, Wallhydra.

Anonymous said...

Walhydra, It feels as if you're leading the way, helping me learn how to deal with these difficult transitions of life. I started crying when I saw the photo of the empty room, with the crisp white curtains still hanging in the window. I knew what it would feel like to walk through my own parents' home at such a time. But to sing your blessing on the house, and then return to anoint it with joy!--that is how all houses should be treated.

I just finished re-reading The Secret Garden, the old classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett. In one scene Colin, whose life is being transformed by his cousin and the healing effect of the garden, feels very moved, and yearns to express his appreciation and delight in the changes in himself and in the reviving garden. The gruff old Yorkshire gardener, Ben Weatherby, says something like, "Tha might sing th' Doxology." There truly are times when the old formulas of praise and blessing are the best.

Thank you, Walhydra.

Bright Crow said...

Dear Cat,

Thank you so much for your comment... and sorry about study hall.


Something I hadn't expected happened because of this post. To understand it, you have to know that hubby Jim rarely openly acknowledges sadness and never cries—except, even more rarely, with silent tears.

I happened to be standing by him in our study when he read this post all the way through, and I put a hand on his shoulder. At the end he let tears fall and we held each other.

My Mom is Jim's Mom too, in a way that, sadly, his own mother would not let herself be.

I'm grateful that Walhydra's storytelling could give Jim and me that moment of shared grieving.

Blesséd Be,

Bright Crow said...


Thank you.

I have just begun to sing that offertory, rather than speaking it, when I knew I needed a more visceral connection with what the words point me to.

Still, I took myself by surprise which I did this spontaneously in Mom's house.

I like this:

"'Tha might sing th' Doxology.' There truly are times when the old formulas of praise and blessing are the best."

To me a constant, amusing irony is that "orthodox" words which I consciously resist (because of my changing beliefs) still work at that deeper level when sung.

But then, I suppose we respond to musice long before we learn language.

Blesséd Be,