All Things Considered, Yesterday Was Basically Perfect

I felt really pretty good yesterday. Well enough to spend a lot of time downstairs at my kitchen table. The breathing issues were hardly noticeable. I was able to have a window open all day and the fresh air really helped.

I even got dressed in order to take my trash bin to the curb and it felt really great to be in actual clothes for a while. I hadn’t been in real clothes since I ran that errand to the dollar store the other day.

I’m hoping today will be similar, but I can’t open the windows because it’s super cold again — and I think that fresh air really helped.

Anyway. Another day is upon us!!

Last evening, I began watching that movie The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019), starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The cinematography is incredible and the movie is delightfully creepy. I’m not done watching it yet, but so far so good. It’s streaming free on Amazon right now.

I am sort of a solitaire addict. I play it on my iPad a lot while listening to music.  I find that my brain really processes things well when I’m doing that. I get a lot of thinking done while playing solitaire.

Back before things like iPads or even computers, I used to play a lot of solitaire the old-fashioned way — meaning with an actual deck of cards. Yesterday, while sitting at the kitchen table with nothing to really do, but I didn’t want to get back in bed because the weather was so beautiful and the kitchen was so sunny — I remembered that I had an actual deck of cards in a kitchen drawer, so I got them out and played solitaire at the kitchen table for awhile.

And then a whole slew of memories came back.

When I was a little girl, growing up in Cleveland, a couple times a year, my family and I would go to stay with my adoptive mom’s parents. I believe they meant well, but they were intensely controlling people — especially that particular grandmother. She was really unbelievably rigid and inflexible. (She suffered from mental illness but I didn’t know that when I was little).

They were both Russian immigrant Jews who had come to America in the early 1900s. My grandfather’s mother died in the flu pandemic of 1918, actually.  My grandfather did not have much schooling. He left home and had to start working when we was only 13. But he eventually became a millionaire.

When I was growing up, my grandparents were the first people I knew who could afford a color TV and Central Air Conditioning. Going to visit them was always so intense. We had to dress for dinner and not speak unless spoken to at the dining table — the whole 9 yards.

My grandmother had this weird rule that I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed in the morning until the housekeeper had gotten up, taken her shower, and gone down to the kitchen. I have always had a bladder the size of a mustard seed, and I have always been an early riser– waking up before anyone else on Earth. So to have to lie there with a bursting bladder, for over an hour before the housekeeper got up, took a shower, got dressed, and went downstairs — it was torture for me. Absolute agony. Because wetting the bed was out of the question, too. It would have been like the Wrath of Khan x 2 (meaning first, my grandmother and then my mother, because I would have made my mother look bad).

I honestly don’t believe my grandmother meant to be abusive or anything. She just desperately needed to control everything in her home. Everything. She was afraid of the entire world, and I’m not exaggerating.  (Among other things, she had severe agoraphobia.) (She was also the first person I knew who had a Camaro convertible. In 1967, my grandfather bought it for her, hoping that a sporty little car might help her want to leave the house. It didn’t. It stayed in the garage for decades, until she died and one of my male cousins inherited it. By then it was a highly valued classic car, and it was in mint condition.)

So they had money and they had a live-in housekeeper.  The housekeeper was white, Christian, single, and I thought she had sort of the saddest life. I don’t know how she put up with my grandparents. She worked for them — and lived with them — her whole adult life. She died in her 60s, while still working for them. I was already living in NYC by then.

Oddly enough, the housekeeper was buried in the same cemetery where Greg was buried — my boyfriend who died when I was 14. Once, on a trip back to Ohio from NYC, I made a trip to the cemetery to visit Greg’s grave. I wasn’t 100% sure where it was, but I knew the general area.

I parked my car, got out, and started heading in the direction of Greg’s grave and then suddenly stopped. Looked down. And right there  at my feet was the grave of the housekeeper!! And literally thousands of people are buried in that cemetery. I believe that in spirit, she did that. You know — she stopped me. A way of saying hello.

I always felt like she was a sort of guardian angel to me, even when she was alive. It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned she had gotten pregnant out of wedlock while working for my grandparents. She was sent to the same county home for unwed mothers that I wound up being born in a couple decades later. She gave birth to a baby girl that she gave up for adoption. (I heard that the man next door to my grandparents had been the father of the baby but I don’t know if that’s true or not.)

So, I didn’t know of that connection until I was grown and the housekeeper already had passed away. Obviously, she felt connected to me because I was a baby girl who had been adopted into the family.

Her bedroom was at the back of the upstairs hall in my grandparents house. And it was furnished with the bedroom furniture my grandparents had gotten when they’d gotten married in the 1920s.  It was simple but lovely mahogany furniture. And, as was the custom back in the 1920s, it had a vanity with a mirror and a little upholstered bench. When she was taking breaks from housecleaning, I would go into her room and sit on that little bench and talk to her, while she smoked her Belair cigarettes.

She was just so sweet to me. So intensely different from my grandmother (or my mother for that matter — in fact, if you are a reader of my in-progress childhood memoir, In the Shadow of Narcissa — the first time my mother was excessively abusive to me occurred when she was trying to potty-train me. After she did what she did to me, my dad took her away on a vacation, to try to calm her down. And my grandparents’ housekeeper was sent to Cleveland to stay with me and my brother while our parents were gone. And the housekeeper had me completely potty-trained before my parents even returned from their vacation.)

Once, when I was 8, and sitting in the housekeeper’s bedroom, talking to her while she was on a break, she gave me a gold ring. She took it out of her vanity drawer and said, “Here, I want you to have it, but don’t show it to anyone, okay?”

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was real — a 10kt. gold band with real diamond chips in it. I’m guessing she wore it while she was pregnant — on her days off, when she would go downtown and go shopping. It likely kept people from thinking she was unmarried and pregnant, which was incredibly scandalous in the 1940s. (In my teens, one of my girlfriends got pregnant and I gave her the ring for the same reason — so that she could wear it in public and people wouldn’t think she was unmarried and pregnant. But at that point, I didn’t yet know that the housekeeper had ever been pregnant.)

Well, my point is that, during the evenings, when all the dinner dishes were done and put away, the housekeeper would sit alone at the kitchen table and play solitaire for hours, until it was time for her to go to bed. Whenever we’d be visiting, I always liked to sit at the kitchen table with her and watch her play until it was my bedtime. She taught me how to play, in fact.

So, yesterday, sitting at my own kitchen table — almost as old now as she was when she died — playing solitaire the old-fashioned way… well, all those memories came back. She’s been gone about 35 years already. (Oh, and just FYI — each time I’ve been out to the cemetery to visit Greg’s grave since then, I have looked for the housekeeper’s grave again and have not been able to find it!!)

All righty. Well, here’s hoping that I continue to breathe sort of normally today. Two days in a row would be so cool! I hope you have a good Wednesday, wherever you are in the world. I leave you with my late-night/breakfast-listening music: “Moonland,” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Oddly enough, YouTube told me to start listening to it yesterday. I got an alert first on my iPhone, then on my laptop, and then on my iPad. It was the strangestly persistent thing. So I started listening to it yesterday on YouTube (which is not how I usually listen to it).

But anyway. It is from their 2008 album Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!! — another album that I absolutely love. I really, really do. It has some amazing songs on it. (Apparently, the song was also in the second season of the TV show Californication, which I also loved!)

Okay, well, thanks for visiting, gang. Stay healthy. Stay hopeful. I love you guys. See ya!

“Moonland”

When I came up from out of the meat locker
The city was gone
The sky was full of lights
The snow provided a silent cover
In moonland
Under the stars
Under the snow
And I followed this car
And I followed that car
Through the sand
Through the snow
I turn on the radio
I listen to the DJ

And it must feel nice
(It must feel nice)
It must feel nice to know
That somebody needs you
And everything moves slow

Under the stars, under the ash, under the sand
And the night drifts in
The snow provided a silent cover
And I’m not your favourite lover
I turn on the radio

And it must feel nice
(It must feel nice)
Oh, very, very nice to know
That somebody needs you
And the chilly winds blow

Under the snow, under the stars
The whispering DJ on the radio
The whispering DJ on the radio
I’m not your favourite lover
I’m not your favourite lover

And it must feel nice
(It must feel nice)
To leave no trace
That somebody needs you
And that somebody is me

Under the stars, under the snow

Your eyes were closed
You were playing with the buttons on your coat
In the back of that car

In moonland
Under the stars
In moonland
And I followed that car

© 2008 Nick Cave, Jim Sclavunos, Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey

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