A Good Day To…

There’s one bird chirping, a sad, snippy, repetitive chirp,—a chirp that says, maybe, “You made me fly back from Florida for THIS?” The sky is gray; rivulets run down either side of the street, and the rivulets are pa-pinged by the insistent fall of a relentless Friday rain.

It’s a day for a hot breakfast. We pull the last of the ham chunks from the freezer, chop them up, and sauté them while the eggs are beaten frothy. The eggs join the ham in the big skillet; I grate sharp, hard cheese.

The omelet cooks quickly; before it’s quite done, I sprinkle the cheese in, flip it folded, turn the heat to very, very low, and put the old, dented aluminum lid on top. Within a minute, we have cheese ooze. The toaster dings, and Mark pulls out his bread, nicely charred—Zanghified, we call it. The boy likes a little carbon on his toast.

Jim clatters downstairs, and his eyes light up at the thought of an eggy hot breakfast. We share up the omelet, sit at the table, let the rain serenade our morning meal.

And then the boyos are off, Mark dashing out the backdoor to the carport, holding a file over his head, Jim scurrying down the front walk to the minibus that picks him up.

Doors slam on both sides of the house, and a certain quiet settles in.

I had thought of taking my umbrella and walking outside, but the streets flow and the ground, in this weird-weather week, is sodden. (This week, I got caught in a hailstorm on the drive home from the library. The sky was split in two: one half was a normal, cloud-scudded sky, with even a little blue peeking through; the other half pushed along a curled wave of murky white clouds, like the roller on an old-fashioned window shade. Beyond the roller, the sky was black and roiling.

“Let me get home; just let me get home,” I muttered or prayed, but five minutes away from my house, the roller shade surged overhead, and rain started pelting. It was pelting sideways, and I felt a clutch of fear, waiting five cars deep at a light.

By the time I moved forward, the rain had turned to hail, and the lights in the houses and restaurants on the street I normally take were snuffed out. Blind traffic lights swung crazily, and I took the first left turn, hoping that the side streets might somehow be more protected.

The hail was big. It pounded the roof and the hood and the sides of my car: POCKPOCKPOCK…an overwhelming and frightening noise. I thought once of stopping to wait out the siege, but I was afraid the hail would break my windows…and there was no getting out of the car to run.

I crept along, crunching the hail beneath my tires, struggling to see. In one part of the street, the skeleton of a trailer—the kind you pull a boat on, maybe—rocked back and forth in the righthand lane, escaped from its weighted perch, no doubt. Turning around was not an option; I nudged as close to the far side of the street as I could and, blessedly, didn’t scratch against the errant thing.

“Just let me get home,” I implored again, and somehow, I did, catching my breath in the carport before dashing to the back door. There was a cascade sluicing off the roof of our little back entry; hail was piling in glistening heaps. In the ten seconds it took to run inside, I was drenched and battered. And safely thankful.

What a storm. Mark’s car was parked outside while he worked; my little car suffered through the hail on the ride home. They are pockmarked, both cars, but we are the lucky ones. Friends lost windows in their houses and chunks of roofs or siding. The power went out in bizarre and random, patternless fashion. Across the street, our neighbors’ houses were dark until the deep of  night. Our power never flickered.  

So lucky. And so completely intimidated by the rage of nature unleashed.)

But now it’s Friday, and the rain is vertical, relentless, but gentler. Still, even with an umbrella, it’s not weather to walk outdoors. I grab my five-pound dumbbells and I march around the house for ten minutes. It’s a day to walk inside.

It is a day to do laundry, too. I go downstairs to throw in a load of towels, and then I open the new upright freezer by the basement steps. It is frigid and pristine inside, having chilled all night; I move the food from the old chest freezer—bought, probably, 15 years or more ago. It has been a good little chiller, but these days, the mechanism that holds the lid up is weakened. So I stick my head in, rootling for the pork chops I need, the pork chops that are, inevitably, on the very bottom of the freezer, under the turkey breast and the beef roasts, under bags of peas and broccoli and containers of frozen chicken stock.

And, as I rustle around, the lid gets gleeful. “This is fun!” it says. “Let’s wrassle!”

And it slams down on the bumpy, bony, back part of my neck. I yell words I won’t write here, and I smack the little freezer with chunks of frozen meat, which doesn’t help at all.

But: we waited out the supply chain freezer issues, and now we have our reward.

Now I can open the freezer door and see exactly where the pizzas are, or the bags of berries, the cool whip containers, or the sausage patties.

I empty out the little freezer and the even smaller freezer over the downstairs refrigerator, and I stand back to admire the space and organization of the new appliance.

Today, this rainy day, is a good day to be thankful for little, oddball things.

*****************************

It’s a day to use things up, too. James and I went on our bi-monthly trip to Sam’s Club yesterday. We brought home cases of canned tomatoes and kidney beans, big cases of vinegar jugs, industrial sized boxes of cereal, and a great big vat of spring greens. Goodies, somehow, crept into the oversized shopping cart, too, and when we got home, I stood on the stool to put M&M’s on top of the cupboard, and I marveled that we have an old, opened container with M&M’s still left in it after a two-month lapse.

This morning I decide to use up that aging candy. I’ll make peanut butter oatmeal cookies, a lovely cookie that contains nary a drop of wheat. I clipped the recipe from a newspaper many, many years ago. A long time passed before I used it; I just had no faith that these cookies would hold together, be a treat.

The trick, though, is to let the mixture settle for an hour; then, I think, the oats drink in the moisture and expand, and the cookies plump up perfectly. This is not an “Okay for a gluten-free recipe” cookie; this is a cookie everyone in the house just loves.

While the dough settles, I check email and switch laundry over, and march around the house some more. Then I preheat the oven and plop sticky, chocolate-studded doughballs onto cookie sheets; when the oven’s ding announces its readiness, I slide two trays into the oven, and wander away.

Soon the scent of hot, sweetened peanut butter floats richly into all the corners. I sit at the dining room table, reading a book about life in Hong Kong; I am there, and I am marveling. Then I am here, and I am switching cookie sheets, then flippering hot cookies onto the giant pizza pan where they settle and cool.

I eat a hot cookie; the oven chiggers and sighs its hot nutty breath, and I grab the dumbbells and march around the house for another ten minutes.

****************************************

I discovered, when I moved chunks of frigid food from old freezer to new, that we still had a piece of beef brisket. And this is a perfect day, I think, to have a braise, a long, slow, moist cooking; the result a tender, almost shredded chunk of meat to serve up on mashed potatoes.

I settle in with recipe books and decide to use Alice Waters’ method in The Art of Simple Food. That process, she writes, “combines the best of roasting and braising into one method to produce a meltingly tender, mouthwatering golden roast with a rich deeply flavorful sauce.”

We had bought a huge chunk of brisket, cut it into manageable portions, and eagerly anticipated the feasts we would concoct. But our first foray, involving smoking and barbecue, left us sadly disappointed.  The meat was tough and stringy.

The next time out, we tried a long, slow braise—guided by Alice Waters—and the result was fork-tender and amazing.

Today—this rain-softened gray day,—is the perfect day for a patient braise. I pull down the roasting pot, and I defrost beef broth.

*********************************************

And the rain falls, and I grab towels, hot from the dryer, fold them into neat squares and rectangles—such a simple, soul-satisfying job. Now the house is scented with a rich, beefy smell, and I grab the five pound weights and walk some more, noticing…

  • The goodie bag Jim brought home from his TRiO orientation, with a T-shirt, a custom notebook and pen, and a plastic vial of hand sanitizer;
  • The goofy game Matt forgot to take home with him when he visited, a game he picked up for 94 cents at a Goodwill store, and I spy a box it would just fit into;
  • The gleeful, joyful, tomato plants, seeds from last year’s bounty surging into life;
  • A stack of books, some library, some ‘home’ books. (Jim texts from work to pass on a recommendation from his boss, Janelle, who has found tasty gluten-free chocolate chip cookies at Trader Joe’s in Easton, and he ends by writing, “You should grab a book and a cup of coffee and sit in the chair and read!”)

I think that Jim gives good advice.

Tomatoes plants are raring to go…

It is a day to enjoy the slow roast, the hum of the dryer, the taste of a fresh-baked cookie, and the rain-mandated diffusion of pressure,—a ‘count my blessings’ kind of day when ordinary and homely things snap into clear focus, reminding me that humble, humdrum parts of life are pretty important, too.

******************************

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

(I clipped this recipe from the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch many, many years ago. It was submitted by Miriam Beachy.)

½ cup butter, softened

¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

¾ cup crunchy peanut butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

2-1/4 cups quick-cooking oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

8 to 12 ounces M&M’s or butterscotch chips

–Cream butter, sugars, eggs, and peanut butter. Beat in vanilla, oats, and baking soda.

–Stir in peanuts and M&M’s.

–LET MIXTURE STAND AT LEAST ONE HOUR. (If it’s left to stand longer, please refrigerate.)

–Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drop dough by tablespoonsful onto greased cookie sheets. Bake for about 12 minutes.

A Different Kind of Ordinary Time

The nativity is our last indoor vestige of Christmas, and, on January 7, the day after the feast of Epiphany, I bring out a stack of newspapers and the box the figures fit in so nicely.

The joyous scene is set, this year, on the broad windowsill (too broad, really, to be a windowsill; too low, though, to be a window seat) in the TV room. The figures nestle on pretty plaid flannel towels; the towels were a gift last year, and they’re just too lovely to use for wiping dishes. Baby Jesus and his mama and papa, white ceramic figures, show up nicely on the muted tartan colors.

I start with the outliers—the three wise men, just recently arrived at the manger. One of these guys has always been wobbly; he perches next to the window molding, where he can lean securely, holding up his casket—a gift, I think, of gold, frankincense, or myrrh. I bundle him up securely, and I do the same with his compatriots and their camels—one which is sitting, enjoying a nice rest; the others upright, moving on.

I wrap up the stable animals—the ox with the broken horn, the donkey, the little lambs.

I wrap the wide-eyed shepherds, young, kneeling, caught up in an Event they don’t understand.

Then I wrap up Joseph, who has been leaning, arms crossed, protective, over his wife and child. I gently enfold Mary, kneeling over the baby, exhausted and impossibly young.

And I take the little babe out of his manger, bundle him snugly, and wrap his bed.

The baby goes right at the top of the box. I cover him with an extra fold of newsprint, and I close up the box.

Then I take the whole entourage to Egypt, which, for our purposes, is a shelf in our basement.

******************************

My mother gave me those figures not long after I got married. She contracted with a local artist who made them.

She bought sets for my brothers, too.

That must have been in the early to mid-eighties, so my ceramic figures are somewhere around 40 years old. And they have come out every Christmas season since Mom gifted them to me, in six different houses. The ox’s broken horn is the only casualty.

They are old friends who help me welcome the holiday season.

But by January 6, I am ready to carefully pack them away and say goodbye to the festivities.

******************************

This Christmas—this omicron Christmas—was quiet and restful. We stayed close to home, went for long walks, and talked on the phone or via Zoom to the people we missed seeing; we took little road trips, exploring local light shows and hiking trails. Once we ventured out to a new restaurant we enjoyed very much.

That lunch out was to give the workers, Jim, Don, and Steve, who were recreating our powder room, space and quiet to work. The project bled into the hallway and kitchen, grew into a whole huge ship-lapped area, and resulted in a lovely new floor.

That job made this the Christmas when a sparkling new toilet sat in the living room, not so far from the fireplace, waiting to be installed.

Jim, Don, and Steve became trusted friends, but by January 7, we were ready to see the end of the project, to clean up the construction leftovers, and to put together our almost-finished powder room and entryway. The guys were looking ahead to their next job, too, and when they packed up on the 7th, they had only one more thing to do: rehang the hallway closet door, which they had painted white.

We were all ready, after the unexpected turns the powder room project took, and the rush and bustle of the holidays, for a little ordinary time.

**********************************

So that night we simmered up a hearty pot of chili, ate grilled cheese sandwiches on the side, and made trips downstairs with leftover sheets of shiplap and pots of paint, brushes, rags, and tools. We ran the carpet sweeper and the vacuum, we put towels and soap in the powder room. We lit a fire and grabbed books; James turned the TV on and sat with his laptop, typing and watching.

The house settled quietly around us, back into everyday mode, happy, it seemed, to get back to normal.

We’re back, I thought, to ordinary time, and that always, after the heights and excess of the Christmas season, makes me very happy.

************************************

On Friday morning, I get up early; we have a special meeting downtown that day, and I need some coffee and reconnoiter time before I head out. And Mark is up for work, but he walks slowly into the dining room, still in his bathrobe, reading something on his phone.

“The Masonic building burned down last night,” he says. “It’s still burning right now.”

And much of downtown is without power, he adds, including the building where he works. Today, he doesn’t have an office to go to.

Mark’s phone rings, and he takes it to his little home office, and a very busy day begins for him.

**************************************

We are extraordinarily lucky: the building where we’ve scheduled our morning meeting is outside the fire-effects zone. We have great attendance and great participation.

But one of the attendees first went into the Masonic building as a preschooler, went with his dad, who was a Mason. He talks about the building, and there’s a catch in his voice. He talks about a sword Paul Revere made, a sword that, it seems, George Washington may have given to General Rufus Putnam, one of Zanesville’s founders.

That sword is almost certainly destroyed in the fire, along with other treasures, centuries old.

Along with several small businesses.

Along with the work of several artists who had studios in the Masonic building.

I have to take a different route home because of traffic changes related to the fire. My route takes me past the Masonic building.

Firefighters still work with huge hoses.

Smoke still billows out the empty windows of the Masonic Building.

The one very good thing is this: no one was seriously hurt. No lives were lost.

Suddenly, though, this after-holiday time doesn’t seem so ordinary.

********************************************

At home, James and I make lunch, and clean up the house a bit, and then drive out to do errands.

********************************************

Mark is home again when we arrive. There is no power in his building, which is right next to the Masonic building. Many buildings downtown are shuttered. One small building, home to a computer entrepreneur, is coated with ice—ice, someone says, that’s six inches thick.

Loss ripples, rings in a pool.

Mark goes out to his little home office in the Florida room. His phone buzzes, and he answers, and he comes out again, heading off to an emergency meeting.

***********************************************

Good things happen. People step up to volunteer space to displaced offices. A church ministry can create room for an art program that served teens in the destroyed building. Art organizations set up support systems for the Temple’s displaced artists. The Community Foundation announces it will use its Community Cares fund to support the art community.

Facebook is flooded with messages of hope and prayers and sorrow and goodwill.

Some few messages on social media are angry and divisive.

But the good things move forward, anyway.

And the building still smolders. Mark goes out to tour potential office space and comes back home perplexed.

*****************************************

On Monday, when I get home from work, I discover Don and Steve have been by, have hung the hall closet doors. The construction part of the Powder Room Project is done.

Mark hangs the coat rack, and the bathroom mirror, and the new floating shelf that arrived in Monday’s mail. Suddenly, the powder room is back to normal–back to a new normal that’s better than it ever was before.

******************************************

The downtown community steps up. A bank offers Mark’s department rooms in their upper floors, within walking distance of their old offices, with space for everyone on the team to set up temporary digs.

Mark talks to IT folks and his boss and works on agreement language.

I make stock from a turkey carcass and use leftover mashed potatoes to put together a turkey shepherd’s pie. It’s a quiet night.

In the morning, I get up early and head to the gym for my strength and core class; I come home and eat granola, then head off to work. Life rolls forward; life goes on.

*****************************************

Instead of ordinary days, these are days imbued with the knowledge of loss. People have lost work, and artifacts that can never be replaced are ashes. The community has lost a building that allowed artists to create and small businesses to operate; the building’s marble and gleaming wood, soaring ceilings and lofty windows are irreplaceable, too.

Buildings in the fire’s radius have been shut down; we hear that a small building, right next door, has taken so much damage that it, too, is condemned.

There is great discussion about how to bring down the empty skeleton of the Masonic Temple building.

*****************************************

Long after its flames are out (and that is not a speedy process), this fire spreads, its impact widening, touching life after life, seeping into the tightly woven fabric of a stunned community. “There was no loss of life,” people remind each other, and hearty, weary spirits pick up their threads and plan next steps.

*******************************************

I hope that I can remember this: that any day I think is ordinary is something very different for someone else. Someone else is grieving; someone else is hurting; someone else has lost a home, or a friend, or a livelihood. Someone has been betrayed, and someone is bereft.

“Have a blessed day,” 92-year-old Lee tells me every Tuesday after we finish our class at the Y.

A blessed day. Please, please, let me remember this: every day that is an ‘ordinary day,’ is just exactly that: a blessed one.

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https://www.zanesvilletimesrecorder.com/story/news/2022/01/08/more-than-century-zanesville-history-lost-masonic-temple-fire/9129247002/

Another Ordinary Day

But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.    

Jane Kenyon, “Otherwise”

 

It’s really, really early, and I’m so bleary I have to check the date on my phone. I pull the loose-leaf page toward me, pick up my Pentel RSVP pen, and I write Tuesday, May 10, 2016.  Then I sit back and sip my coffee and look at the date I’ve written. It seems, somehow, significant.

Is today a special day?

I wrack my mind.  Not, I think, my parents’ anniversary–that was last week, I’m pretty sure.  Not my nephews’ birthdays–Jason’s is tomorrow, Zack’s on the 15th. I page through the ‘Dates to Remember’ section in the old address book.

I get nothin’.

May 10th: just an ordinary day.

I yawn and stretch, struggling to wake up: I am out of bed at 5 AM now, or a bit before. My workplace has gone to a four/ten-hour day schedule, and my arrival time is two hours earlier than it used to be.  So I am adjusting, and I am a little slower waking up on this ordinary morning, in this ordinary day.

It comes to me that someone else–someone I don’t even know–is up, somewhere,  too, pacing and excited. She’s wound up because for her, this is far from an ordinary day.  I can see her, suddenly: a young woman, a new graduate of a two-year school, I think, who starts her job today.  My first ‘pantyhose job,’ she’d laughed when she called to tell her mother the good news. All her other jobs have been food-service, supermarket, grease-stained jobs.  She earned this position by her return to school, by her amassing of skills. Doors she didn’t even know were there have opened in her mind.

And job doors have opened, too.  She is thrilled.

She is terrified.

Her new boss is really nice.  And she’ll have her own office–a cubicle, really, but she will bring in flowers, an inspirational sign…

Her mother has framed a photo for her office. It’s a picture of herself, aged seven years, playing “work” at the dining room table.  She has a pile of papers in front of her.  She has been scrawling nonsensical phrases across each sheet and creating stacks.

“There’s a lot of paperwork in my business,” she famously told her father, the photographer. In the photo, she’s frozen in the act of speaking to him sternly, eyebrows drawn together, right hand flung over her hand.  Pencil brandished. Her head: a mass of errant curls.

A funny, perfect photo. And her mother is both proud and aching–she is letting go so her daughter can head down a path where she can’t ever follow.

***********

Another woman awakens, somewhere else, but stays flattened in her bed, weary before the day even begins. She’s negotiating.  Give me just today, she wheedles the beast that eats her from within.  Today: I’ll take a walk, I’ll mop my floor.  I’ll pick a sprig of rosemary from the pot by the back stoop. I’ll crush it between my index fingertip and my thumb.  All day long, I’ll smell rosemary on my fingers; it will surprise me.  I’ll remember roasts and soups and sauces and planting.  I will lean into normal joys.

Give me that, will you? she asks the beast, a plain, hard question. But there’s no hint or murmur of any kind of an answer.  For the thousandth time she’ll wonder why she cannot sense the thing that grows within.

************
And somewhere else, today, a woman becomes a mother, reaching out for the squalling little bundle that, all wrapped up, they come to place in her arms.

The tiny, puckered being wails, little fists flailing. “I know you,” the new mother thinks in wonder. The momma whispers a universal calming shooosh, and the baby catches the meaning like a strong spun thread, like a lifeline. Little hands stop; head turns.  Eyes lock on to the momma’s.

There is the snick of slickly oiled metal gears sliding snugly into place.  These two are bonded now, locked together, promise shared and commitment forged.  They are joined irrevocably for what will no doubt be a crazy, crazy ride.

**************
But another woman, today, holds her husband’s hand.  They sit in soft gray chairs in a plush private office.  They watch the doctor shake her head.

This woman feels a burning brick drop to the very pit of her, drop to flatten that wasted, empty womb.

She cannot look at David.  She cannot even cry. Her mind is blear and empty, a uselessly shiny black orb, like those old magic eightball games kids once used to tell fortunes. Just one word floats to the surface, taps gently against the watery screen, demands to be read. It is despair.

***************

And here is someone who doesn’t have to go to work today–who can’t, in fact, go back to that job, that world she’d inhabited for, yea, these many years.  That place into which she has poured so much energy and love: it’s closed to her now.

She’s been let go. Her professional email has been shut off, her office phone unplugged.  She has cleaned out 15 years worth of professional accumulation.  Boxes, thickly taped, surround her bed.  It’s the only place she could find to put them in her tiny house–the tiny house she has to figure out, now, how to pay for.

It’s all too much, too new, too raw, and she thinks she might as well just go on and sleep for another three hours. What the hell?  Why not stay in bed all day? 

Then the dog whimpers and the cell phone chirps and she knows, wearily, that she has to drag herself up to slog through the long and empty day.

***************
Somewhere today a hiker crests a hill and moves aside a leafy branch and gasps.  There’s glory spread out before her, a scene she will not ever forget. In this moment, her senses widely open, the reality of joy and beauty tumble strong within her.

And somewhere else a woman mindlessly cradles an injured, dirt-crusted child, trying–she doesn’t remember why it matters–to find help.  Is it so important that this child should live?  Is it even, in all of this mess, wise?  She can’t be bothered by existential questions.  She just needs to forge ahead, follow the path before her, navigate the battle zone that is her everyday.

And somewhere a new puppy yips, and a child laughs as the warm little being squirms to lick her face.  Somewhere a widow chews the rest of her lipstick off, reaching out to take the neatly folded flag.  Her son–God! she thinks, my son is an old man himself!–takes hold of her arm firmly.

Somewhere a step van pulls up to remove the stained furniture they can no longer pay for.

Somewhere else, in the very moment I write this, two people fall in love.

And everywhere–all over the damned place–people eat and talk and squabble.  They nudge each other away from the toaster:

Give me the butter. 

I’ve got to run.

Did you call the cable?

You gonna leave those dishes in the sink?

**********

An ordinary day, a common clay bead on a long, long string of them: the kind of bead that creates a calm setting for the ones that stand out. Those stand-out beads shout beauty and outrageous glee, or they are hammered, whimpering, into a different shape–they are uncommon, intervening, thread-changing beads that only show up on this predictable, regular string once in a very great while.

Thank God, for the common clay, I think; thank God.  Thank God for this time of calm, of dull, of same old / same old. For I know the other days will come.  There will be glowing days; there will be days that gut-smack me, bruise me in their grasp, threaten to suck the singing from my soul.

Some day, the poet tells us, someday it will be different.  And I pick my pen back up to write, and I think: God willing, today will be a ‘same day,’ and I will take the time to live in and appreciate it.

Today’s May 10th, I write, an ordinary day.