Last month, my friend Connie invited me to her lake cabin for an intense four-day writing session. She was working on a poetry collection and I was churning along on “Half a Mile to the Dollar Store,” my still-in-progress novel that’s scheduled to be critiqued in its entirety in December.
We agreed to swim for half an hour first thing every morning to help ease our brains into gear. At dusk, as a reward for a day of hard work, we would paddleboard.
I should point out that Connie is no teenager. Not by a long shot. She’s 78 years old and only learned to paddleboard this past spring, when her kids and grandkids bought her a paddleboard and insisted that someone who loves the water as much as she does would have no trouble mastering the sport. They were right. She quickly learned to climb onto the board and find her balance in a kneeling position, then rise to standing and paddle her way along the shoreline.
“I can teach you to do it, too,” she told me, and—lo and behold—she was right.
But back to the intense writing. My work station was Connie’s kitchen table. I positioned myself so I could gaze through the storm door that looked out over her front yard while pondering what to write next. Sometimes, I did more pondering than writing. And one thing I pondered was how spotlessly clean that storm door was. No spider webs. No dried raindrop spatters. No fingerprints. Except for the absence of heat and bugs inside the house, you wouldn’t have believed the door actually had glass in it.
When we broke for lunch, I remarked on it. “I cleaned it right before you got here,” Connie told me. “I had planned to just wipe the toothpaste off the bathroom mirror, but once you get hold of a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels, it’s hard to stop. I did the storm door, the sliding door leading to the screened porch, the mirrors in both bathrooms and the outside of the microwave.”
That conversation came back to me as I tried to restore order after a forty eight-hour stint babysitting my Knoxville granddaughters—Emmie, age three, and Clara, age two—at my house last week. Which was fun, fun, fun but messy, messy, messy. After I turned them over to the other set of grandparents, it was time to pull out the Windex and go to work. I un-stickied the plastic table and chairs where the girls had tried to master yogurt in a squeeze tube. I squirted down the counter where we’d had a largely unsuccessful lesson in how to crack eggs into a bowl. I cleaned both sides of the French doors where they had rubbed noses with my dogs through the glass. And I wiped the toothpaste off the bathroom mirror.
As I squatted down to put the cleaning supplies back under the kitchen sink, I spotted two sets of little handprints on the stainless steel door of my refrigerator. Might as well wipe those off, too, I thought. But something stopped me before I could pull the trigger on the plastic bottle. In the blink of an eye, my grandchildren’s hands will be as big as mine. All too soon, instead of me teaching them new things, they’ll be teaching me. Just like Connie’s grandkids taught her to paddleboard. I need to relish those sticky little handprints for as long as I can.
So I put the Windex away.
(September 18, 2016)