Housekeeping Twaddle:
Ostentatious Display
3 December 2014

My most prized possession in the new apartment is the vacant space over the carpet in the foyer. It is going to stay empty — except, of course (and I can hardly wait), when we have big, ask-em-all parties. The bar is to the left.

In the shower, this morning, I realized that I don’t have an appointment with the dermatologist this afternoon. The appointment in my calendar was indeed scheduled, but later, at the doctor’s insistence, it was moved forward — very far forward. On our first Wednesday in the new apartment, I was supposed to see her, so that she could look at my scalp, but I could not get out of bed, so tired was I after the thrust of the move. So I called and said that I was very sorry but that I wasn’t feeling well, and that’s when I made the appointment for today. The office called back about half an hour later. No, no: I must come in as scheduled. But I couldn’t! So we compromised on the next day, which was a day short of two weeks ago. I forgot to strike out the later date.

It came to me in the shower because that’s what showers are for. I was suddenly aware that there had been none of the usual confirmation routine. The dermatologist’s office seeks confirmation by phone and by email. You only have to confirm one way or the other, but the request comes at you from two angles. But not when you’ve neglected to correct your calendar.

So my primary reason for going out today has evaporated. But a small host of secondary missions has attached itself to the phantom appointment. I have to get money for S, who cleans the bathrooms and the kitchen every two weeks. I have to have my favorite eyeglasses repaired — a screw fell out as I was sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at One If By Land. I have to return Amadeus to the Video Room. I could call for a pickup for the DVD, but a cache of home videos (and even home movies, on 35-millimeter film) surfaced in the move, and I want to have them transferred to disc.

Besides, I want to go out. I stayed in yesterday. Tuesday is developing as my housekeeping day. Most of what I did around the house was only incidental to the move. I’d have had to do it anyway. Polishing the silver, for example. Not all of it by any means, but just the pieces that are out all the time. For example, that tray on the bar. It’s easier to clean, now that I’ve got a much deeper sink, and I could see that there were bits that haven’t been properly attended to in years. I opened up the last two of the non-book boxes, which counts as “moving,” but my subsequent dealings with the linen closet were plain old housekeeping.

The sideboard is too fat for the dining area, and I think that I’m going to have to get rid of it. This surmise would have astonished me as recently as a month ago, and I’d have stoutly argued against it, but Kathleen agrees. I grew up calling the piece “the buffet,” and it stood in the dining room opposite “the breakfront.” The bottom of the latter piece is now the bar. Ray had a piece of marble cut for it when we took off the top part, which was glass-fronted.

When I was growing up, the top part was full of nothing but silver, all of it kept sparkling by a succession of cleaning ladies. It was loot from my parents’ wedding, mostly, and used only at holidays. When I inherited the breakfront and the silver, I maintained the setup, but only for a little while. It didn’t take long for me to see that, in my house at least, the display was in questionable taste. So I tacked pieces of fabric on the insides of the vitrine doors — a half measure that also revealed itself to be dubious. Later, I shelved books in the breakfront, which, after all, was modeled on a kind of secretary desk. The front of the top drawer could be unlatched and dropped to create a tiny, unusable really, writing surface, and there were cubbyholes and stationery drawers. Well, there still are. But the hardware is not in very good shape, and the drawer is not worth repairing. So it stays shut — and useless. At this point, Ray’s piece of marble is all that’s keeping what remains of the breakfront in my possession.

And to think that, when I was a child, I thought that the breakfront and the buffet were very grand, even after my mother decided to have them “antiqued,” or painted her favorite color, turquoise. I could not imagine that I would ever own them — I could not imagine being grand enough myself. I realized eons ago that they’re just fairly respectable products of the long-gone Grand Rapids furniture industry, and that I’m far grander in every way.

My sister and I got in trouble once for divvying up the silver. We were home alone, and we weren’t expecting the parents to return when they did. So my mother caught us in the dining room, with all the silver clumped at either end of the dining room table. (That’s what it was, not the dining table, and that’s what it still is, I imagine, wherever there are still dining rooms.) What we had done was very, very wrong, not just because we oughtn’t to have so much as opened the glass-fronted drawers, much less pawed the gleaming silver, but because our little game was tantamount to compassing the death of the monarch. When monarch did eventually die, my sister, it turned out, wanted none of the silver. And because I was too sophisticated to use the breakfront, which she also didn’t want, to show it all off in, I didn’t have a place for the silver. I still don’t. I’ve given much of it away and am prepared to give away more. Unless, of course, Will asks for it. Earlier this year, my grandson sidled up to his father and asked, “When you die, can I have your money?” He can have my mother’s silver right now, if he wants it.