Monday, February 1, 2010

Packing My Worldly Goods

Grampa Mac's Shaving Mug
Grampa's shaving brush was blue-handled, and the bristly part was longer and had been shaped to the curve of the hot water well in the china mug.  [The red and white brush above belonged to my Dad.]
Grampa didn't shave every day, but on Sunday's he could be relied upon to perform that manly ritual so fascinating to a watching child. 
The farmhouse had no "indoor plumbing" at that time and ablutions of a personal nature were performed by carrying an enamel basin and a jug of warm water to the privacy of a bedroom.
Grampa's shaving, however, took place in the wood-fired warmth of the narrow kitchen.  Between the white double sink cabinet and the pantry door was a window which looked to the east. An 8x10 looking glass hung from a loop of cord high on the wall between the window moulding and the pantry door. Beneath the mirror dangled several leather "razor straps."
The china mug, topped by its round of soap, was fetched from the curtained cupboard behind Grampa's rocker in the living room and its resevoir carefully filled from the ever steaming tea kettle on the wood range.  The straight razors with their gleaming ivory handles lived in a neat leather case in the top drawer of the Hoosier cabinet.  Each shining blade was deftly honed on the leather strap, tested delicately against Grampa's calloused thumb. When the razor was suitably edgey, the soaping process began with the boar bristle brush dipped in the hot water, then swirled persuasively over the disk of soap.
Leaning against the Hoosier, I watched, perfectly absorbed, as Grampa's lower face disappeared in a billow of lather.
Chin tilted and mouth grimacing, Grampa drew the blade in a long sweep from cheekbone to jaw, wiped the prickly residue of soap against the razor strap, made another pass, stooping and turning to view each side of his face in the small mirror. When all was done, he swished the brush in the warm water, sloshed the water into the sink and stroked the brush into a smooth crescent before replacing it in the bottom of the mug.  He seldom bothered with after shave, just a few pats with a hot moistened towel.  I don't recall that he ever knicked his chin. 
One year for Christmas he was given a lidded wooden tub of Yardley's shaving soap and an elegant bottle of after shave.  He condescended to use the soap, but most of the cologne languished in the cupboard.  Sometimes I twisted off the cap to sniff the sharp clean fragrance of lavender or to dab it on my collar.
This beautiful shell resided in a drawer of the wash stand in what was sometimes the long-term hired man's room and later became a spare guest room. We children loved to slip the shell from the Lifebouy scented drawer and stand with the shell pressed to an ear, to "hear the ocean."
I wonder now how such an exotic treasure ended up in an inland New England farm house. I can't guess at what creature was housed in its glossy depths so many years ago.  Did someone in the family make a vacation trip to the seashore?  Was it sent or brought home by a relative?  It had "always been there"----but how long before my frame of "always?"
Since the dismantling of the farmhouse the seashell has lived with me, a taken-for-granted familiar of my personal landscape.
AARRGGH!  My "retreat" room has come to this!  The living area looks even worse.  Boxes already packed rim the edges of the rooms.  Empty boxes loll on their sides, a series of caves for the cats to dive into in hiding mode, only to explode out at a passer by.
Today I packed small breakable bits from my bedroom dresser, removed all but the largest pictures from the walls.  Stacks of spare bedding wobble on the edge of the daybed.
The woman half of our buying couple phoned today to tell me she had word from the credit union that they are waiving house inspection and appraisal---two steps of the closing process which usually take weeks to schedule and carry out.  I was told that a closing could be arranged in as little as two weeks time.
I think my voice slid up an octave as I gasped, "Two weeks?"  I suspect I began to babble.  I stared about the disordered room, thought of the formidable muddle of motley possessions lurking in the storage shed and barn.  The woman's voice continued in my ear, pleasant and calm.  "We don't want to crowd you for time, " she said.  "We have twenty years of belongings to sort at our house and we aren't putting ours on the market until sometime after the closing." 
I think I made feeble, incoherant noises about needing to drive to Kentucky to find and buy the place where we will move.
A bit more conversation, the repeated assurance that the closing needn't take place until we are quite ready.  I stood with the silent phone in my hand for a moment then punched in J's cell number.  [He was down in the barn with his nephew happily rummaging!]
"Oh, fine," he said cheerfully.  "I expect we can be ready to go in three weeks!"
I spluttered and squeaked,  "Three weeks? THREE WEEKS---are you crazy???!!"
My mind boggles.  I stand for long moments and stare at the piles of domestic flotsam bursting from formerly neat closets, the oddly shaped items lined up on kitchen counters. I clamber around my boxes, stowing an item here, dropping another one there.
I made tea and sat here going over the Kentucky properties we have "saved to favorites" over many weeks of internet searches.  I printed out detail sheets, scribbled notes about acreage, made J. go through the properties labeling them as possiblities or pushing them aside as too pricey, too near the highway, house too large, cottage too tiny.
He lingered long over the photos of some lovely looking land, while I wailed that the accompanying house is a dreary wreck. Impossible kitchen, revolting carpet!
We looked at a number of newer homes on our list---- tidy, with personable kitchens and gleaming baths---- but only 5 acres of well-groomed land.
I suspect that the Benificent Being Behind the Scenes, who has surely orchestrated the speedy sale of motor homes, tractors, trailers and our house--in the middle of a long cold winter---knows where we are going to live.  Perhaps He is waiting for us to calm down --or to finish packing. 


  1. OMG - that's no time at ALL to get organized. You ARE going to be living in one of your motorhomes aren't you? Perhps on the roadside Somewhere in Kentucky!!!

    Keith still shaves with a badger bristle brush like your grandads' (but then he is total luddite!)

    Good luck with the packing - and let me have a forwarding address please!

  2. Hi MM, sorry to trouble you in the midst of all your disruptions. I sent you an email, which I suspect you didn't get, to ask if I could paint an ATC card of Pebbles, from the picture in your side bar. I did wait, but then two nights ago I just had to do something, so Pebbles is finished. But I won't do anything with him without your permission. He did turn out well and I did email an attachment, but I think you subscribe to no-reply e mail or something.
    So sorry you have to scramble with the packing. We moved five times in five years when we were first married, but now I am quite contented to say we have lived in the same spot now for 37 years and I for one have no intentions of moving, however I suppose MOTH may have other ideas.

  3. Or even to stop the panic attacks...


  4. Oh dear, you have my utmost sympathy! When we moved to Railway cottage, we had all agreed a date, but it was suddenly brought forward and we had a week to get packed! Like you, I had made a start, but I kept running out of boxes and Husband just couldn't seem to get going at all. I really feel for you MM!

  5. MM.....I've been playing catch up on blogs for 2 days now. I've just gone all the way through January on yours. You're moving? To Kentucky? In winter? I'm way behind on you girl! Bless your heart! I enjoyed all the wonderful pics and the cats are just awesome!! :)

  6. What an adventure ahead of you. Scarey and daunting, but still exciting :) I don't envy you the packing though! Take care and remember to breathe :)

  7. The Beneficient Being Behind the Scenes has quite a sense of humor, doesn't She?? (or He) Normally i'd recommend not buying, especially in such a hurry....but to move to the vicinity of where you're thinking of buying, and renting for a year until you get the lay of the land and know what's available. I'm not sure that's so easy though with a horse and eight cats...but if you're moving to farm country, maybe it wouldn't be so hard. Might even find a place that needs a caretaker... Yes, you'd need to move again, but it would be easier...(i think your husband's time table is unrealistically short!)

    Love the peek at a double wedding ring and log cabin quilt there. And love the tale of your grandfather's shaving mug and the ritual associated with it. My sister and i always used to hang about the bathroom doorway, fascinated by my father shaving with an electric shaver. At the end, he'd turn it off and put it on top of each of our heads and go "zhhzzhhzzhhhh." And oh the delicious smell of a freshly shaven cheek to kiss!