After your underwear drops round your ankles

There is a story my grandmother liked to tell after a posse of vodkas had loosened her girdle to the point that her underpants dropped round her ankles if she tried to stand.  She told it with a chuckle and she told it again and again. A comedian, Grandmother was not.

It involved a cross-country trip she took with a sister-in-law she inherited after her brother’s early death. A burden it was and frequently noted but the girl had no family of her own and some form of promise had been made and some form of promise would be kept because Grandmother was 100 % Norwegian and they are, as everyone knows, the most noble of the human species. And so “Aunt Mary” became Grandmother’s shadow on holidays and vacations. In fact, I can’t quite form an image of her in my head that doesn’t include my grandmother.  Because she was still working when her husband died, she was allowed to maintain a small apartment near her place of employment.  She did not need to be reminded … although she was … that she must save diligently for the time when she could not live on her own and the family via obligation would have to step in.

With this as a backdrop, here is Grandmother’s Hilarious Story about Aunt Mary:

“We’d had a smooth flight out to California and even though it was Mary’s first time on an airplane, I’d told her there was nothing to fret about and so she didn’t say a word until we landed and then she let out a whimper as the plane bounced to a stop. ‘Now Mary,’ I told her, ‘no need to make a scene.’ And she didn’t although I did have my eye upon her. 

However, on the way back to Fargo the plane hit such turbulence that I felt it my duty, given the hard life she’d led, to assure her that it would be over quick. Like smashing into a brick wall.  No sense spending your last moments getting hysterical.

‘But Myrtle,’ Little Mary said and she was almost whimpering ‘I’m so ashamed. I can’t die with such shame.’

‘Nonsense,’ I said to her, ‘you haven’t done a thing in the world to be ashamed of.’

‘I didn’t clean my kitchen before we left,’ she said in a whisper. ‘What are people going to think of me if I die with my kitchen floors such a fright?’”

I thought of Mary Ness last week as we were under threat of evacuation from wildfires.  We had no electricity and cell service kept going in and out.  The parks were closed; the libraries; the stores and even the gas stations.  We had to keep our windows closed because of the smoke.  We were advised not to use a lot of water because the pumps that move water hither and thither are electrical and if the power outage went on, eventually our taps would go dry.  And so we were basically prisoners in our own homes. Waiting and waiting until our plane finally landed on solid ground. Or slammed into a mountain.

For one brief second I did consider washing the damn kitchen floor. As an activity … to keep my mind off things I couldn’t control.

And then I thought of Aunt Mary and reread a favorite novel.  Damn the kitchen floors.

38 thoughts on “After your underwear drops round your ankles

    1. The women of that era definitely judged each other on the basis of housekeeping skills but their criticisms generally didn’t end up in an obit! Still Mary had a rough life and bore a lot of undeserved criticisms. So Grandmother’s hilarious story always made me sad.

  1. Reading is always better than washing the kitchen floor. Smart choice on your part! I’m glad you’re safe now and have used your time to improve your mind, but what a thing to be trapped in your home.

  2. The thought of people coming into my less than tidy house, especially people I don’t like (curiosity seekers), passing judgement all over my dead body is a dilemma I have yet to resolve. To this day I pick up the mess before going on a trip – especially one that involves flying – just in case.

    1. I definitely clean the kitchen before leaving on vacation – primarily because I’ve come home to foul smells from the garbage disposals. I like to come home to a house that at least smells clean!

  3. “‘I didn’t clean my kitchen before we left,’ she said in a whisper. ‘What are people going to think of me if I die with my kitchen floors such a fright?’””

    That reminds me of what my mom used to say when I was a little boy. That I had better change my underwear just in case I got into a bad accident and the doctors would notice my dirty briefs.

  4. Fantastic story and so engaging, Jan. Your analogy of the plane ride and your power outage experience is really clever and accurate. As a fellow northern Californian, I had similar power outage experiences throughout October; and you did a good job of expressing the extensive trapped feeling and angst the millions of us endured. It’s a modern-day conundrum, and your solution, the story’s ending, was wonderful and inspiring. We hope for rain and a better solution to avoiding fire, and a smarter, less greedy power company…I’m looking forward to another well-written story about that.

    1. Thanks Jet. I started re-reading the Grapes of Wrath during the blackout (after indulging myself in Pride and Prejudice) – Wow. Steinway really nails what’s happening today – the greed, the paranoia … everything.

  5. Indeed damn the kitchen floors, why do we worry so much. I always clean the house top to bottom before going on a holiday. Who would give a shit really….. I pray you are safe now and are no longer trapped in your houses 💜💜💜

  6. Such a lovely post!
    At first I loved the way aunt Mary became a part of the family- that is so noble

    Never heard about anyone being embarrassed about their floor condition – but did hear about the underwaar someone wears if they are in an accident

    I also am glad you went with the book!! And side note – woke up pretty stressed the day (not normal for me to do that) and went down and swept the dining room – and cleared the clutter off he piano ! I felt so much better
    And so I liked your point about “As an activity … to keep my mind off things I couldn’t control.”
    I know some counselors that suggest people clean for 20 minutes for therapy – even saw post where someone shared about vigorously cleaning the bathroom to regroup! And hey – sometimes it is a book – other times sweeping up!
    Excellent post

    1. Thank you … I prefer to spend 20 minutes outside gardening but if the weather is glum, I definitely feel better re-organizing shelves, etc.. Cleaning the floor, I’m not so sure about.

  7. I loved the line about Norwegian — 100%
    I can’t travel with a messy house left behind, cause I can’t stand to come home to mess, but I certainly do not think about how clean it is when I’m fearing death! Haha! That’s intense!
    I am so sorry you were trapped that way, so sorry these tragic things weigh on people. It’s got to be hard on your nerves.
    I, too, have books I reread for comfort, and I’m glad that helped pass the time.

    1. The funny thing is, my grandmother and aunt went over to Norway to visit the farm her father was born on – only to discover it’s actually in Sweden! She never would admit to actually being of Swedish descent. Don’t know why. So silly the things people think are soooo important!

  8. I did at least pick up my house so we wouldn’t fall over things when the lights went out. I was glad I ran the dishwasher and did the laundry too. (But no, I wasn’t worried about what someone might think of the kitchen floor!)

    1. Our stockbroker told us that one of her client died as a result of the black outs. He was on oxygen and got one of those texts saying that his house was in a safe area and he believed them. So when they cut his power in the middle of the night, he was unprepared. Funny we don’t hear about those kind of stories.

    1. My theory is unless the floor is sticky and covered with cat hair, leave it be. Let guests wear shoes and have fun. My favorite line is “don’t worry about that spill. I was planning to clean the floor tomorrow!” That is unless you’re planning to eat on the floor.

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