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.