You see in our ‘70s-built house, my study is the room furthest from the source of warmth, a furnace in the garage. The designers of the house forgot about efficiently delivering heat to rooms down the hall. Bill’s study, adjoining the garage, is oh, so toasty. The next room (grandson Cameron’s), gets a modicum of heat through its vent, is okay. Next to Cameron’s room is my study. Not a wisp of heat comes out of my vent, not a murmur, not a sigh. Now my study gives onto the garden through two ceiling-to-floor sliding glass doors. Lovely much of the year, but when the garden air is in the 30s, 40s, 50s, my small room is chill. For years a space heater kept me comfortable. But then as I began plugging in more and more gadgets, the heater would blow—and with it my lamps, computer, you get the picture. So I’ve dressed in layers, wrapped myself in a cozy blanket in my big chair. Mentioned it a few times to Bill and he’d tell me to call Joan Peterson, our electrician. But I didn’t, knowing a new line would be costly.
A week ago Joan—a woman electrician! she’s a marvel—was here fitting new lights into the exhaust fan over the stove. A year ago, she installed a new line into the kitchen so I could run the microwave, toaster oven, and electric kettle AT THE SAME TIME. B.J. (Before Joan), while making toast I’d pop Cameron’s cocoa into the microwave to heat, hit the On button, and everything went dark, including Morning Joe.
When there were lights over the stove again, I beckoned Joan to please come with me to my study. I apologized for the disarray (a picture of my study is buried somewhere in these pages), asked what would be involved in bringing in a new line so I could have a heater?
“I can do it,” she said, but then pleasantly, “Sylvia, I’d need a path cleared to the wall where I’ll be installing the plug. And…” she drew me over to the filing cabinet where the heater would go–“I’ll have to be able to work here…can you clear this?”
She was talking stuff on the floor in front of the filing cabinet…stuff stacked on top of the filing cabinet…stuff on the big round table to the left of the filing cabinet…stuff on the tansu chest to the right of the filing cabinet…stuff in front of my chair and computer table where the wastebaskets are…and I realized she’d need to have a path cleared from the door to the filing cabinet. We’re talking a whole one-quarter of the room.
“Of course I can!”
Bill appeared at the door. “Merry Christmas!”
Joan said, “I can do it a week from Thursday. 9:00 a.m.”
Perfect timing—Bill’s last class on Frank Capra was the day before. I could do the clearing that night. And in the morning before she came. Time to order an environmentally-friendly heater…
So yesterday morning I set up three sturdy folding tables next to the garden doors. Lugged over and carefully set down four tall stacks of books…then two unwieldy stacks of papers. Gathered wrapping tissues, spools of gift ribbon, sheets of stickers, loose letters and cards and more manuscript papers, tucked them in boxes and baskets, delicately set them atop the stacks of books and papers. The big round table beside the filing cabinet—it was my table-of-all-function in my cottage in Ojai—was covered with tchotchkes from my mother’s and my former life—that’s two lifetimes of two enthusiastic collectors—had to be thinned. Did that. So many memories of children and parties and holidays and friends, happy times, poignant times…lots of loved ones dead. Small wonder I hung on to tchotchkes.
An old friend was bright with homilies, one of which was, “No gift without a curse.” Here my gift was in the works. What was the curse? Having to upend—delve into, work down to the geologic bottom layer of–the contents of my study. My study/my life.
But now on the filing cabinet again there was a place for my mother’s boombox! I hadn’t had room for it in years. I could play tapes from decades ago. CDs. The radio. Goodbye Pandora, adios Spotify.
Actually, there’s a Part B to the curse.
Christmas is coming, right?
Which means visitors from near and far.
Which means the contingent who have called my study—in truth, the whole house since I moved into it—a, well, where pigs live. That hurts. Poor Bill. It gives me great pain.
Feeling glum even while toasty warm, I told Bill (for maybe the thousandth time) how sorry I was that I was such a mess. Said I’d put my study to rights before the holidays (but I shrank at the prospect…it would be days…)
My darling husband laughed. “Don’t be silly. I’ve told you: it doesn’t matter. I’ve lived with it for twelve years. You’re the neatest person on earth when you want to be—it’s only that when you’re in a hurry, you set things down…it’s not a mess, it’s deferred neatness. I love it, I love you, and I’ve told you, I don’t want you to change. Now what movie do you want to watch tonight?”
But I really must put all those books back on their shelves. Really should sort the papers. Be serious about handing on stuff to the Salvation Army. I will. In the new year.
Now Bill says he recycled the box the heater came in, instructions inside it.
Whoopdeedoo! One less piece of paper to worry about.