“I must get a clock. Without a clock to make the day into certain times, a day is just a big bowl of mush …” — from Joy in The Morning
Those words were spoken by Annie Brown, the 1920s heroine of Betty Smith’s 1963 bestselling novel. To me, the message feels timeless; it’s a perfect description of how I feel about time. Without increments of time set aside for certain things, the day seems shapeless to me, like mush … like a bowl full of oatmeal.
I never much cared for oatmeal.
If a shapeless day is a bowl of oatmeal, than a day broken into increments of time is a day of apple slices; it’s crisp, and is neatly segmented into easy-to-handle wedges. I’d choose a day of apple slices over a day of mush every time. I am not rigid with my time, nor do I follow a strict schedule by any means. But I like routine. Spontaneity and the unexpected are fine, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my routine.
We had a wonderful holiday season. The girls were off school for Winter Break, and Keith took a week off from work. We traveled across state to visit my Mom and brothers, and then back home again in time for Christmas Eve. We did little things together; we cooked and baked, watched movies until all odd hours of the morning, did puzzles, and hosted a string of sleepovers with the girls’ friends. I taught Shannon how to cross-country ski and laughed until my sides hurt when she had fits of giggles every time she fell. I had time to ski by myself, choosing the cemetery for its peaceful solitude and winding roads through rolling hills of pines. The gliding “shhh … shhh … shhh …” of my skis through the snow seemed befitting of the quiet beauty surrounding me.
As wonderful as these two weeks were, I found myself looking forward to Monday after New Year’s when the girls would return to school. Barely any of my “must-dos” had been accomplished during the holidays. I was itching to dive into things that got pushed further and further back as each day seemed to turn into an oatmeal day.
Monday morning arrived with fresh snow; it was unexpected – the storm had already passed. We’d had 36 inches of snow in as many hours over the weekend. Keith and I had diligently worked during the storm to keep the driveway and sidewalks clear – it’s a whole lot easier to remove a six inches at a time than three feet all in one shot. The plows didn’t do as well. It came down so fast during the storm, they couldn’t keep up. All the roads were horrible, and this new, unexpected snow just added to the mess. I was surprised they didn’t close the schools.
When Shelby left in the morning, I told her I’d pick up her and her two friends if the snow hadn’t subsided by the time school let out. I got Shannon to school, and then hungrily started in on the bowl of apple slices waiting for me.
It didn’t seem too much later that the phone rang. It was a recording. “Hello, this is superintendent of the South Haven Public Schools. Due to the persistent snow, and quickly deteriorating road conditions, schools are being cancelled for the remainder of the day.” I looked outside. Oh my God! How could I have not noticed! Close to a foot of snow had fallen since I took Shannon to school, and it was still coming down hard.
I went out to start clearing off the car, and heard the click of the lock as I shut the front door behind me. Damn!
Oh, please, please, please let the back door be open.
It was. The door between the mudroom and kitchen was locked though. I pried off the cover to the cat door. I eyed the size of the small rectangle. I turned around and eyed the size of my rear. One of these things is bigger than the other, and I didn’t want anyone to find me hours later, half-in/half-out, and try to explain why. Instead, I reached my hand through the door to the door knob above. Lick, lick, lick. The dog. Apparently a good watch dog, she was going to lick me to death. I try to fend off her attack, and realize my arm was about a foot too short to reach the knob.
I go back outside to … I dunno … stare up at the sky at the still falling snow. I notice neighbor’s van home. Ah-ha! Of course! He works for the schools; schools are closed, he’s off work early. I trudge through knee-deep snow to his door. Knock, knock, knock. “Hi. How long are your arms?”
Living next to me for 10 years, this question doesn’t even faze him. “Pretty long”, he answers.
“Good. I need to borrow one.”
Lick, lick, lick. Watch dog is hard at work again, this time on the neighbor. Despite this assault, long-armed neighbor is able to unlock the door, and trudges back to his house. Wearing slippers. With four feet of snow on the ground, I think his footwear choice is a bit odd perhaps, but I remain basically unfazed. After-all, I’ve lived next door to him for ten years.
I check my watch. The high school has just been released. I unbury and warm up the car to go get Shelby. The car moves two feet. I’m stuck. Little itty bitty car is bottomed out in the snow, and the ground-effects effectively wedge a pile of it underneath. It’s impossible to move either forward or backward.
I go back inside my now unlocked house. Shelby doesn’t carry her cell phone; it’s a few years old, “it’s ugly,” and she will not save her money to get a good-looking one. (Eye-roll.) I go through the list of her friends, calling their cell phones to see who will answer. It’s a long shot; phones are supposed to be turned off on school grounds. I finally reach Ben and have the urge to ask him why his phone is turned on in school, but don’t. “Ben, are you going to see Shelby in the next few minutes?”
“Uhm…who is this?”
“Oh, Shelby’s Mom. I’m supposed to be picking you, Olive and Shelby up from school … only I’m not.”
“Oh … uhm … ok.”
“Because I’m stuck.”
“You’re stuck? Or is your car stuck?”
Now is not the time I desire to have the finer nuances of English pointed out to me by a teenager. “My car is stuck, Ben.”
“You want Olive, Shelby, and me to come dig it out.”
“No; but thanks for asking. I’m in my driveway.”
“You’re in your driveway, or the car is in your driveway?”
“It’s a good thing I like you, Ben. Just tell Shelby she has to walk home … too bad for her she’s wearing high-tops, and not boots. I told her to wear boots, but apparently they’re as ugly as her phone.”
“Uhm … right. You sure you don’t want us to come get the car unstuck? You sound a little weird.”
“No, no – I’m alright. Just tell Shelby she’s gotta walk home, ok? At least she’s not wearing slippers.”
“Uh … right. You have a good day, Mrs. Murphy.”
OK, one down, one to go. Now all that’s left to do is get Shannon home. But her school is out in the country without bus service into town, and I can’t even drive two feet. Long-armed neighbor’s van is gone, off to pick up his own kids. I called Keith. “Keith, is it bad out there?”
“Pretty bad … not that bad.” Meaning the Lake Effect black cloud is hanging directly over my head, and not 30 miles south, where he works.
“Bad enough to close the office, drive an hour home in time to pick up Shannon from school because they didn’t cancel it before school started when they should have?” (In the retelling of this, I’m almost positive I’m leaving out more than a few expletives here.)
“You’re stuck, aren’t you?”
No. My car is stuck.
“On my way. Just make sure I have a place to pull in the drive, okay?”
Can’t park in the street – it’ll cost a hefty fine in winter.
Can’t get the big blower going. It’s too heavy for me to push anyway. The little blower – the one Keith calls “Mighty Mouse” is easier for me to use, but will only go through 8 inches of snow. We have more than that. Mighty Mouse won’t move more than a foot without me turning it off, and reaching down the chute to get the packed snow out. I hate reaching down the chute, even though it’s off. I have this vision of my arm being chewed to bits … kind of like one would imagine an arm reaching through a cat door would be chewed to bits by a good watch dog.
I abandoned Mighty Mouse halfway down the drive, and grabbed a shovel. The snow is wet and heavy. Really heavy. I shovel a wide and long enough space for Keith to pull in the van when he gets home … only long enough to get it off the street. Only wide enough for Keith and Shannon to fall out of the van and into the snow, because I do not have time to shovel a clear place for them to step. I hope they aren’t wearing slippers.
It takes me over an hour to shovel this small 5-by-8ish foot cubbyhole in the snow, because I’m too short to heave it to the top of the snow mounds on either side of the drive that are already taller than me. It keeps avalanching back down on what I just shoveled. And my hat keeps slipping down over my eyes. I get a big enough space cleared just as the van pulls into it.
Everyone is home safe. The town declares a Snow Emergency. All vehicles, except for the snow removal crews, fire trucks, ambulances, and police are prohibited from being on the road. The only exception is in the case of an emergency.
I don’t know how much this is enforced though. My neighbor drove to get Chinese take-out … wearing his slippers, no doubt.
Did I learn anything from this? Nothing, really; I never expected Quetta to be a watch dog, and already knew my neighbor is prone to wearing inappropriate footwear. But somewhere around the time I contemplated the ramifications of trying to fit my rear through a cat door, I was reminded of some things. I should not be so absorbed in what I’m doing that I forget to stop and look out the window every once in a while. There’s a whole world going on out there, and if I’m too focused on a task to see it, I’ll miss out on a lot. I can’t compare apples to oatmeal. Both have their own unique textures. Although oatmeal is mushy and shapeless, with a little sugar, a dash of cinnamon, it has a rich, thick sweetness of which every spoonful is to be savored – just as spending time with family should be savored. Even unsweetened oatmeal full of lumps has substance, and is good for you. This particularly lumpy oatmeal day reaffirmed what I sometimes forget – whether it’s oatmeal or apples, there is joy to be found in each morning. Or at least some humor in every day.