For the past two weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of having my son Forrest, daughter-in-law Manon, and 11 month old grandson Arthur staying with us. Daughter Angelica came for a week in there and a few days ago we had a call from Edmonton to tell us that grandson Henry was born to our son Brendan, his wife Cristen, and their 2 year old daughter Kelly. It was a time of intense family activity, immediate and far-flung. Our house thrived on being full of some of its former occupants, the bedrooms lively again and the bathrooms steamy. We kept making meals. Barbecued sockeye salmon, roast lamb, prime-rib beef, pasta with pesto from the tubs of basil on the upper deck, tofu in spicy sauce with Savoy cabbage from the garden, omelettes with smoked salmon and delicious little fresh buffalo milk mozzarellas, salads made with garden tomatoes and arugula, blueberry pancakes…We kept opening bottles of wine — Prosecco to celebrate births and returns, beautiful Tinhorn Creek Gamay to have with that lamb, Wild Goose Pinot Gris to drink with pasta (and their Autumn Gold for the tofu). Provençal rosé with appetizers of candied salmon and guacamole. And luckily the Persephone brewery is right by the ferry so we could get our growlers filled with their Golden Goddess ale.
This morning the house is quiet. Oh, the washing machine is whirling around with its loads of sheets, towels, diapers (I have a big basket of cloth diapers so that visiting grandbabies won’t have to bring their own)…Quilts will be aired outside today before being returned to the beds.
So a quiet house and a mountain of work to return to on my desk. Essays to finish. A novella to enter again — though that will probably wait for a week or so as we are heading off on a short road trip into the landscape it’s set in: Thompson and Fraser Canyons. I hope to sniff out a few ideas and to make sure I have the geography right.
In the meantime, I just went into the kitchen to get some coffee and saw how empty it was. Well, empty if you can call a cluttered room empty. I was reminded of an essay I wrote last year and need to edit a little before doing anything with it. When I wrote it, I was thinking of all that a house contains, beyond what is immediately visible. I was thinking of attachment and love. And in a rueful way, I was admitting that I will never receive an award for tidiest woman on earth. My mother’s generation had a saying that was very high praise indeed, and it will be never be said of me: You could eat off her floors. But you could sit on them with a baby and roll a ball back and forth. You could build a tower with brightly coloured blocks and have that baby slam it down with his small fists. You could tuck that baby into the space between your knees and read him a story, maybe even Peepo (though it’s called Peek-a-Boo in later editions) by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, in which a baby is surrounded by a loving and untidy family. And that baby would love the book.
A set of old windows over the sink is not elegant but the windows came from the house we left when we moved our lives here. That house was built in the early years of the 20th century and because it was being demolished shortly after we moved, we were invited to take some of the windows, a pair of French doors which we used for a sunroom off our bedroom (and in turn, the sunroom opens to a second-story deck built over an extension of the far end of the house). The windows open with old brass catches, some of the panes have wavy glass, and I love them for their quirky beauty, how they frame pink roses and a birdbath hanging from the eaves, how the world seen through them wavers sometimes, then comes into focus. On their sill, a moonsnail shell, a wooden hen, a garlic pot, the largest goose-barnacle shell I’ve ever seen, and other clutter. Each piece has a story and the stories make up a life.
In magazine photographs of kitchens, there is no clutter. A few canisters. A single flower in a glass vase. Maybe an arrangement of perfect vegetables on polished granite. No children’s drawings and magnetic poetry on the fridge. No newspapers on the table, no quilting projects in a large Ghana basket. We live here. We are not tidy people. We make food, eat it by the fire, read magazines and books which pile up on surfaces, bring in the logs which drop moss and bits of bark and maybe the floor doesn’t get swept as often as it should. Because I have always loved being in the kitchen, I’ve managed to overlook its aging surfaces, much as I overlook my own. I’ve always said, Our place is rustic. I never meant it as an apology. I meant, This is who we are. Who I am. I bring back stones from special rivers and beaches, bones from arid landscapes where animals die and their skeletons are bleached by the sun, fossils, feathers, and these decorate the other windowsills and the top of the pine dresser we use for table linens and bottles of liqueur. Dust settles on them in all seasons. And the world seen through them wavers sometimes, then comes into focus.