Tag Archives: Storytelling

Housekeeping

By Kate

I have not been keeping my house. Instead, I have been housekeeping. At this moment, I am glancing over my snow covered garden across the gravel drive and at the back door of the little brick house where Teresa lives, heart in my throat, waiting for the back door to open and let me know she made the perilous daily journey down her stairs and into the kitchen of her little brick house. The door opens, my breath eases, my morning begins again.

I have been taking care of Teresa for two and half years now.

teresa polish wwII stories

For the first two years, I was alone in this task. Introduced to her by a neighbor, I walked into a home that smelled so strongly of incontinence, neglect, and filth that it was all I could do to stay for five minutes. For the first several months, when I returned from Teresa’s house my husband made me strip off my clothes at the door, bag them up in plastic, and shower off before I touched the baby. There was so much to do to remedy the slow slide her house had taken over the years from an immaculate Polish home to a stinking hovel that I had no idea where to start. “I just need you to do a little laundry now and then.” said Teresa, in her quavering accented English.  I started with the sheets, stripping the stiff yellow fabric unwashed for years, bleaching them, and stretching them out on the line in my backyard to let the sun burn away the stains and wind billow away the lingering scent. Slowly, surely, the sheets turned white. Slowly, Teresa began to trust me, to let me wash her hands, her hair.

Progress was slow, and there were setbacks- the one period of several months she refused to let me in, a fall on the kitchen floor, an ambulance trip and a hospital stay. Still, with time, I could see the house becoming a home again. After bleach and vinegar and sweat and tears it was clean enough that I began to bring my toddler with me when I went to care for her, and Teresa stopped telling me daily that she welcomed death, and instead waited in eager anticipation for my second child to be born. In the last trimester of my pregnancy, after another fall and stay in the hospital, we finally hired another helper to help with Teresa. It was a godsend. Not only was I relieved to know that someone would be taking care of Teresa so that I could go to the hospital and deliver my baby, but the lovely young woman who we hired managed to work a miracle and convince Teresa to rip out my nemesis- the stained and stinking carpet that was far beyond saving, no matter how many times I scrubbed it on my hands and knees- and replace it with a fresh, clean, new carpet that was the final step in transforming the home back to the order and serenity that her mother had created decades before and left in place when she left Teresa alone by dying.

Two weeks ago a shooting in the rough neighborhood where my co-worker lived created shock waves in her life and sent her out of town abruptly and likely on a permanent basis. Just after she left, a violent stomach flu hit Teresa and my two year old at exactly the same time, deep in the middle of the night. It was a long and sleepless night and the weeks following as a solo caretaker have been tough too. Teresa’s home remains serene and ordered while across our yards and the gravel drive that divides us my laundry is heaped in drifts like the aftermath of a blizzard on a windswept prairie plain, dishes are piled in the sink, and sometimes I stand in the middle of the room and cry.

I never planned on being a housekeeper, though it amuses me to think that I am following in the footsteps of my father’s grandmother, an Irish immigrant who came over at a young age to work as a maid in the great houses of Chicago at the turn of the century. In America roles are fluid, and there are days when I am a maid in the morning and harpist in pearls and velvet playing underneath a chandelier after sunset. Meanwhile, all the while, I am a mother. Being the mother of two in diapers, one 75 year old is not so much to add, and I can take my children with me when I care for her. That said, bundling up two little ones at the beck and call of an elderly woman four times a day is often challenging and occasionally seems impossible. So does keeping my own house.

Ten minutes ago the cheerful woman I hired two days ago to help with Teresa waved to me across the yard. She started this morning, and I am eager to hear how it goes. Meanwhile, my sister Mary just arrived at my home after a grueling 24 hour trip involving a train, a snowstorm, and a Greyhound bus. She is in the kitchen making cocoa and unpacking a cardboard box of heirloom China and ballgowns that (mostly) survived the trip. Mary is here for a week, and during that week I fully intend to scour my home from top to bottom sorting, dusting, organizing, keeping, and throwing things away. Mary is great at that sort of project. In fact, my housekeeping officially begins here on this blog, where I just re-posted two entries that Mary accidentally deleted in a well intentioned but unfortunate organization and cleanup effort on our blog. She has also in the past jettisoned my late season garden and the internet line into my parent’s home. However, I believe that this time her powers will work for good.

We will keep you posted.

More on Teresa- or harp playing!- can be found here:

Enough

Winter Harpist

Tale of the Magical Blue Cardigan

By: The Evil Sister’s Kind And Benevolent Sister…

Once upon a time there lived a girl named Mary Brigid. She had a deep desire to be an instrument of peace in the world, so after many years of desiring to do foreign mission work, she set out to Russia.

mary in vladivostok

Upon leaving for a land far away, Mary took with her some useful possessions. Mary knew that in order to stay happy and warm in Russia she would have to have magical clothing. Mary’s evil full-blooded stepsister, Kate had left Mary a wonderful blue cardigan. Perhaps the selfish and evil Kate had not exactly left the cardigan behind on purpose…

But a known fact of this tale is that the sweater made Mary happy. Very, very happy.

MORE BLUE

Not only did the sweater make her happy it even made her feel less tragic when she had to wear a certain apron of which she greatly despised when working with the aged at a slum hospice.

volunteer nurse apron russian vladivostock volunteer

The sweater was so magical that whenever she wore it, she felt more generous. Perhaps the said magical cardigan did not knit these pictured mittens (a kind Wisconsin resident did), but Mary was very happy to wear it the day she gave donated items to an orphanage that took in deaf and ill children.

volunteer vladivostock

After a long winter in Russia, it was time for Mary to leave. When packing Mary took careful inventory of all that she had brought with her to the cold kingdom of Vladivostok. While there, Mary had accumulated many icons. She also was gifted with beautiful jewelry from a Priest friend who hailed from Bombay.

Mary realized that she didn’t need most of her clothes anymore. She wanted to leave them behind with her friends at the hospice. When folding the magical blue cardigan Mary sighed and placed it in a pile of clothes to be donated to the hospice. She shuddered when doing so. Mary was well aware that going to Russia was a dangerous decision that she had made. However, picturing the wrath of her evil sister, Kate when she discovered that her sweater was left behind as a gift for dying at the hospice was a much more ghastly thought to consider. Laying all caution aside, Mary choose to donate it to her friends at the hospice.

Sadly not every story has a happy ending. Though Mary did return safely from her travels, she is still held accountable for that cardigan ALL the time by her big evil step/real sister, Kate the Mighty, queen of Drama.

Alas… its’s such a shame when people have such cold hearts that they don’t want dying people to stay warm.

 

(But if you must read Kate’s account of the magical cardigan, see here: The Perfect Cardigan)

The Heroic Brother-in-law and the 24-Hour Urine Sample.

By Nicole

Sometimes there are things in life that are so incredibly embarrassing that you are obligated to tell people so they can share in your laughter. As Kate said earlier, I am on bed rest to prevent my impatient child from emerging early.

I am being monitored for pre-eclampsia, which is an issue affecting your blood pressure and possibly causing premature birth. Last Friday, my wonderful family was in and out all day bringing me lots of movies, books, and some stunning yellow tulips. Cale came over to make me a fancy tuna sandwich (complete with a garnish and everything!) and everyone was graciously keeping me entertained. During my bed rest sentence I was instructed to provide my mid-wife with a 24 hour urine sample. The nurse handed me a neon orange plastic container and said “Good luck”. Much to my humiliation, I agreed to comply.

All was going well and my 24 hour orange project was about over when I started to have some pretty aggravating chest pain. I called the clinic expecting them to tell me not to worry and was instructed to go straight to the ER. Great. With Rob at work, the only available chauffeur just so happened to be the Sweet Ridge boy himself, my brother in law Pat Slattery.

I grabbed my jug of shame, tried to keep calm and off we went. Pat may have been concerned but was masking this in sarcasm, jokes and taking the long way to the ER, by accident. Upon arrival, I was admitted immediately and Pat was given the task of intercepting calls from my Husband. Meanwhile, Rob was slightly alarmed because when he asked if I was alright Pat responded with “Well, she’s talking.” Pat walked with me up to labor and delivery where they gave me a gown and a room. I could tell that all the nurses were assuming this was my husband and I could just see them studying his odd behavior as he was completely disengaged with his nose in a book and only offering a sarcastic comment every now and then.

We reached the room and I realized that my neon jug of embarrassment was still in the car and poor Patrick had to retrieve this for me. While he was gone I gave all the nurses a SERIOUS pep talk about that man not being my husband and my back less hospital gown. I informed them that if they were not careful and modest with this issue in front of my dear brother in law, he and I and our family would never recover. I am more likely to sue for the trauma of embarrassment than any other malpractice issue.
Thankfully, Rob showed up and my poor brother in law was released of his duties. All of my tests came back normal though my blood pressure is still too high and my bed rest continues. Thank you Patrick, I appreciate your assistance and your calmness when I really needed it. Thank you to my sweet, loving family for your visits, tuna and flowers. Lastly, thank you to my sweet, sweet husband for getting up with me in the middle of the night, making dinner and for waiting on me hand and foot, you are the best. There is a light at the end of this tunnel- only 4 ½ weeks till D day!

 

If you missed Nicole’s earlier posts, and the beautiful story of her meeting and marrying our brother Rob, here they are:

Dazed by the Ridge: The Newest Sweet Ridge Sister

It’s Okay to Not Know Everything