A Room Shuffle
by Liz Flaherty
I’m writing in a new place these days. With our three-bedroom house empty of all but the two of us, my husband (hereafter referred to as “he”) and I decided to do a room shuffle.
The piano, which we bought with the idea that I might take lessons and learn to play When the Saints without stumbling, was in my office. It looked very pretty, with hurricane lamps interspersed with small framed photographs of grandchildren on its top.
I didn’t like it there.
Guitars were all over the house — one in the living room, one in the hall, yet another in the office over by the piano. A mandolin leaned indolently into a corner and music books shared basket space with Woman’s Day and People. Whatever instrument or book he reached for was not the one that came readily to hand.
He didn’t like that much.
So we’ve moved my office stuff — most of it, at least; offices accumulate a lot of junk that isn’t worth moving but is difficult to throw away. I might eventually need that cake recipe I printed off three years ago for someone’s birthday — I can’t remember whose. He might one day learn to play that James Taylor song that wasn’t quite a hit but has a nice riff in the middle of it. But my computer and chair, my printers and fax machine, even my electric pencil sharpener and the framed copy of my first book cover, have all found their way upstairs to the guest room, the one that’s never been particularly neat because I also sew there.
We moved the bedroom furniture out and will replace it when needed with a queen-size bed that comes with a built-in air pump. Our oldest granddaughter is excited about getting the furniture; I’m excited about not dusting it anymore. Our daughter-in-law who’s coming to visit isn’t at all excited about sleeping in a blow-up bed--even with the piano right there handy in case she feels like getting up and banging out When the Saints. However, she’s game to try anything; she did after all marry our son.
On most trips upstairs, I try to bring something from the old office-new music room. A few paperbacks off the bookshelves, some clutter off the top of the piano, a ream of paper mysteriously separated from the rest of the box. The only problem is that I find myself sitting on a step re-reading a chapter from a favorite novel, separating beloved snapshots of grandchildren from crooked pictures of unidentifiable scenery, or holding the ream of paper trying to remember where I was taking it and why.
Then on my trips back downstairs because I’m hungry, thirsty, lonely, or have to go to the bathroom, I take ... uhm ... nothing. Once we centralized his instruments and his music, I made the unhappy discovery that most of the flotsam and jetsam is mine.
And here we come, sort of, to the crux of the issue, which is the whole idea of keeping things moving, of figuring out that which is important and that which is ... well, less so. It’s more difficult as I grow more experienced (as opposed to just getting older; I do love a good euphemism), to accept change and to learn new things. It’s even harder to attach importance to things I have, after all, lived my entire life without and to admit that ideas and possessions I’ve held onto for dear life might well be without any consequence at all.
I used to wonder at people who, upon retiring, sold their houses and took to the road in motor homes. “How can you leave everything?” I asked one woman.
" What’s to leave?” she asked, and jerked her thumb over her shoulder at where her husband had the hood of the motor home up and was tinkering. “He’s with me.”
"My books ... ” I started but didn’t finish. Without exception, the books I treasure can be borrowed from a library or bought from a used book store.
"But where would I keep my three sizes of clothes?” I asked. “My ones I’ll never lose enough weight to wear, the ones I do wear, and the ones I wear when no one’s around because they’re more comfortable.”
The woman grinned at me. “Elastic waists,” she said sagely.
"Pictures?" I ventured.
"I have some. I stored some. I gave most of them to my kids. Let them worry about them.”
She had an answer for everything, and they were pretty good answers. Not good enough to convince me to give up my home, but good enough to make me dig out the tins of pictures and present them to my kids. Good enough to make me put a bunch of books in bags destined for women’s shelters. (I also put the smallest of my three-size wardrobe in those bags. Sigh.) Good enough to make me examine my priorities.
I don’t need the printed-off recipes and he doesn’t need every piece of sheet music he’s ever acquired. My kids are in their 30s; if they want the letter jackets and prom gowns in my closet, they can take them home with them. I have what the stitchers among us call a “stash.” The truth of the matter is, when my stash outgrows the shelf it rests on, it’s too big.
So here I am in my new place, having a little trouble making the beginning, middle, and end of this essay come together. So I took out a paragraph that was sagging, put in a sentence that hopefully added cohesion, and smiled when the sound of one of the guitars drifted ever so sweetly up the stairs. Like new places, my writing may have a couple of sharp edges, be less comfortable, but I hope it’s nice, too, that it drifts sweetly as you read and makes you smile.
Till next time.