The Clearing

I have forty-three drawers, twenty-three cupboards, nine closets, three chests, four bookcases and one garage, and I’m on a mission to clear out all of them. I’m not sure where this impulse started. Perhaps it was one more article on “How to declutter your life.” Perhaps it was the overheard conversation between a couple of boomers lamenting having to clear out their parents’ house after an emergency or a death. Maybe it was the talk with a neighbor who had decided to sell her house and downsize to a rental condo “before the roof started leaking and the water heater exploded” — and let someone else worry about all that. In any case it seemed like a good and timely idea.

It began with the bathroom closet. I took a dozen towels and about as many sheets and pillowcases to Primavera, the homeless shelter that sometimes needs such things for rehousing people. I threw out a wastebasket of over-the-counter mendicants that were way past useable.  and pondered how to dispose of expired drugs. (Mix them with coffee grounds and wrap them in a plastic bag for the garbage, someone suggested.) Some discoveries were curious: Why do I have a full box of latex gloves? Six shoehorns? A dozen nail clippers when I can never find one when I need one?

I went through my “jewelry” box, and among the necklaces and earrings I seldom wear were small collection of of single earrings, pins for organizations I joined decades ago, worthless bits of flotsam and jetsam of my past. It seemed a shame to toss all those memories, so I started a box. Later I added the shells and sanddollars we’d collected on a Maine vacation in 1973 and some bits and pieces of craft projects and art classes  long abandoned. I wrapped it all in a shoebox and mailed them to Becky, the niece I knew would take some of it and make something imaginative and fetching to hang on her wall. I was right. She loved it.

Sometimes I ran into things I thought the kids might like and then I would consult, but most of that was already dispensed at other moves over the years. I don’t have much left to be sentimental about. John Jr took the family videos and sent back DVDs. Pictures have been dispersed  or digitalized or tossed. Gradually I have whittled the books down (I asked myself, do you seriously think you will re-read  Homer’s Odyssey?) But it gets harder. Nobody seems to want books anymore. I actually threw some in the trash. Sacrilege!

The game drawer yielded fourteen decks of cards, yahtze scorepads, mah Jongg cards for every year since I started playing in 1992, four cribbage boards, Scrabble and yes, Trivial Pursuit, remember those? I saved two decks of cards and the Scrabble.

Much of the garage had been emptied when John died. That was his domain, his man cave, but enough was left that I was confronted by his personal quirky organizational skills, his neatly printed labels on boxes. He loved boxes. He loved labels. I went through his tools and set aside a small hammer, a wirecutter, a couple of screwdrivers, some pliers and a small power drill that I thought I might use. All those sets of socket wrenches are a mystery to me and they went to the flea market stash.

It’s taken almost a year but I’m almost finished. It’s been an eye-opening journey, a dawdle down memory lane, an exercise in detachment (some drawers are still defying any resolution). I highly recommend the process. Don’t rush, just one drawer/cupboard a day. Savor it. Do it for your own mental health. Do it as a gift to your kids. But just for fun leave some surprises behind for them to find.


Vaguely French

MMMM,  roasted carrot salad. This looks good, kind of French. I imagine a slim wraith of girl (maybe she looks like Audrey Hepburn) bicycling in southern France, her white organdy dress fluttering behind her as she rides. She is meeting someone — Gregory Peck? — at a small cafe —

But I digress. I know I have some carrots here somewhere. The recipe says:

1 1/2 pounds small carrots, approximately 5 inches in length, scrubbed clean and tops trimmed.

Well, that would make enough salad for Coxy’s Army. I’ll cut it down to those two carrots in the vegetable bin. They’re big and a little bit whiskery, but they’re carrots. I’ll peel and split them into sticks.

Place carrots, fresh bay leaf, split head of garlic, thyme and olive oil into a bowl and mix them together Sprinkle cumin over the carrots and mix again.

Fresh bay leaf? Just skip that part. Split head of garlic? What does that mean? I’ll use the same frozen grated garlic I use for everything. Okay carrots are roasting away.

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. Combine the juice of two blood oranges, white vinegar, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to incorporate.

Well, I just have one regular orange. That’ll have to do. The only white vinegar I have is that big bottle of Heinz I got for cleaning and it’s, you know, really vinegary. I’ll use rice vinegar.

What’s this? It says “add the olive oil while continuing to whisk, until the dressing emulsifies.” I already added the olive oil and it wasn’t enough to emulsify anyway. Whatever.

For the salad: small red onion, thinly sliced. roughly chopped roasted almonds, two blood oranges cut into supremes —  

My last onion is not red and frankly a little past its prime, but with some judicious surgery I can salvage enough for a sprinkling of slivers. Supremes? What’s a supreme? Oh, here it says: peel the oranges with a sharp knife and cut out sections of orange flesh between membranes. I have just a plain orange and I already used half of it for juice for the vinaigrette. But it’s enough for one salad garnish.

One tablespoon each finely shopped fresh parsley, tarragon, chervil and chives.

Good luck with that. You think I have a complete Provence herb garden here? How about dried dill weed.

Make the cumin creme fraiche by combining creme fraiche, lemon juice and toasted cumin and stir to combine.

No creme fraiche in my frig. How about sour cream? Close enough.

Assemble the salad on a large serving plate. Arrange the carrots on top of a bed of the creme fraiche, Sprinkle the onion and the nuts on top of the cooled carrots, then add the supremes and sprinkle the herbs across the top of the salad and finish with a pinch or two of salt.

Sure,  it would have been better with baby carrots, blood oranges, fresh herbs and creme fraiche at a small cafe in Provence with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. But it wasn’t bad.

Miss Puss Insists

Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!
The day is fast proceeding,
Get up Neow Neow! Neow!
Your cat needs feeding.

It’s only half past five, you say?
No, surely you’re mistaken.
My tummy says it’s way past eight,
And feeling quite forsaken.

I tried to wake you gently
With a paw upon your cheek,
I even kissed your eyelids,
But you never stirred or squeaked.

I purred as loudly as I could
Directly in your ear,
And pressed my cold, wet nose into
That warm place  over here.

Must I stomp upon your chest?
What else can I propose, or
I’ll push and shove and roll you out,
A seven pound bulldozer.

Oh good. You’re up. Don’t dally now;
Don’t dawdle at the sink.
Come now! Neow! Neow! Neow!
I must have food and drink.

This is it?
The same old Fancy Feast?
It’s just that I expected
Something fresh at least.

I’m better now, I’ve had my bath;
And water from the tap;
The whole ordeal’s exhausted me;
I’m ready for a nap.


Coming of Age by Rosemary Rawson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Lessons from Mom

Remembering my mom this Mother’s Day. There was not much formal “sit-down-and listen while I teach you” in my upbringing. Most of it was by example. How to sew on a button. How to prepare potatoes for planting (cut them up and make sure there is an eye in each piece). How to separate clothes for washing into whites and darks. How to stretch a meal when unexpected company arrives. 

The music lessons were somewhat more formal since she was a piano teacher, but even those were taught more informally. My lessons were squeezed in between her other students, and as often as not she would be counting “One, two, three, four” from the kitchen, starting supper  while I plinked away in the red Thompson’s book. 

My mom, Sue Rawson, lived over one hundred years and for the last forty or more she kept a journal.* She recorded their travels and travails and almost always what she had for supper. And among the mundane details of day-to-day living she left many lessons on growing old. 

Sometimes, at the turn of the new year or on her birthday she would  write a “state of the person” assessment of her life and health. “My health seems to be good for eighty-six years old,” she wrote, “probably even very good. I try to plan my days around periods of eye use — reading or sewing — separated by periods of housework, shopping etc. That seems to work quite well. I have been doing most of my own work. This week I washed the windows inside and out, climbing on the ladder without any shakiness or fear of falling. Also used my new broom to sweep the patio. I need to scrunch the little green plants daring to risk their tiny heads through the gravel. I rather hate to cut them down after such a brave effort.”

On their wedding anniversary she recorded this: “A big day in my life history. Sixty-four years since that day we said, ‘I do’ and six that Claude’s been gone. It can’t be so! And so I take inventory. I look at my speckled, veiny hands and wonder at the work they have done, much of it for others and so indirectly coming back to me like bread cast upon the waters. It all adds up to contentment and fulfillment.”

At eighty-seven she was still playing the piano for the church choir, but after an embarrassing glitch she wrote: ”I’m reminded once more that I’m probably too old to be counted on for anything but goofing off. There must be a cut-off someplace short of death. I came home and spent the rest of the day with the Sunday paper, mostly the puzzles.”

She had come into her “spiritual enlightenment” in her mid forties and began an earnest exploration and devotion to the Christian mystics. In a sermonette she delivered to the ALCW Women’s Retreat she  encapsulated her philosophy of life:

“… that every least loving act or thought diminishes by that amount the sin and sorrow of the world.” 

Now those are words to live by.


* The journals became my book, Dark Bread & Dancing