Little Boxes

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By Thursday night, I am wiped out.  This week has been especially exhausting.  That’s partly my own fault.  I had early morning meetings scheduled each day this week.  It didn’t help that I didn’t do any ironing last weekend.  Each night this week, well after midnight, I’ve had a mad scramble trying to figure out what to wear to work the next day.  Staying up too late, dealing with challenges at work, then coming home and jumping right into painting the kitchen has tapped out any reserves I had built up.

Tonight I’m checked out.  I’m tired and achy.  I have a weird rash on my chest, and my knuckles, knees, and elbows are swollen.  My body is rebelling from lack of sleep and too much stress.  The old illness flares up to remind me to take care of myself.  I’m listening to my body tonight.  I’m kicking back with a cocktail while T is painting in the kitchen.  Later, I’m going to take a “Toxin Purge” bath of baking soda and Epsom salts just as my grandma would recommend if she were here with me.  When I start to get low, when my energy level has bottomed out, I always resort to the old ways.  I pull out the comfort of the past and wrap the memories of long gone generations around me for comfort.  I cover up in the Ugly Blanket, and I remember the great-grandma who made it while she chewed on homegrown tobacco. I listen to bluegrass music on my modern surround sound system, and I remember sitting on a hay rack while my great uncles played banjo and guitar under the Kentucky stars.

Last night Lola told me just before bedtime that today was “Culture Day” in her class.  The kids who chose to participate were supposed to bring something that represents their culture.  It took me a moment to understand the concept.  To me, culture meant opera, literature, or a play.  Then I remembered.  We don’t live in a small farming community anymore.  Lola doesn’t go to school with children who all have a similar background.  Her friends are a unique mixture of cultures representing different countries, beliefs, and religions.  Lola asked me who we are.  What is our culture?  I had to think about it for a moment, and I jokingly said, “We are hillbillies.”  She looked at me and said, “C’mon, Mom.  I’m serious.”

I took Lola into the den, and I took down some pictures from the bookshelf.  There was one of her great, great, great, great grandparents, their children, and their children’s children all posed in front of a large farmhouse in Kentucky.  There was another of her great, great grandparents standing in their field of tobacco.  There were others of family in Illinois, generations of farmers.  I explained to Lola that her ancestors had been early settlers, people who had made their way across the country from the east coast to the Midwest farming, settling, and spreading out along the way with each new generation.  They were not wealthy.  They were honest, hardworking people with a deep love of music that was passed down through each generation.  They sat on their porches at night looking out across their land, and they played music with their families.  Hillbillies in the classic sense of the word.

When I was a little girl, I often spent summers with my grandmas on their farms.  My widowed great-grandmas lived with their daughters, which meant generations of women spent time under the same roof, talking, laughing, and singing.  I thought one of my grandmas had written the song, “Old Dan Tucker.”  I was surprised to hear a recording of that song years after her death.  I had always thought that was a song Grandma had written just for me, and I had asked her to sing it hundreds of times.  It was a strange experience to explain our family’s past to Lola.  This past, my past, is part of her history that she will never experience. Our life is so far removed now from those sweet, simple days.

Tonight after work,  pulled into our tidy subdivision behind a line of cars containing other people who live in this sterile, regulated neighborhood of ours.  We were all coming home from a day of work.  We all work hard in order to live in this safe and lovely place, yet we spend most of our time either away from home or exhausted when we return.  As the cars drove down my street, a bizarre and improbable orchestration of events occurred.  One, two, three garage doors opened.  One, two, three SUV’s pulled into three driveways side by side.  It felt like being part of a dream…

Tonight I am thankful for music, an Ugly Blanket, and the Epsom salts bath that awaits me.  I’m thankful for the wonderful memories that past generations have given me to pass down to my daughter.  When the world seems crazy and illogical, when the stress mounts and exhaustion sets in, I am grateful to have the heart of a hillbilly and that bluegrass music can summon soothing memories of the one’s I loved so dearly.

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