Did You Make Your Bed This Morning?

unmadeWhile waiting at the dentist’s office this week, I read an article called “Happy Habit: Make Your Bed” but Jackie Ashton. In the article, Ms Ashton admits to hating to make her bed and resolves to amend her ways, explaining how this daily chore sets the stage for a more orderly and productive day. Her catch phrase, “messy bed, messy head” spoke a resounding truth to me, for I am a bed Nazi.

I’m not sure where it began, but I think I can blame my mother for my obsession with a neat bed. It was my mother’s expectation that our beds be made before we left for school in the morning, and I, being one of the eldest of the clan, had to set an example for my six younger siblings.

Without fail, at 30 Green Street, every Saturday morning all beds were stripped and all sheets washed. My mother hung them on the clothes lines, where they would flap in the breezes of the backyard until they were dry, to be carefully returned to the beds before the youngest child’s bedtime. The ritual did not stop there, however. When Saturday evening came, all heads were shampooed and all nails trimmed, and by nightfall, every child was scrubbed and shiny, clad in clean pajamas and tucked between smooth percale sheets that smelled of fresh air and sunshine.

I was a teenager before we had contour sheets for our beds. My father, who had been in the Navy, taught us to make square corners from flat sheets, showing us that sheets on a well-made bed would endure several nights of slumber before coming un-tucked. We often paired up in teams of two to make beds on Saturday afternoons, and my sister Robin and I devised ways to make the chore more enjoyable. Making beds for ten people could be a daunting task, but our games made the work less mundane. We bent back the mattresses and pretended they were horses while we jumped on the bed springs. We folded blankets like flags, creating tidy wool triangles that sat on the sheets until it was time to unfold them and tuck them under at the foot. We tried flipping coins on our freshly made beds, in hopes that they would be as taut as those in the military barracks my father had described. square corners

The real test of our bed-making skills came when my mother came to our beds to hear our prayers and tuck us in. A poorly made bed would result in a “tsk tsk” as my mother smoothed the sheets and refolded the square corners. She would unscrew the handle on the steaming radiator to turn off the heat, and prop the window open a few inches- even if the night skies were filled with snowflakes. She would sit on the side of the bed, stroke our heads and listen to our vespers, then with a kiss the cheek, she would tuck in the sides of our covers so tightly it was almost impossible to roll over. The ritual worked. It took me moments to enter dreamland, and I never woke until morning.

It is probably because of my childhood that I am so obsessive about my bed. Every morning, as soon as I have showered, I make my bed. I do not remember a time when I have left it rumpled from the last night’s sleep. I hate when people sit or lie on my bed during the day, but I tolerate it, knowing that having my kids flop on my mattress for a heart to heart talk is more important that how my bed looks.

But when it is time for bed, the rules must be followed. The bottom sheet has to be wrinkle free. The top sheet has to be neatly pulled up to my chin and carefully folded over the end of my comforter. My pillows must be plumped, smooth and cool. And truth be told, during the winter I am known to open the windows just a crack, even if the snow falls from the night skies.

bedI have thought about my bed making rituals many times. Perhaps it is to bring order to the chaos of the day. Perhaps it is to prove to myself that although I cannot control the entire world, I can control mine. At least a little bit. Perhaps it is just a way to pay homage to my parents, who gave me years of peaceful dreams in a little house with too many kids.

Ms Ashton, I am happy you have joined the ranks of the bed-making brigade. Now, let’s talk about the towels on the bathroom floor…

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The Christmas Gift

wrapping paperIt is December, and is time to wrap the gifts I’ve carefully selected for my children.  A few evenings ago, I rummaged through the attic in search of paper and ribbon and came across a box marked “Sentimental Stuff.”  Inside is a music box with a dancing clown.

In the late summer of 1982, I window shopped at Johnson’s Bookstore in Springfield, Massachusetts with my husband, Paul.  Johnson’s was an amazing store with rooms upon rooms of books, toys and art supplies.  We browsed for hours, leafing through pages, and dreaming of giving the beautiful dolls, books and teddy bears to our unborn child.  On a shelf were small shadow boxes containing jointed paper clowns that danced when the music box on the back was wound. I was immediately taken by them, but I knew my practical farm-raised husband would not recognize the value in such frivolity.  Besides, in those lean years, our pennies were carefully counted and reserved for bare necessities, so after a few moments of watching the paper clown dance, I turned and left the store.

That December as the holidays approached, we struggled to pay for food and oil.  We kept our heat only high enough to keep our pipes from freezing, and heated water on the stove for dishes and bathing.  Our finances were grave, but our mood was bright.  It was Christmas, after all- the celebration of our Savior’s birth.  Christ was born into poverty with the sole purpose of dying for all mankind.  And yet, there was no bitterness in His birth.  The heavens rejoiced, and so would we.  We decorated a small tree and settled in front of the fireplace to discuss our gift giving budget.

After a long conversation, we settled on rules for our yuletide celebration.   We would each have ten dollars to spend on each other.  There would be no cheating, no borrowing, no allowing anyone else foot the bill.  Everything under the tree would have to be something we made ourselves, or bought within the ten-dollar budget. 

During the following weeks, I stretched my sweater over my growing belly and concentrated on knitting wool scraps into mittens for my husband.  I used my ten dollars on wool socks, a flannel shirt, and Christmas goodies to fill Paul’s stocking.  A few days before Christmas, I finally finished the mittens.  They were pieced together in stripes- tan, rust and brown, all from yarn left over from my mother’s past projects, but the stitches were tight and they promised to keep his hands warm when he shoveled our long driveway on snowy mornings.  I carefully wrapped them, hoping they would fit his hands, and wondering if he would like them.

Christmas morning dawned and we feasted on eggs, homemade muffins, and coffee.  We prayed our thanks to God for the amazing gift of His son and sat at the foot of the tree to open gifts.  Paul was pleased with his. The shirt and socks fit and he promised me that he loved the mittens and would wear them often.  Then he handed me a small box.

I slowly opened the red and white paper and to my surprise, discovered the dancing clown music box clownfrom  Johnson’s Bookstore. 

My eyes filled with tears.  “You cheated!” I accused, knowing the music boxes cost far more than our budget had allowed.

“No- really,” he protested.  I kept looking and looking but I couldn’t find anything I liked that I could afford.  I went into Johnson’s and this was the only one left.  It was stuck in a corner and was a bit dusty.  There wasn’t a price tag on it, so I asked.  The clerk couldn’t find a price, so he offered to sell it to me for ten dollars.” 

“I saw how much you loved it last summer,” he said softly.  “I wanted to get it then, but I couldn’t afford it.”

My eyes filled with tears and I hugged him as tightly as my swollen belly would allow.  We placed the clown on a shelf where it served as a reminder that young love can overcome the tightest budgets and the toughest obstacles.

Somewhere in the years that followed the music box stopped working.  Perhaps it was wound too tightly, or maybe its Christmas magic just ran out.  But the clown stopped dancing, and the music stopped playing, and eventually the marriage ended.

But in December, there is no room for bitterness. Although we are no longer a couple, I still remember that Christmas with great fondness.  Even though we cannot live as husband and wife now, the love we shared on that day, and for many more was real and true. 

I carefully put the clown back in its box and closed the lid.  Then, taking a deep breath, I grabbed a roll of paper, turned out the light and shut the door to the attic.

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