How to Pierce Your Granddaughter's Ears

Ask your granddaughter to wait until she is ten.

When the time comes, seek the consent of her mother, your hard-working daughter-in-law.

Pull out the thinnest needle, cotton thread, and a lump of beeswax from your sundry box. Rub wax on the thread to make it strong and then run it through the needle’s eye. Hold the needle in the flame of a candle to sterilize it.

Sit the ten-year-old on a stool in the breeze of your table fan. Tie up her hair and dot each delicate earlobe with your ballpoint pen. Give her candy to suck on.

Place your pet parrot on the girl’s arm and teach it some tunes. Let her feed it hot peppers to sharpen its tongue.

While whistling a tune, push the needle quickly and smoothly in with your right hand, stretching the lobe with the left. Cut the thread and tie its ends while blowing on the red lobe.

“Bahadur girl. Bewaqoof parrot.” Let your roaring laughter drown the pain.

Repeat.

 The author's grandfather immaculately dressed

The author's grandfather immaculately dressed

Each month, dress up and trim your beard for going to the bank for your pension. Your granddaughters will ask you to get laddoos. 

Save ten rupees each month per girl for gold earrings—60 rupees in total.

Gold is on a rise but your life isn’t. Only two of the six have gold in their ears when you die.

You cannot fill all the holes in one lifetime.

 

 

- Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She was born in a middle-class family in India and will forever be indebted to her parents for educating her beyond their means. She now lives in the United States. Her life is blessed with plenitude but she is oceans away from her family. That pain makes her write and express herself. Her work has been published in Ms Magazine blog, The Same, The Aerogram, The Sidereal, Star 82 Review among others. She blogs at PunyFingers.

How to Get Your Grandchildren Ready for Church

It’s a little easier, but not by much, if the children’s parents also spent the night before Sunday service, but for the mornings you are alone preparing anywhere from five to seven grandkids for church:

Wake up the two girls first. Give the sisters a little privacy as they pick out their toothbrushes from the bathroom collection. Invite them to the table as you finish your coffee. Remind them to bring what they need for their hair. No, not on the kitchen table. Coffee table is fine. Make sure it’s blue Ultra Sheen for extra shine.

Corral the boys. The girls are savoring perfectly toasted bread spread with real butter. They fantasize about the day they will be old enough to be offered a pour from the percolator. Shout the wrong names at all the boys until they get it together enough to sit at the table for scrambled eggs, toast and orange juice. Inspect all their haircuts. Giggle to yourself remembering the edge ups their grandfather had given them the night before: Lord, how that Tony screamed, then, with tears drying in his eyes, reassured his brother in the chair that it doesn’t hurt. It don't hurt, Andy. That Tony, oh boy, that Tony.

Style the girls’ hair and here comes their favorite part: picking out the hair ribbons that match their dresses. Clip barrettes to the ends of their ponytails, pin a bright bow to their pigtails. Inspect their knees for ash.

Cry out for the industrial-sized lotion bottle and attack those ashy knees. Pile everyone into the Lincoln after carefully wrapping their offering coins into embroidered handkerchiefs. Arrange those beautiful black children in a row on your regular pew. Sorry, Sister Campbell, my grands are visiting and they are taking your seat. Pass down to each a hard butterscotch candy and a final warning hush. The service is beginning.

 This custom doll by Jacqueline Bryant Campbell wears a dress made from the author’s daughter’s baptismal gown.

This custom doll by Jacqueline Bryant Campbell wears a dress made from the author’s daughter’s baptismal gown.

- Erica Hoskins Mullenix is a freelance writer and editor, and a contributing editor here at Dead Housekeeping. Besides personal essays detailing her life as an introverted middle kid, bewildered but kickass mother and special needs parent, she also writes short fiction. Proudly an alum of Howard University in Washington, D.C., Erica created the online writer’s community known as yeah write in April 2011. She has had essays published in Salon, The Houston Chronicle, PANK, and other print and online publications. Her fiction and other writing can be found on her personal blog. Follow Erica on Twitter @freefringes

- Jacqueline Bryant Campbell is a contributing editor at Dead Housekeeping, and you can admire and order her dolls at her shop, Jacq's Dolls.

How to Name a Daughter

Don’t rush into a name for the fetus. It’s just a bump, just a lump in your housedress that will maybe come to nothing after all: you’re not eating well, he drinks too much. The Depression has its hooks in you womb-deep.

Don’t hurry to name your baby. There’s so many of them and they die so young so often. She cries when she’s born; a good sign, a strong baby, but anything can happen.

 illustration by the author

illustration by the author


Take your time naming your toddler. You’ve lost children already; you can lose this one too. Farmer’s rules: don’t name the animals you’ll have to slaughter. Don’t name the children that die, unrecorded. 

Call your little girl Precious and Darlin and Princess. She is the youngest and could be any of those things, barefoot in the red clay dust of the yard. Eventually she will return from her first day of school – so big! – asking “Mama, what’s my name?”

Say the first thing that comes into your head.

 

- Rowan Beckett Grigsby is the less-censored less-palatable alter ego of an attorney who might want to work in this town again someday. Professional editor and graphic designer by day and professional knitter by night, she has been an Unchaste Reader, a contributor to Ask a Raging Feminist, a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee and one of BlogHer's 2017 Voices of the Year for work we consider required reading, including "How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101."   

Rowan has also told us How to Clean your Plate and How to Have Nice Things.

How to Make an Introduction

Pull your fat address book out of your overstuffed tote bag and browse the names, all of them, the old friends and the grandchildren and the people you’ve met at City Council and in elder hostels and in line at Publix. Consult your notes to find two people with something in common: a glass-paperweight collection, a love of Star Trek, children the same age. Get on the phone and invite them to your condo for lunch.

Put on your best summer pantsuit. Check your teeth for errant lipstick. Pop a Tic-Tac. Pull your shoulders back: posture is important. Roll out plastic runners to protect the carpet. Gather the piles of papers and photos and books that have accumulated on tables and in corners and put them in the bedroom, where no one is allowed to peek. Put fresh guest soaps on the bathroom sink.

Answer the door with a rush of joy and a 1930s-sorority-girl lilt in your voice. Invite your guests in. Find one unusual thing about each of them to compliment. Offer them iced tea. Tell them what they have in common. Regale each with stories about the other until their formality melts into laughter. 

Recall with a start that you have not made lunch. Open the oven. Realize that it’s full of stored photos, and that your toaster does not work. Offer to microwave some bread for everyone. 

While your guests nibble politely at their hot, soggy slices, call the Yacht Club for a lunch table. As you usher your guests out the door, stop them in a sunny spot in front of some palmettos for photos. Count down to the shutter: One, two, oops, just a second, one, two, three. 

A few months later, mail these to each guest, names and dates carefully noted on the back of each photo, with an apologetic note scrawled on the envelope: you’d addressed and stamped but then shifted them to the back bedroom and forgot to mail them. Your guests will understand.

 

- Sarah Grey is a writer and editor based in Fishtown. She writes about food, politics, society, and language. Her work has appeared in Best Food Writing 2015SaveurLucky PeachSerious Eats, BitchJacobin, and Edible Philly, and in several anthologies. She received the 2016 Robinson Prize for Excellence in Copy Editing from the American Copy Editors Society. Find her on Twitter at @greyediting and on Instagram at @FridayNightMeatballs.

How to Organize a Mother's Day Party

Wear a lungi wrapped artfully around your waist, and an undershirt with frayed sleeves to make phone calls to all the men in the community. If this doesn’t take at least one whole day, you’ve left someone off the list.

Round up fathers, single men, and children over the age of 15. Even if they’re not husbands or fathers, they can still contribute; they have all had mothers. 

They will come to your house the Saturday evening prior to Mother’s Day to prepare and cook the food. Time your preparations so they coincide with the FA Cup final. Cooking is always improved by soccer.

Plan the menu in advance. It doesn’t much matter which curries you cook, but chilli must be used liberally. This is how you maintain your golden rule of cooking; the hotter the curries, the sweeter the dessert. You will organise the dishes efficiently but without much passion; it’s hard to get excited about vegetarian food. 

Your passion is reserved for dessert. You will make sharkara payasam. This sickly sweet umber ambrosia is your speciality, and you’re famed throughout the community for the way you combine the ghee, rice, jaggery, and coconut in perfect proportions. 

 The author's father serving  sharkara payasam  at one of the many parties he loved

The author's father serving sharkara payasam at one of the many parties he loved

Your helpers will be an unruly bunch, heckling soccer teams into wins or losses, but you know they will follow your instructions. Revel in their rambunctiousness.

There will be time to remind them, once more, that all the mothers and mother-substitutes are not to lift a finger on their special day.

- Asha Rajan

How To Be a Sister

When she teaches you how to be beautiful, it is a lesson in resilience. When she tells you to buy a dress, she means, “prepare.”

Together you curate wardrobes, with method and purpose in mentally categorized racks:

Obviously Made for You,

Novelty (buy on sale),

Potentially Amazing On (but questionable on the hanger),

Unflattering Even on the Mannequin, Slightly Outside the Comfort Zone/Worth a Try (rarely not horrifying), and

Basics.

Investment pieces are special, she says, simultaneously classic and unique, and almost always accidentally found. Their quality and timeless tailoring feel made just for you, and last decades.

Her style blends effortlessly with yoursher wide cuffed black trousers, your navy blue pencil skirt, cashmere crewnecks, iconic printed accessories. Your favorite is a gray suiting dress. It has a drop waist and a single inverted pleat. You wear it to an interview, New York, London, to her funeral and then your father’s and then another, to your best friend’s second wedding, the Union League, to family court. You build a wardrobe around a life that disappears. Who were you when you bought that wool crepe dress with her?

In a dressing room alone somewhere, you remind yourself of her lessons: Choose carefully and invest in clothing that lasts. You’ll need a dress for starting over, and more than once. You slip on a long silk cardigan that should have been hers and is yours now, by default, and you pray: If I am pain, may I also be grace.

Nichole Cordin is a Chicago writer and contributing editor of Dead Housekeeping. When not actively mourning, she enjoys taking photos of her geriatric Boston Terrier and can be found at @NicholeCordin.

Peanut Butter Crackers

Mom would place a box of Salerno saltine crackers, a large jar of smooth Peter Pan Peanut Butter along with a couple of sticks of Blue Bonnet margarine on the kitchen table, putting my older brothers and sister in charge of breakfast. The center of the table had a stack of comics for our morning reading. Coffee was bubbling in the percolator on the table’s edge.

My oldest brother Rich would open the box of crackers to begin the process. He would cut a wedge off the margarine and spread it across the crackers, salty side in. My other brother Pat would slide a knife full of peanut butter on a separate cracker and press the buttered side together with the peanut butter one. My older sister Ruth would pour us each black coffee while I watched the assembled crackers rise on a plate like a Jenga tower before my two brothers decided we had enough.

We would each grab a stack and dip them in our coffee, watching the oil seep across the surface. I loved to squeeze my crackers to make margarine ‘worms’ curl out through the holes. Speaking was at a minimum while we dunked crackers in coffee, ate, traded comics and refilled coffee cups. It was the start of our day.

Two more kids and a half dozen apartments later, Mom would reminisce how she kept us healthy with the peanut butter meals we consumed. She had gotten the tip from a woman she worked with during World War Two when rationing was in place. “Protein keeps you going and peanut butter was one item we didn’t have a problem getting,” she said. “I did what I had to do and you all turned out fine.”

 

- Kathy Doherty has a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University Denver. She has published work in airplanereading.org, Metrosphere, Foliate Oak, Hot Metal Press and One Million Stories Anthology. She lives in Parker, Colorado with her amazing Siberian Forest cat, Vladimir. 

Permanently Pressed

Peggy got up every morning at five to fix Bobby’s breakfast and iron his work clothes. She stood behind the ironing board looking out the window, dreaming about the men she saw on the TV the night before. Every few moments she let the iron rest in order to build up the steam that provided the magic puffs that set the creases permanently into the legs of his uniform pants. The radio played on the windowsill, a Ray Charles song. 

Born to lose, I've lived my life in vain.

As the iron rested, Peggy twisted the small, diamond ring on her left hand, as if it might be tight. Bobby leaned out of the bathroom in his boxer shorts, shaving cream on his face and an unfiltered cigarette stuck to his lip.

"Did you make any coffee?"  He called out, the cigarette flapping up and down.  Peggy sighed,

"No, I'm ironing your pants."

She thought she had loved him once, but that was so long ago. Peggy wished she could be a better housewife and have Bobby's uniforms ready and all, but she really hated ironing, and the afternoons were so warm that they made her sleepy. Peggy twisted the ring around her finger.  

"Is there any coffee left in the pot or did you boil it dry?"  The smell of burned coffee wafted throughout the house.  Peggy pulled up her apron and used it as a potholder to pour a cup of coffee. 

Bobby left for work and Peggy sat in a chair smoking his cigarette butts staring at the picture of Hawaii on the kitchen calendar, twisting the ring, she sat there daydreaming about places she had never been to keep from getting blue.

 photo supplied by the author

photo supplied by the author

- Nicole Chakalis is an MFA alum in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago. She studied at the University of Havana and received the Sylvia McNair Award for Travel Writing. Nicole was the recipient of a fellowship at the Ragdale Artists Residence and the featured reader at 2nd Story during Story Week 2014.  


How to Set a Table

Set the table early. With precision. Unfurl the tablecloth. Release its starchy scent into the morning air. Run your hands over it. Take care that the cutlery is polished to a fine shine. Check the place mats for smudges. They are immaculate but wipe them over just in case before setting down the china plate. God forbid there be even a speck of dirt.  

Fork to the left of the plate, knife to the right, blade pointing inwards because outwards would be rude. Place the soup spoon, because there is always soup, even in summer, to the right of the knife. The dessert spoon and fork face left and should be set above the plate, but not too close because people move their plates when eating. The wine glass, delicate and long-stemmed, goes to the right, and after that the tumbler for cold drinks. The napkin, matching the tablecloth, should be folded into a neat triangle and fixed under the fork.

 photo by  Emily Chen-Morris

photo by Emily Chen-Morris

For special occasions, fold the napkin into a lily and sit it in the center of the plate. This will be a nice touch that your dinner guests will appreciate.

Step back and survey your dinner table waiting quietly, obediently, for the guests to arrive. Be ready at least fifteen minutes before the appointed time. Laugh when they arrive, fashionably late, and tell them it was no bother at all. This is how you were brought up and you do this all the time, you really do.   


- Joanna Chen lives on the edge of a forest, where she walks almost every day with whoever will come with her. Most days it's her dog, Pudding. Joanna writes exactly what she thinks at This is Not a Story  and also has a column at The Los Angeles Review of Books, The View From Here.  As for laying the table correctly, Joanna prefers eating with her fingers whenever possible. 

How to Comb an Old Lady's Hair

            It changes with age, hair: thins, brittles, refines. This is what she says.  

            Use large-toothed combs. And patient fingers.

            Oiling the hair is important. Massage the scalp. Pay attention: oldladyskin grows silken, just like oldladyhair. Separate a clump. Loosen the knots with your fingers; run them through, quiver the strands apart, while pulling down with the comb. Sometimes she impedes by clasping your hand.

            Remember: Impatient hands are useless.

                                                                                               (from Life, on Old Indian Photos)

                                                                                             (from Life, on Old Indian Photos)

            Untangling hair takes time. Why waste it? Ask about her husband’s portrait which hangs so she can see him from her bed. Place your fingers—all ten—at the midpoint of her hairline, and scuttle them to the base of her skull parting her hair. Listen. Come sun, come rain, he stealth-waited by the pond where she went for water. Push the parted hair to either side twisting lightly to keep them divided. Brush one segment toward yourself and separate it into three as she laughs her way through their first wedding-night kiss. You’ve forgotten hair-ties. Do not worry about her impatience. She tells you where they are before resuming. He has been dead for decades; but her body still yearns for his. Blush when she touches your naked waist. Usually demurely hidden by your sari, it was bared when you crouched to get the hair-ties from a drawer. Begin the other braid and pretend you’re unembarrassed by her comment about your curviness.  

          Above all, do not worry about pulling her hair too hard. “Sometimes hurt is good,” she chuckles, “hasn’t your husband taught you that yet?”

- Shabnam Nadiya