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 the Coffee

This essay was written collaboratively by the editors of Dead Housekeeping. We honor how caretakers come together across race, religion, and nationality to mourn, to commiserate, and to plan after cataclysmic events. We owe the idea to our founding editor Lisa Schamess, for calling us in as a group to write this about the letter-writing, stamp-licking coffee klatsches of the 1960s and 1970s. It was healing for us to write after the U.S. election results last week. We hope it’s healing to read as well.

 

How to Make the Coffee

 

First, go to the store. In addition to things for the coffee, make sure and buy tissues. Some people will need a place to cry tonight.

The house may sparkle or it may be filthy. Maybe you clean when you are upset, maybe your nervous energy propels you to scrub the baseboards, or maybe the house has gone all to hell. If a mountain of junk has grown on the table, clear it off. You can put everything neatly in its place, or throw it in a hamper for later. You'll need a clear workspace, a place for everyone's cups.

Bring up the folding chairs. Alter the furniture for company and tasks. Vignettes for conversation, for work, for sitting next to.

Look for the folding table you last used at Thanksgiving. It isn't in the basement. Did you lend it to Sybil and forget to get it back? Or did the leg break? No matter. Someone has one you can borrow. Start with Sybil.

Consider making coffee cake: That recipe that everyone raves over. A little sweetness at a time like this is always welcome.

At least one person you invited doesn't drink coffee. Check your tea supply.

Not everyone will want what's in that cup. Offer anything. Everything. Until you get it right.

The coffee is bitter and the product of so many hands.

The milk is farmed from beings who made it for their children, not ours.

The sugar is bitterest of all, bitterest of all.

How do we raise our bitter cups together?

Let the children play under the table. What do they know yet. What will they know.

Drink the bitterness, leave lipstick on the cup.

You have a close friend who comes early to help set up. She's telling you what she cannot say later. She thoughtfully sets a napkin under the percolator spout.

This is just your "little coffee klatsch" you tell the men. You'll be home by 11 or so.

Light a candle in the bathroom. Not everyone wants to cry in public, but those who need privacy deserve warmth, too.

There's the smell of coffee, perfumes, and store-bought pastries. Cocktail napkins, condiments, cups stacked on a tray.

It will feel good to see everyone together. Your heavy hearts will fill the whole room. Everyone brings what they can. For example: There's nothing wrong with a friend liberating a pack of legal pads and two boxes of envelopes from the office where she works. We all find our way to stock the communal tote bag of supplies.

An envelope on an end table is displayed quietly for group costs. One friend leaves a generous ten every meeting. It's what she has to offer.

The dryer will buzz. Leave it.

Draw water. Fill the urn to the line. Put the basket into the urn and turn the stem. You will know it is set right when you feel the click in the notch.

Measure out the grounds, spoon by spoon. Add one for the pot.

Put the lid on and turn it to lock. Plug in the cord. The brew will begin to bubble.

Let your children watch all this.

Someday they too will mix and brew and stir the pot.

Call them from under the table to put the pastry on the plate, the good one with gold leaf that your grandmother gave your mother. Let them lick their fingers and put them back into the pastry box. Pretend not to see. A little spit never killed a soul.

One day when you re old, write the instructions for the percolator on an index card, and tape it to the inside of the box the percolator came in. Your children will need this when you're gone, when percolators have fallen out of common use and yet await their time for gatherings.

- The Housekeepers

How to Grow and Preserve a Garden

Don’t worry overmuch about details. Consult a grandchild about where you should put the garden, and then dig up the lawn wherever they point. Pretty much if you till the ground and throw some seeds in and make sure it gets watered, things will grow. You will have to do the tilling, but little kids like to help plant seeds. Show a grandchild how to do the first one and then let them do the rest however they want. If they get bored and abandon the job, you can finish it.

The best way to water is the beer method: stand out there watering for as long as it takes you to drink a beer while the child swings on the rope swing. When your beer is done, or the child wants to do something else, you are done watering.

Harvest when there are too many strawberries for the child to keep up with by eating them straight from the vine. For veggies, harvest whenever. If several are ripe together, then you can preserve them.

People worry about canning, but really the process is pretty easy. It’s okay if your kitchen is dirty as long as the jars are clean. Boil the jars in a stock pot while you are cooking the preserves. For the preserves, measurements can be approximate; let a grandchild do the measuring, but don’t let them stir the preserves if they are young, lest they burn themselves. They can help transfer the hot preserves to the jars if they are old enough and carefully supervised. Details like head space and pretty labels don’t matter; if the jar is 2/3rds full, it will be fine. Process the jars in the stock pot and then take them out and line them up on the counter. Draw your grandchild’s attention to the popping sound as each jar seals.

Give the preserves to your children: the grandchild’s parents, aunts, uncles. The labels can read “cranberry something” or “corn peppers onions.” A general idea of what the jars contain is fine.

Months after you die, your children will open the jars, and you will be able to feed them again.

 

- Tedra Osell is a freelance writer and editor who lives in California with her precocious son and a bitey cat. She used to be a famous blogger and a non-famous English professor. Her father died of pancreatic cancer this spring.