What to Do When it Snows

Action News is predicting snow, just a few flurries, but you never know. Could be a blizzard. When you go out for coffee, pick up a few ice scrapers and some salt. Truth is, no one else in the family will be prepared. Mention snow, but don’t harp. Find out who has to be where at what time. Place all of your gear on the porch and near the front door. Smoke your cigar.

The next morning, get up before everyone else. Go to Wawa and get some coffee. Come home. Scrape off all the cars. Your daughter has clinical and has to be at the hospital early, so do hers first and warm up her car so she isn’t cold on the way in. Better yet, decide to drive her and pick her up.

"Thanks for talking to me" was the author's father's catchphrase.

"Thanks for talking to me" was the author's father's catchphrase.


Shovel the driveway and sidewalk. Put down plenty of salt so no one slips. Keep going, up and down the street, until you run into other dads who are also shoveling snow and sprinkling salt so no one slips. Go to Wawa and get another coffee. Drink it there, while reading the paper for free. Help anyone who’s stuck. Wave goodbye to everyone at Wawa and say, “Thanks for talking to me.”

Go home. Drive your daughter to clinical. Don’t listen when she tells you to use the defrost. Keep wiping the windshield clear with your gloved hand. Drop her off. Think about those you know who can’t shovel their sidewalks, and go to their houses to help them.

 

 

- Mary Finnegan is a nurse and writer living in Philadelphia. She misses her father in so many ways - for the snow removal, the cigars, the rides, and especially the love. Thanks for talking to me.

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

Blue and Grey and Brown

The walk-in closet smells like lavender, shoe polish, cedar and dry cleaning chemicals. This is what a man’s closet should smell like. There are 130 shirts (dress and casual), 13 suits, 9 pairs of jeans, 7 pairs of slacks, 25 pairs of shoes, 10 belts, and 14 sweaters. This closet comes with many instructions: 

He keeps the sweaters in clear boxes with a bar of Yardley Lavender soap in each box, along with three cedar balls the size of Milk Duds. The clear boxes are dusted regularly.

Because it is the best kind of lavender soap.

He only hangs ties on the tie rack and never with a knot in it. Silk is only so forgiving, he explains as he smooths down the wrinkles from that day’s knot. 

No, I don’t need ties that are more fun. These ties are appropriate. 

John in an appropriate navy pinstripe, at his college graduation.

John in an appropriate navy pinstripe, at his college graduation.

His shirts from the dry cleaner are hung on the right-most part of the closet because new shirts are chosen from the left-most. They rustle like fall leaves in their dry cleaning bags as he squares the shoulders and lines them up perfectly. 

White and blue are the only acceptable colors for a man’s dress shirt. Pink is for salesmen. I am not a salesman.

Laundered shirts are hung by color grouping and sleeve length. 

Your mother shrunk this one.

Jeans in one section, slacks in another, hung legs on the left, perfectly aligned on trouser hangers.

Because that is the correct word for them.

All shoes, even gym shoes and sandals, have shoe trees in them; big, heavy, shoe trees that feel more like weapons than items of haberdashery. They are all cedar. 

If you treat them right, all shoes can last a decade or more. These are older than you, dear.

Suits stay in their waxed canvas bags until they are worn, and they go right back in at the end of the day. He tells me where and when he bought each suit, and the thought process involved in each. 

No. I prefer dark blue and dark grey. Brown is too midwestern. Black is for nightclub owners.

When I have to clean out his closet, and choose a suit for him to wear in the casket, the choice is easy, as if he was making it for me. 

- Beth Dugan is one of our favorite multiple-contributors to Dead Housekeeping and can be found at bethdugan.com

How to Tense Your Shoulders

When you are stressed out, swallow it.

Speaking up brings no relief. You’re used to being reminded of having said something unsatisfactory years after you said it. Ignore disagreements and keep moving until you really can’t stand to be quiet any longer. 

Look down. Is your mother still talking? Try to keep reading. Think your thoughts. Don’t move. Pencil notes in your paperback. The stress goes straight from your ears to your brain to your neck. Buy headphones to plug into the hifi. You would have loved smartphones, all that information in your hand and the way they shield us from interaction. Your thoughts are a physical burden on your body. You can’t help it. If it wasn’t 1982 you could google the chords to your favorite songs. 

The author’s father, Tom, at a party.

The author’s father, Tom, at a party.

At work, keep mopping. On break, smoke a cigarette, hunch over a joint. At home, after dark, wrap your upper body around a guitar with the TV on in the background, a ball game, maybe M*A*S*H*. Drink a beer, the house is quiet. You can relax, you can have a good time. Still, keep your tension in your shoulders. Feel a pinch when you twist to get a fuller view of the road than you get from the little side view mirrors of your Volkswagen Beetle. Stretch before playing tennis. Play like a jerk sometimes, slam a ball into a far corner when it’s already clearly your point.

Sometimes you erupt and curse over small things: another speeding ticket, or when a child opens the bathroom door on you. Everyone quiets down when this happens and your anger hangs in the air, vibrating. It’s not on purpose. You’re sick and stressed.

When it become clear that you’ll die soon, at thirty-four, there will be a change in the mood of the house, like the loosening of muscle.

 

- Meredith Counts is 35 this year. When she hunched at the kitchen table, her grandpa would pinch hard in the knotted muscle where the shoulder meets the neck. He’d tell her, “loosen up, your dad kept his tension there, too.”

How to Put Your Mind at Rest Each Night

Lift the seat cushion from the green brocade couch where your family's been lounging, hold them vertically, shake 3 times and replace. Repeat with the back cushions. Smooth the matching throw pillows and place each at a slight angle toward each other. There’s a place for everything. Eyeball the identical end tables and lamps on either side of the sofa. Make sure each lamp is centered. Empty and wipe the etched bronze ashtray and place it at the corner of the table on the left side of the couch close enough for your wife to reach. Center the piano bench beneath the keys. Chaos lurks in disorder. Unravelling can be measured in millimeters. Arrange your children’s’ pictures on the stereo console so that the high school graduation photos of your daughter and son are minutely angled and flanking the portrait of your three year old daughter. Pause for a moment wondering at the incongruity of it. Move on to the television console in front of the window. Slide the felt bottomed marble reproduction of the Pieta you brought back from Italy toward the back left corner. Move it again, a fraction of an inch closer to you. She is disconcerting, this sorrowful virgin. How can she be appeased? Position the statue so that she has full view of the room. Everything in its place. Click the switch of the lamp on the TV twice toward you so that it turns from the highest to lowest setting. A soft glow in the darkness, a guard against the void. Walk soundlessly across the carpet until you reach the familiar squeak of the bottom step of the stairway. Extend your right hand forward and grip the bannister so that you can pull yourself forward. Stop and turn back to the living room. You’ve conquered another night.

- Teresa Giordano writes non-fiction television programs on topics ranging from earwigs to forensic anthropology, to the southwest border, to bad-ass presidents. She’s also crafted dialogue for some of those reality TV stars you think are being spontaneous. She’s published fiction in Devilfish Review, Pyschopomp, and in an echapbook titled Strange Encounters. She’s published non-fiction in The Weeklings. 

Planting the Future

Each spring I plant trees on my land. My Dad taught me. Before he died, after 66 years on his Minnesota farm, he planted at least 150,000 trees. Any patch of prairie ground too small or steep for raising corn and soybeans became a grove of oaks and pines. This is how he taught me about my duty to future generations. 

My first lesson came one April morning when I was about eight. He carried the seedlings – 15 inches high – packed in a box of damp sphagnum moss, and I carried the spade. 

“Watch me,” Dad said, using the spade to open a narrow slit in the sod. “Slip the roots into the hole and spread them out. Use your foot to press the dirt against the roots. Now, you try it,” he said, making another slit. “If pine roots dry out, the seedling will die. So be quick.” 

After I planted a couple trees, he left me with the seedlings and went ahead to make more slits. That was the beginning of our plantings. Those pines are now 64 years old and 40 feet tall. They may grow for another 150 years and reach 100 feet. Dad planted trees for future generations. Now, whenever I plant, I hear his words: “Always leave the world better than you find it.” The lesson has stuck, along with a love of trees. Someday, people I’ll never meet will enjoy my trees.   

 

When R. Newell Searle isn’t planting trees, he is an advocate for immigrants, teaches English in Oaxaca, Mexico, and writes. He is the author of Saving Quetico-Superior, A Land Set Apart, a dozen articles on the nature and social history of Minnesota, and has just completed a memoir on becoming bilingual at the age of 65.  

Disappearing Act

My father made the early morning tea, a vigorous, wake-up decoction. Everyday.

Fill a saucepan with water from the UV-purification apparatus.

Don’t leave it on the stove too long; it makes the oxygen boil away and the tea taste flat. Is that a scientific explanation? All I know is freshly boiled, not over-boiled.

Assemble the cups, sugar, milk. The ceramic teapot.

Image by the author

Image by the author

A splash of hot water to rinse and warm the pot. Don’t try scrubbing the stains off. It give the tea a detergent flavor.

Lipton Red Label. Yellow Label will do too. No pale, high grown varieties. A teaspoon-full per person.  

Pour in the boiling water. Put the lid on. Wrap the teapot. A tea cosy? Too dainty, too tight, pulls the lid off. Use a kitchen towel.

Wait for seven minutes. Yes, seven. Gives you time to warm the milk, step out on the verandah, think. Longer is fine, if you like it strong.

Now I make the tea. It is weak and dissatisfactory, not steeped long enough. I don’t want time to think.

We drink it by my father’s bed. The bed is low, fitted with wheels and stand-up sides, and has a mattress covered in layers of plastic protection. Mostly he is still, but every now and then, he flings himself about and the bed slides. The teak case that houses mementos of my parents’ life shakes with the impact. Behind the glass doors of the case, the jointed mobile segments of the papier-mâché dancer with arm outstretched jiggle back and forth, the chipped, yellow finger pointing.  

Were he with me, we would have laughed.

 

- Indira Chandrasekhar, a scientist turned fiction writer founded the magazine Out of Print, an online platform for short fiction connected to the Indian subcontinent. Her short stories have appeared, among other places, in Far Enough East, rkvry, Eclectica and The Little Magazine, and have won awards and been shortlisted, most notably in the Mslexia shortstory competitions. She is the co-editor of the anthology, Pangea, Thames River Press, 2012. Links to her published work may be found on her blog, indi-cs.

How to Clean Crabs: Or the Finer Points of First Aid with Seafood

I watch crawfish skitter around my kitchen sink, clamorous and clawing.  The spectre of my father hovers, whispering the steps to crustacean preparation.

Step 1:  Purchase the freshest live crabs from your seafood market or fishmonger.  Freshness is directly proportional to nippiness.

Step 2:  Empty crabs into the deep trough of your kitchen sink.  Maintain a wary distance as crabs scramble atop each other, clawing at eye stalks, snapping at pincers.

Step 3:  Grip a large cleaver in your right hand, steel your courage, and grab a crab firmly to summarily do away with it.

Step 4:  Call your youngest daughter to attend the resultant wounds on every finger of your left hand from an irritated crab, not yet ready to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Step 5:  Do not be deterred!  Grasp the cleaver now firmly in your bandaged left hand, and boldly grab another crab.  The first crab was an aberration, the second will be easier.

                                                                                the author's parents

                                                                                the author's parents

Step 6:  Call your youngest daughter again to attend the wounds, now on your right hand, from the second irritated crab, unwilling to volunteer as tribute.

Step 7:  Stare forlornly at victorious crabs dancing their glee in the kitchen sink.

Step 8:  Ring oldest daughter, with bandaged phalanges and a rotary dial phone.  Plead plaintively for daughter to clean crabs.

Step 9:  Cook cleaned crabs, savouring the rising bouquets of aromatics and tomato.  When the crabs metamorphose from uncooked blueness to the ripe vibrant red that mirrors the sauce, remove them from the heat.  Note with satisfaction that your foe has been deliciously defeated. 

Step 10:  Serve with plain rice, and sprinkle with abashed humility.  Bandaged fingers are optional, but do reflect the determination required for success.

- Asha Rajan