hardwood and soft targets

I bought this sweet little antique cabinet for a song at a garage sale last weekend, from a couple in their 70s. The husband helped me load it into my car. 

Wife: “Are you sure you can handle that, Karl?” 

Karl: *grumbles*

He carefully laid the piece on a scrap of cardboard, then rolled it out on a handcart to my car.

Karl was keen to tell me how well-made it was, what a bargain I’d gotten. So I asked whether it had a story. Yes, they bought it when they lived in Europe, “and it was old then.” But Karl wasn’t really interested in telling me the story about that purchase. 

He wanted to tell me about when they were first married, living in Burien. “We had nothing. Just a couple of Japanese pillows on the floor and some lawn chairs. This was, oh, fifty-one… fifty-two years ago.” They bought a table, “beautiful carved legs,” and four chairs at a junk shop, “and you know what? We have used that table every day ever since! Imagine. Built to last. What a concept.”

Built to last.

He gave me what would be called in a novel a significant look. Which may have been simply commentary on presswood furniture, which is everywhere and about all many of us can afford.

But. In the five minutes I chatted with his wife and daughter, it became clear that they were in the process of a massive downsizing. A lifetime of memories and stories coming to an end. Perhaps even death cleaning. 

No wonder he grumbled when his wife asked if he could manage with the hand truck.

Home again, I shared my find on social media, and then immediately after heard the news that there had been another mass shooting. I’ve lost track of how many there were in the last week. (For a moment, it felt disrespectful to share my mundane delight.) And then I learned about soft targets, my friend Valerie explaining exactly how a bullet kills. “We are all soft targets.”

Bodies. Not so much built to last—as I was reminded a year ago. Although, life does seem to want to happen.

Barring a house fire or the big one, that charming cabinet will outlast Karl and his wife, and, presumably, me and my children, too. I hope I conveyed that I would care for and cherish this item, because I will.

What a concept.

water fights, fudgesicles, and Rufus M.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with my favorite small boys. While their grandmother was at the market, I helped negotiate the terms of war, which involved the hose, water balloons and pistols, and the usual amount of screaming and tears and what my own boys called “violent affection” — easily mistaken for going for the jugular.

“Will there be blood?” I asked.

“We can’t promise there won’t be blood, Nicole.”

(There was no blood.)

I was Switzerland.

After drying off, we moved on to card games, the six-year-old slaying me with his dramatically drawn out, “Go … fish … M’DARLING.” Every time.

After dinner I read aloud the first chapter of Eleanor Estes’ Rufus M. (highly recommend) while the boys enjoyed fudgesicles I had made.

I used the recipe passed along by my college boyfriend who wasn’t too keen on children and who ended up with five boys—two sets of twins and a “pickle in the middle.” He was good at jazz improv and favored redheads. I am a brunette; he broke my heart. 

But good pudding! Probably found on the back of some container or other.

Homemade Fudgesicles

3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 c good quality cocoa powder
1/2 c (or slightly less) sugar
sprinkle of salt

Whisk until there are no lumps, in a wide pan that hasn’t cooked fish lately—I use a skillet with high sides, which, according to the college bf, cooks up the pudding faster than a tall narrow pot.

Slowly add:

3 cups milk, whisking constantly (continually?) Don’t let lumps form!

Cook over medium-low heat until almost simmering. I switch to a spatula for stirring when it starts to get thick.

Transfer back to the large Pyrex measuring cup, then let cool ten minutes or so.

Remove and skin that forms and eat it, then pour into popsicle moulds. 

Negotiate sharing or fight over the leftover pudding.

Rufus M. got a bit of a soaking before bed. The wrinkled pages will make an excellent story someday, just like the coffee stain on our beloved old copy of Michael Sims’ Darwin’s Orchestra.

Good day.

“I will bury my wife today.”

Cover crop sprouting about three weeks after the side-sewer replacement.

This morning as I sipped my coffee and gazed out at the garden coming back to life, I thought about my next door neighbor, wondered what it would be like to wake to the realization: I will bury my wife today. I can hear their little waterfall outside my window over the sound of my washer and dryer and the resident Eurasian collared dove, cooing its usual morning song.

And then I remembered a night years ago. I had bicycled home from work after a concert, very late, and I was just pulling up to the garage when saw a dark figure approach from the end of the alley. It was the crusty codger who lives several houses down. The first thing out of his mouth was, “Woody died.”

We talked a bit, and I felt a softening, a sympathy for this man who has always been unkind to me. All his neighbors from that first generation, the couples who moved in after the war when these cracker box houses were slapped up—they are all gone. And then, as he walked away, not looking at me, he said, “You know what that means. I’m next.”

This afternoon I will go to the memorial for this woman I hardly knew. She was only a year older than my ex-husband, and I remember when her youngest son was in college. He can’t be much older than my firstborn. All around us, people are living out the drama of their lives, every house holding an entire world of stories.

It is a lovely day to be alive.