Monday, October 8, 2007

Lost and Found by Faith - February 2005

Here is a list of things lost somewhere in our house right now:

  • One Birkenstock sandal (right - mine)

  • One U.S. Passport (mine)

  • One L.L. Bean stainless steel soup thermos (Marty’s)

  • One piece of driftwood (Colin’s)

  • One Branford Marsalis CD (“I heard you twice the first time”)

  • One black glove (left - mine)

  • One video camera operator’s manual (last seen in Scott’s hand on Christmas morning)

Here is a list of things recently found

  • One black Ann Taylor skirt (found wrinkled under a pillow on a chair in Marty’s room where he said he had stashed it one day a year or so ago when he was mad at me)

  • One pair of black Merrills (Colin’s)

  • One return address stamp (Scott’s)

  • One camera battery charger (Scott’s)

Things come and go in our house all the time. If you were to spend two or three days here, you would eventually hear someone yell, to no one in particular, “Faith!”

You might think that some good soul was admonishing a fellow member of the family to have faith…to take heart… over some difficult or sorrowful task. But that wouldn’t be true. In our house the cry of “Faith!” means you can’t find something where it ought to be.

For about a year, between mid-2002 and mid-2003, our home was cleaned each week by a young woman named Faith. And before long, faith became a verb.

Linda, her predecessor, was a hard working single mom who had decided to get her real estate license and quit the cleaning business for good. I hated to lose her no-nonsense approach to our clutter but I was happy write a recommendation and see her move onto other things. After an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a slot on the cleaning schedule of the much-admired Patsy, someone referred me to Faith.

It was obvious from the first few weeks that Faith liked to organize a lot more than she liked to clean. Each Thursday I’d come home to find the stuffed animals on one of the boy’s beds arranged by color or size. Entertaining but a little weird. The dusty seashells on Colin’s windowsill might be set up in a mysterious tableau. Groupings of family photos might turn up on end tables in rooms where they hadn’t started out that morning. At first it was funny but then I realized that there were whole rooms that hadn’t been touched. I’d find a note that would say, “Sorry I couldn’t get to the upstairs.” Huh?

But then things began to take a more frustrating turn. On Halloween we were just about to leave the house to go trick or treating around the neighborhood.

“Go get the flashlights, Martin,” I called to Legolas, Elf Prince of the Woodland Realm, while I put the finishing touches on the Grim Reaper’s black eye make up. (That year, Colin knocked on people’s doors with his plastic scythe and, when they answered feigning fear, he said, “Don’t worry, I’m the Grim Reaper on vacation.”)

“I can’t find them,” Legolas replied from the cloak room.

“Use your excellent elvish eyesight.”

“I CAN’T FIND THEM,” he maintained. And no one else could either. Every single flashlight we owned, about six or eight of them, had disappeared from all their usual places.

“Faith!” I said, throwing up my arms. “They’ve been Faithed.” And we were forced to venture forth by the light of the moon.

A couple of weeks later I opened the cupboard in my office where we keep extra light bulbs and silver polish and ant traps and there were all the flashlights, lined up prettily by height.

“Faith.” I said.

Since then, whenever something disappears, it’s been “Faithed.” We know it will turn up eventually in a more logical place than where it was last seen, but that doesn’t really help a bunch of people who aren’t predisposed to order and organization.

After a year or so of rearranging our belongings each week, Faith said she had to quit because of difficulties finding child care for her daughter. From the few times I had been working at home while she was cleaning, I had come to know her story was much more complicated than that. “Godspeed, Faith,” we said, half-sad, half-relieved.

Soon after a berth on Patsy’s schedule came open and she’s been good-naturedly keeping us from spiraling into chaos ever since. She practices a kind of tough love. If the boys’ rooms or our offices aren’t picked-up enough for her, too bad. Better luck next week.

Occasionally it’s Patsy who puts things away where we aren’t expecting them to go, but we still yell “Faith!”

It’s an peculiar thing to have someone you don’t know well deal with all of the intimate details of your life. I cleaned houses at various times in high school and college and later as a hospice volunteer when that was what a family needed someone to do. For several months in 1989 cleaned the apartment of an elderly couple. Ethelma was dying of a brain tumor. At some point during my assignment to them and to everyone’s unhappiness, she lost her dentures. The loss of those dentures was a small thing that loomed hugely between Ethelma and her husband Ossie. He blamed her. She blamed herself. The missing dentures marked a shift in her ability to care for herself. They marked an expenditure of money that they could not afford in the midst of her illness. Their loss conjured up a other hundred issues that had accumulated over the 50 years of marriage.

The tiny kitchen in their apartment in the elder housing complex was often in need of cleaning. I mopped and scrubbed and washed the cupboards. It was something I could do for them, and they were appreciative. One day on the floor in front of the stove a stubborn bit of food needed to be pried away. As I got down on my hands and knees to tackle the gummy patch, I caught a glimpse of something under the stove. The dentures! I whooped it up and rounded the corner into their cramped living room. We all whooped it up. Ethelma’s eyes glowed with relief and happiness. Ossie said, “I don’t know how we can thank you!” as though I had just found buried treasure in with the pots and pans.

A few months later at Ethelma’s funeral, the minister, who obviously didn’t know her very well, went on about how the two of them shared a love for Milky Way bars. “Who cares?” I thought, looking at the back of Ossie’s head several rows in front of me and wondering what he was thinking. “Tell us something real about her, tell us something intimate.”

For a year or two after Ethelma’s death, Ossie would call me now and then to take me out to lunch. Then I got a more demanding job in Augusta and a few years after that we had our children. Slowly the Ossies in our life (there were several around that time…older friends for whom Scott would wire a cordless phone or we would share a meal or I would take the time to visit on a Saturday afternoon) drifted out of our orbit. Or we drifted out of theirs.

A month ago I read Ossie’s obituary in the paper. He was 98. He had moved away to live with his daughter further down the coast a number of years ago. He told me once he remembered clearly the day his father arrived home from work with news that the Titanic had sunk with great loss of life. He told me he was due to be discharged from the Army on Monday, December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He didn’t return to civilian life until after the end of the war.

I don’t know what they said at his funeral. By the time I read the paper, it was all over. I hope someone told something true about him. I wish I had been there to tell the denture story…the age-old story of something being lost and then suddenly being found and of great rejoicing that follows. It is the exact opposite of being “Faithed.”

Certainly I know I’ll rejoice when Patsy finds my passport.

Heidi Shott
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