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RATS, RAIN AND UNDERWEAR
It has been raining for days, and the basil which was beautiful is getting brown from lack of sunlight and botrytis and the petunias are drenched and the corn seed washed away and the lettuce is holding on to the soil with small despairing roots. Only the peas are comparatively happy. The farmer has that look on his face and comes home early to slump in front of the computer or the television set. He leaves his sneakers, which weigh twice as much as usual because they are great clots of mud, on the front porch. The other day he proudly showed me how muddy they were and was heading for the laundry-room sink to "wash them off" when I sent him back outside.
My husband's background is Sicilian and mine is mostly Norwegian, which works better than you might think because in both traditions the wife has
complete control inside the house and the husband has complete control on the farm. I don't know what wives of non-farming Sicilians do, but in my case the house includes the garden. All the farmer really wants to do in the garden is grill hamburgers, which is okay with me because I love to mess around in the dirt when I have time.
The rain seems to make some creatures more bold. Going to the garage a few days ago I saw a rat calmly walking out and making his way down the
driveway, and another rat all but tipped his hat to me a few hours later. When you live on a farm you have rats, but usually they are in hiding. It seems like the rats are as dispirited as we are, and they just don't give a damn anymore. Every day the farmer gives me the kill number - two yesterday, one the day before. We have "had" rats in the basement of the house, but not for a long time. The farmer always gets rid of them, that's one of his jobs in the house.
The rats like the chicken coop too; last summer there was a veritable plague of them; I was buying layer pellets for rats, who liked them so much they kept coming back for more. The farmer shot and trapped them, but it was like Hamlin around here. A red-tail hawk who hung around the coop hoping a miracle would happen and the Great Hawk would set the chickens free helped a little - the farmer threw dead rats on the roof for it - but it was a long struggle.
Nothing lasts forever, though, and the sun finally came out and the world was new-made. The lilies of the valley are just blooming, the lilac is still heavy, greater celandine has determinedly established outposts in all parts of the garden, ferns uncurl, grape leaves are just beginning to emerge from the bud, purple at the edges. Birds chirp and sing and even moan, with joy. And I decided to go shopping.
Our small town no longer welcomes the stores it used to - the butcher, the baker, hardware store are gone, along with the used book store and the store I used to call, in my head, the "ladies' shop". They've been replaced by banks, real estate offices and coffee shops - so I made my way to a neighboring town, equally historic but still friendly to such places, in search of new ... underwear.
My family has a weird thing about underwear, which I used to think was unique to us but now I am not so sure. Here's the thing: it's very hard for us to throw it away, no matter how ragged it gets. Maybe it's something about how worn out underwear makes terrible rags; I always tear up worn-out clothing and bedding to make cleaning rags out of and I wash them when they are dirty, they are wonderful for dusting and window-washing, as well as wiping up spills and you aren't destroying trees to do it - but ladies underpants are too small and have that elastic
on them, even if they are cotton and not nylon or now I guess they're all made out of polyester, and men's are too small as well plus the elastic on men's is wider. And you can't give them to the Goodwill, obviously, although my father always tries to. And bras are even worse. So you have to throw them away, and that is hard.
This is a tradition that goes way back. My mother told me once that her friend and cleaning lady (that's what she called herself and she was
a friend and she was black, and it was 30 years ago) held up a pair of ragged underpants she was folding and said, "Are these the underpants of an executive's wife?" Then they both fell down laughing.
Anyway, I have underwear from before my daughter was born, and she turns 21 this summer.
But it was such a beautiful day, the rain had stopped (which turned out to be a snare and a delusion, since it started again and thatís why the rain part of this story is in the present tense) and the sun was out, sort of; it seemed like a good thing to do, bite the bullet, throw away some of those old underpants and buy some new ones. So I sallied forth.
A few years ago my daughter and I went to London for a week, and I took seven pairs of old underpants with me because I had heard of someone who took only old underwear when she was traveling and threw it out after it was worn once, thus lightening her suitcase by the end of the trip. It didnít work, though. I did throw out the first pair but I argued that they didnít really take up that much room and it seemed sad to abandon them in the wastebasket of a shabby hotel room so I took them all home with me.
Concord was lovely, everyone smiling because the rain had stopped, and I went to the store where there are pretty young girls to wait on you, and underwear can be purchased in a ladylike way (I remember my mother buying stockings at Halles department store in Cleveland. You went to the stocking counter and asked for a box of stockings and the clerk took one out and put her hand into it to demonstrate the color and sheerness. My mother always checked the length of each stocking to be sure they were all the same.), and did indeed buy some new underpants, and two bras, and felt as I walked along the street afterwards, looking into the store windows, a sense of well-being which is in my mind related to being very young, on the brink of being grown up, and aware that life was full of exciting responsibilities and possibilities.
It rained again of course. But the rats have gone into hiding again. I didnít throw out the underpants yet. But I will.