Window Washing

It’s perfect Minnesota weather for window washing–clear, crisp, low humidity, pleasant to stand outside washing a year’s grim off my kitchen windows, then the front ones within the porch, then the kitchen door–all with silhouettes of falcons pasted on the glass to deter those drive-by smashers who insist on seeing their enemies in mirrors of themselves.

This rather pleasant, repetitive cleansing of grim to allow clear sight takes me back to our very earliest days in this house, bought before anyone heard of a “crash.” How much did we pay? Does it matter? It was a good deal, this three-story house with a finished attic, though the two “attic” rooms (once maids’ rooms, so we heard) still retained remnants of the old gas fixtures–odd fingers clothed in black tape. Needless to say we replaced them with electricity.

These would become the daughters’ rooms, the blended-family daughters, so shy they barely spoke to each other at first, one choosing fleur-de-lis silver-and-blue wallpaper and pink carpeting, the other wanting shy strips of violets and beige carpet. There are plants on that third floor who had lived there the entire 30 years since we moved in–asparagus ferns, one still thriving, the other kaput, head down below the back deck.

And the daughters? As I swipe away grime, I think of these stalwart, handsome young women–well not so young as mature, competent, making their mark in the world. How we worried about them, then, blended family artifacts. Would they ever speak to each other? Would they ever outgrow the difficulty our divorces and remarriage had caused them?

At the time, I substituted joyous decorating and cooking for broken bonds. As I wipe grime off the windows, I glimpse that huge main courses my new husband and I both produced–lasagna, “hot dish”–his contribution, some concoction of noodles, mushroom soup, and hamburger. We sat awkwardly around the dining room table from his single-fellow house, actually quite a fine table with comfortable chairs. But the comfort did not extend to our blended family dinners. His son glowered, the only one of the three children who had the guts to show his true feelings. While I probably gabbled on, switching topics with lighting speed, and my husband smiled and passed the hot dish.

I have loved this house with and without children in it. Its windows face straight north and south, bringing in winter sun on north-facing windows where for years of winters, I’ve basked with the cats. And in summer, with windows in both directions open, we have wonderful breezes. I love the cramped second floor rooms, where I now write this message to the world. Full of plants for me except in summer when they all get time outside. But now, after our threat of freeze, the Christmas cactus have come to sit beside me, arching their awkward claws toward light, and catching the sun on their flat palm-like limbs.

Birds have become my children substitutes. I feed seed-eaters morning and evening, a ritual that sends me out in all weather, serving needs other than my own, loving the glimpses of nut-hatches eating upside down, finches swarming the sunflower seeds, and in the twilight just before dark, the cardinals with their chip, chip, chip. Beautiful, shy birds, my emissaries from the other world, the southland of my growing up, which too is folded into this house.

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