It waited in the furthest recess of a hot attic year after year, content in its jacket of cloudy plastic and covered with a thick layer of dust. It bid its time in a remote cranny, revealed only when the search for boxes of Christmas ornaments probed the secluded hiding spot. Its unwieldy mass was hard to fight from a crouch under the slopped roofline. And so for nearly two decades it survived threats of removal and endured sporadic judgements of its uselessness.
“What is it?” asked my wife peering up from the steps of the pulldown ladder.
“The old rug”
“We still have that? You said you were going to get rid of it.”
The wool carpet, a “gift” from my parents, was unfurled once to admire the colorful design and then bundled away. They told me I should use it as a floor covering or, better yet, display it on a wall to impress guests. It had been woven on a handloom by my father’s mother in her village in Greece almost a hundred years before. Girls of that era would prepare their “prika” -- the dowry that a bride brought to her marriage – as teenagers. It traveled through time from her parental home to her own. It was carried across the ocean to the New Country and ended up here, next to the beach chairs.
It is large enough for two people to simultaneously practice yoga on its scratchy surface. Its motifs of vines, amulets and symbols to ward off the evil eye are unique and the colors vibrant. But none of that appealed to our taste. In fact, it was more of a burden.
I eyed it as unwanted baggage that I couldn’t discard. I’d be a bad son to throw away yiayia’s handmade cultural heirloom, even though my father didn’t care to display it in his own home. It became an obligation foisted upon me. I was left holding the mat. So it moldered in the attic creating only guilt and resentment. For years.
And then an idea snapped into place. I contacted the National Hellenic Museum and offered to donate it. I was surprised at the enthusiasm of the curator. She gushed over the photos I emailed. An exemplary specimen of tapestry-woven art. An exquisite kilim. It would be an honor to accept it into their growing textiles collection and how generous of me. When could I send it?
I imagine someday a young woman might see yiayia’s kilimi on a visit to this delightful museum in Chicago. She’ll admire the skill and dedication of a woman from generations past and be grateful that marriage customs have changed. And maybe she will be inspired to use her creative skills in a novel way. She might cultivate her own artistic vision or to start a business selling home furnishings. Or perhaps she’ll have a new insight into the ways of love.
We don’t know what will happen if we honestly evaluate the contents of our attics for something we’ve been carrying around for years. That stack of National Geographic magazines. An old grudge. The distorted idea that you’ll never make it as a painter or visit Paris or rekindle an old friendship.
Dust it off. Reframe it. Let it go. Give it a new home. It just may benefit someone else. You’ll be happier. And there will be more room for the Bowflex machine.
I slid open the glass door to the screened porch off the bedroom on a cool April afternoon. Old white bedsheets that had been draped over the wicker recliners three weeks ago now had the greenish-yellow pallor of a winter cough. Another in the same palette covered the side table and lamp. Pollen season.
Yellow powder dusted the furniture coverlets and every inch of the cedar decking like a snowfall of confectioners’ sugar on Greek wedding cookies. I convinced myself that the pine pollen had peaked allowing me to clean off the porch and reclaim one of my wife’s favorite spots in the house. It’s on the second level and surrounded by trees that mask the neighbors behind. Birds fill the morning with song and at night owls hoot in the moonlight.
A tentative swipe of the broom across the floor sent billows of dust into the air. Loblolly pine pollen. It is a burnt yellow-green and has the consistency of fine sawdust when swept into piles. You can see its dusting on car hoods every morning beginning in late March here in Atlanta. It tinges the edges of ponds and after a rain it leaves yellow trails across the pavement.
“Eeeyeaatchoo,” a hard sneeze accompanied the next broom stroke. No stopping now. The sheets were carefully folded, the dustpan filled and on hands and knees I swept every corner. The late afternoon sun highlighted a cloud of pollen motes suspended in the air and I instinctively moved my head into a shadow to breathe even as I knew the air there was equally teeming with the tiny grains.
An hour later the cozy porch, just big enough for two, was ready for morning coffee, long reads and afternoon naps. I was happy to surprise Helen with the accomplished chore and she could simply relax into the cushioned chair and enjoy space she had styled with such care: decorative mirrors reflecting the natural greenery, patterned fabrics and a carved wooden figurine of a cardinal that her late father had kept near his armchair and greeted with “good morning little birdy,” each day.
As I admired my dusting handiwork I saw the foundational twigs of a nest taking shape in the crook of a branch just to the other side of the mesh screen. We had seen a robin nest in that very spot last year, where eggs later appeared but were stolen before they could hatch. It was a poor location. Helen had spotted this year’s nascent nest a few days before and tried to discourage the bird by clapping. But now a female Northern Cardinal was back, twig in her beak, perched close and eyeing the nest she had started. A brilliant red male kept watch on her from a tree just a few feet away.
I moved closer to dissuade her. She twittered, signaling her mate she was troubled. She flew off at first but came back, insistent that this was the right place for their nest. The wise male cardinal, wary of my presence, flew to a tree further away and called back to her in a loud clear whistle. She cocked her head to the fledgling nest and then to her mate. He kept calling and then winged to yet a further tree. Finally she relented and followed his lead.
A day later and they have not returned. A good decision that the cardinal pair worked out together. Nests are crucial to both cardinals and to us. We all need a snug retreat where we can find refuge from the rain and wind. Making and maintaining a good nest takes collaboration. Someone to find the right furnishings and someone to keep an eye on the neighborhood. If we find the right mix, love can flourish in the space we create and that takes input from both sides.
Buddy tramples the leafy shrubs of the traffic circle, his nose sweeping back and forth like a metal detector those old guys use at the beach. The treasure that ignites Buddy’s enthusiasm isn’t lost jewelry but whatever another dog left behind. After an extravaganza of sniffing, he squats on his stubby back legs.
My brother-in-law fishes through his jacket pocket and offers me a distressingly thin plastic grocery bag, “You got this one?”
My weak laugh is a poor cover for my disgust at the thought handling his number two. I’m reminded of a Jerry Seinfeld bit that aliens watching earth might assume that dogs ran the planet – “If you see two life forms, one of them is making a poop, the other one’s carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?”
I don’t have a dog and have never really been around dog people much either. Part of the reason is that I get an allergic reaction from pooches. A few shed hairs or a slap of slobber from a friendly lick and my eyes turn red and I’m sneezing like one of the seven dwarfs. My aversion is rooted in biology.
But over time I’ve let that creep into my attitude towards dogs, and I’m feeling it with Buddy. When my wife and I visit her sister Beth in Chattanooga, our otherwise pleasant morning walks are dominated by the demands of an unruly eight-year-old Basset hound. We stop every ten feet to let him smell something and in return he tangles our legs with the leash. Then there is the whole feces retrieval ritual.
Buddy is the third in a line of Basset hounds that Beth has owned. And I’ve been around them all for more than 25 years. The first, Teddy, was once saved from death by my wife performing the Heimlich maneuver on him (true story). He also liked to eat the tinsel off the Christmas tree. A habit discovered by the sparkly surprises he left in the yard (sadly also true). After him came Cassie who developed doggie dementia (really, that can happen). And now Beth mothers Buddy, a “special needs” rescue dog with anxiety issues so severe he sometimes wears a “thundershirt” to calm him (don’t ask).
Basset hounds have the second-most-sensitive snouts in the canine world – bested only by bloodhounds. They were bred to chase rabbits. But there is no hunting going on. No one is tracking escaped convicts. If a tennis ball is tossed across the yard Buddy only sniffs your shoes and then lays down in the bare dirt under a shade tree. I question his entire existence.
All of which is fine and well but I know my discomfort is written all over my face on our Easter morning stroll. And while my family is too polite to tell me I’m a jerk for silently judging Beth's pet choice, I bet they are thinking it.
The sun shimmers on the Tennessee River as we cross the pedestrian bridge that connects to the North Shore where an Easter egg hunt has just concluded. Families approach with smiling toddlers clutching their prize baskets. A little girl in a pastel dress runs up to us and asks if she can pet Buddy. She lovingly runs her hand over his head and down his back. Buddy sits without a command and the girl throws her arms around him in a hug, nuzzling her cheek against his floppy ears.
The same scenario plays out a half dozen times as we walk through the crowd. Everyone lights up at his glum expression. They laugh and say how their family once had a Basset hound or share a story about their dog. We talk and bond for a moment and then they walk on. But with a lighter step. Those moments of joy and connection happen all along the walk that morning.
Buddy brought happiness into the day for a dozen people just by being himself. And what’s more he did it effortlessly and unceasingly. He didn’t set out to do it, but it happened. He turns his droopy gaze up to me to see if I get it yet.
I think back and realize that Teddy and Cassie must have brought the same cheer to so many over the years. No tricks required. Just by being authentic to their nature.
Good boy Buddy. Good boy.
I have a variety of interests and enjoy sharing my reflections on them here.