Monday, November 2, 2009

What’s in a Name?

If you’ve known me for long you’ve heard me say, “I’m not named Martha for nothing.” I usually toss it off shamefacedly after I’ve corrected someone setting the table (I have a thing about which way the knife blades face) – or refolded a towel (well, they fit better on my linen closet shelves if they’re all the same size) – or brought out my fish forks (they use them all the time in England, why not here?) – or the special little port glasses (I think the right glass matters, don’t you?).

I admit it. I have a Martha side. I’m not proud of it, but there it is.

And while I am not a disciple of that other Martha (I’ve never created a plaid Easter egg and have not yet made my own marshmallows), I do think the feds got a little rough with her back when. I know she broke the law, but in the context of Ken Lay and Bernie Madoff, I mean, c’mon.

Once in awhile, like yesterday, I break down and buy a copy of her magazine. November 1st is a sort of landmark in my year. Fall is in full swing and winter is definitely on its way. It’s legitimate to start imagining the holidays, but they’re still far enough away that I can fantasize about doing those things that look so pretty in magazines. So yesterday, as I stood in line at the beach rip-off grocery store waiting to pay for my box of corn muffin mix, I thought, hey, maybe I could actually pull off a full-fledged Thanksgiving feast this year with a little help from an expert. The magazine cover promises to reveal the secret of cooking a turkey in an hour. (Don’t fall for it – you’d need a veterinary surgeon to get that turkey ready for the oven.)

As my jiffy little muffins were baking, I sat down at the kitchen table to daydream with my namesake (actually, she’s older, so that would make me her namesake, right?).

And there it is, right on page 6, Martha’s November calendar.

Immediately, I realized that I am powerless. All those things that need doing, things clearly important enough to warrant coverage in a national publication, are just not going to happen in my world.

Obviously, unlike the “real” Martha, I’m not going to schedule any book signings or appearances on the Today Show. Nor did I spend November 1st taking down Halloween decorations, since I never put any up. Nor will I schedule any horseback rides – since I don’t have a horse’s back handy.

On November 6th, instead of organizing my spices, I’m going to celebrate my sister’s birthday. Let’s face it, I’ve moved twice this year and will probably do it again this winter (another subject for another blog) – if those spices haven’t gotten themselves in order by now, they’re not going to.

And although I’ve occasionally been complimented on my taste in fish forks, my gardening skills have never received rave reviews. That leaves significant holes in my calendar compared to the other Martha’s. My bulbs will have to struggle through without bone meal . . . my boxwoods shall go unstaked . . . my beehives unwinterized.

As she suggests, I will replace the batteries in my smoke detector. I live (part of the time) in a 120-year-old wooden house. Let’s just say that I am careful, if not paranoid, about smoke and fire. I shall also clean my oven, as the Big M plans to do, but I’m not sure she and I mean the same thing when we say that. Her “deep clean the oven” may not equate to my “mop up enough goo so it won’t set off the smoke alarm” (which we now know has fresh batteries). And sometime during this season I, too, usually polish up the family silver. But this year I’d have to find it and unpack it first. May not happen – after all, isn’t that why we cherish the gift of stainless steel?

Since I don’t own any little ceramic turkeys, ditto pilgrims, I won’t be decorating my home with them on the 15th – which means I won’t have to put them away on the 28th (see Halloween, above). Nor will I be setting the Thanksgiving table on the Tuesday before, or writing out tasteful little place cards. Not that I wouldn’t love to, mind you . . . but the folks around my Thanksgiving table tend to sit where they please, whether I tell them to or not.

By the time I got to the end of page 6, I was feeling inadequate. What kind of woman doesn’t plan to seal her stone terrace (if she had one) and clean the inside of her washing machine on Sunday, November 8th? I’m a failure, I tell you, a traitor to my name.

And then I got to November 28th, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. AHA! I had her! There it was in black and white. Not until after she’s washed the gravy stains out of the tablecloth . . . not until she’s boiled the turkey bones for soup and updated all her friends’ addresses on her Christmas card list . . . not until the best month of autumn is nearly over . . . not until all that trivia has eaten her days does the other Martha “light the first fire of the season.”

What is that woman thinking? In my opinion, a beautiful, crackling fire is always in season. Why, if I waited until the Saturday after Thanksgiving to “open fire season,” I’d practically freeze to death. That 120-year-old wood house is on the North Pacific coast, way up in the corner of the country, and it gets chilly up here, even in July. The fireplace in the living room is original (although, for safety’s sake, the chimney has been replaced) – and every time I light it up I’m reminded of all the hands that have rubbed together in its warmth . . . all the stories that have been read and told in its glow . . . all the morning cups of coffee that have been sipped beside it, the evening nips of port (in the right glasses, of course) that have been savored at its edge.

So I think it’s my turn to give that other Martha some homemaking advice: My dear, the hearth is the heart of the home. Don’t try to harness it to a calendar. When a fire wants to be born, it will tell you. Be willing to light it, even in an August rain storm. It really is a good thing.

And now I leave you with this old Celtic prayer and go to light a fire to accompany my second cup of coffee (I shall use a crumpled page from my calendar as a starter) . . .

I shall kindle my hearth this morning
In the presence of Angels,
Without malice,
Without jealousy,
Without envy,
With the Holy Son of God
To shield me.
† † †
God, kindle Thou in my heart
A flame of love
To my neighbor,
To my foe,
To my friend,
To my kindred all.

-- Celtic Prayer for the Morning Fire