THE RO­MANCE OF MAIN­TE­NANCE

The Simple Things - - BEDTIME STORY - A short story by TANYA SHADRICK

Ten years af­ter the clus­ter-bomb of events that shat­tered my early 30s, I think now that what saves us, and makes us strong, is nei­ther what we own nor whom we love.

Our es­sen­tial sur­vival kit is com­posed of what we do: the ev­ery­day habits and rou­tines that help us build and re­pair what we care about. I think of the Ja­panese art of Kintsugi as cul­tura l short­hand for this idea: the tra­di­tion of mend­ing pot­tery with golden lac­quer so that the re­pairs are vis­i­ble and in­sist on the ob­ject’s value. We send im­ages of th­ese beau­ti­ful things around so­cial me­dia – our shared cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem for heart and soul – and feel bet­ter for a while about what is bro­ken or frag­ile-feel­ing in our own lives. But we can for­get to do to our­selves this slow and painstak­ing main­te­nance work.

I was lucky, I see now, to grow up in farm­ing coun­try amid the ex­er­tions of look­ing af­ter land and an­i­mals. Ev­ery evening, my grand­fa­ther walked his fields with a knife and ball of baler twine. Al­ways a new hole worked by a fox com­ing in or a sheep go­ing out, and by truss­ing it up with strong or­ange cord he kept ev­ery­thing in bet­ter or­der than if he’d waited for money and time to re­place his fences. What I loved in my fe­ro­cious grand­fa­ther — that ten­der mender of fences with im­pro­vised knots — was formed from loss: this scrappy land he’d man­aged to an­nex was so small and far from the farm he’d hoped to own be­fore wartime shipped him away and stole his youth, but look how he cared for it.

I was for­tu­nate, too, to be raised by a woman who sur­vived bru­tal be­reave­ment – the sud­den death of her beloved hus­band in a minute af­ter she kissed him and reached for a cup of tea – through this same be­lief in care-tak­ing. My young years with her were a life’s les­son in ev­ery­day ef­fort, in sea­sonal rou­tine. Ev­ery spring I was set to paint a new coat on the gar­den gnome who’d faded over win­ter. Each Novem­ber she bore the an­niver­sary of the loss of her hus­band by tak­ing his clothes from the spare room and mak­ing small re­pairs. Ev­ery evening, how­ever bad her knees, she knelt to light a fire, say­ing it kept the spir­its up.

When my own hard times came – wait­ing in a dis­tant part of the coun­try for that dar­ling woman to die, en­dur­ing the sus­pended time of in­fer­til­ity, liv­ing with chronic pain af­ter a med­i­cal emer­gency – th­ese deep ances­tral tra­di­tions saved me: my hands knew what to do. I bought or­ange wool the colour of my grand­fa­ther’s baler twine, took up my grand­mother’s cro­chet hook and be­gan a blan­ket for the child I might still have (which now cov­ers my son and daugh­ter when they are poorly, need­ing com­fort). I spent a year paint­ing the rail­ings that had gone brown and brit­tle on my long street. Swept leaves for my el­derly neigh­bours. Be­gan, through th­ese ef­forts, to be­long to a place and peo­ple other than those I’d lost or couldn’t have.

Re­cently I found a book my hus­band bought in our dis­tant un­der­grad­u­ate days, be­fore any­thing bad hap­pened to us. When we were care­free, un­blem­ished. How Build­ings Learn:

What Hap­pens Af­ter They’re Built. It fell open on a chap­ter called ‘The Ro­mance of Main­te­nance’. Yes, I thought, that’s what it takes, this life. To fall in love with what hap­pens af­ter­wards: when things fall apart. And to be­come, as Hem­ing­way wrote, strong in the bro­ken places.

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