The Artful Kitchen: The Salad Spinner of Memory

By Judyth Hill

How do you leave what you have loved with all your heart?
by Judyth Hill
hillsaladspinnerStill it is not enough to have
memories, they
have to turn to blood inside you
"The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge," by Rainer Maria Rilke

I am officially on the market: I showed Rockmirth today.

At least, I tried to show Rockmirth. I did utterly clean the house and the studio, also, the cottage; certainly did my level best with broom, mop and new Mountain Fresh Pine Sol, which in case you haven't experienced, smells suspiciously the way you remember it smelling, which I'm not totally sure is a good thing.

I put a green chile chicken stew suggestively to simmer on the stove; was listening to Otis and Jimi at Monterey Pop, on vinyl yet, and was about to bake cookies, make coffee and switch to Dave Matthews, maybe Coltrane; I hadn't quite sussed the prospectives.

I admit they would have been taking their life in their hands if they had opened a closet. Do you have to show those? Mine are stuffed to bursting with everything I couldn't quite cope with discarding, but needed to whisk, more like shove, out of sight while I worked up to that moment, and my desk drawers are completely unthinkable. Let's pray I don't need to find anything important in the near future.

Today, however, the house is pure paradise. Even Nana, even my mother, of blessed memory both, could visit.

Which is a good thing, 'cause Idaho Guy never even crossed the perfectly vacuumed rug into the house; the wife never even got out of the car. He stammered apologies and fled. I apparently live too far back of beyond. Duh. Isn't that the point of rural?

So, I am too far out. I'm just shocked and appalled.

But from where? I wonder. My house seems right here to me.

Maybe too right here. Way too beautifully and belovedly right exactly here.

Yet I have to leave. I have to sell. It's over. I have finally accepted that I cannot stay in the home my partner and I created together over the past 13 years. Too many roofs, with their attendant screws or lack of, too much plumbing with nefarious tendencies to go south, like my ex. So, is my plumbing in Arizona as well, and I just got the spillage?

At one point I had to call a friend to find out how to change a light bulb- granted it turned out to require my buying a set of Allen wrenches, but still. How humbling is that? Forget Sarah Lawrence, I need Vo-Tech. I need a degree in small appliance repair. I need a relationship involving De Walt and Skil and Milwaukee; Beowulf and Mary Oliver are not helping me here. Chainsaw? Well, I saw the movie, but apparently that does not a woodpile make.

And my gone love wants money for his new life, money from the sale of this, our dream of ever after.

Okay, okay, enough. Lord knows all my friends have been begging me to get a grip.

But a grip is just what I have too much of.

I sit in a book-lined room that was built for me to write in, my first ever in my life. At my very own desk, made from a 4-inch thick, hand-hewn 2-foot wide plank of ponderosa pine scored from John and Tamara Bartley's mill up in Gascon Canyon, where, a pick-up load at a time, we, starry-eyed with glee, got the wood for the house.

The sun rises, scattering a glory of shine into my writing room, which has the long eastern view down the canyon, and so many mornings, here I have sat, in a surround-sound of red wing blackbirds, wind tossing the canopy of pine, their needles glistening, as light on water will.

How many fire-warmed Scrabble games on winter nights, walks up the mountain in the silence of moonlit first snow, Hong Kong rummy and champagne on an August backporch Sunday with all the friends, trips to Hacienda to buy more iris bulbs, a new handle for the hoe; does everyone cry in the hardware store?

How do you leave what you have loved with all your heart?

All the TV shows repeat emphatically the dominant house marketing wisdom -Bare is Best: Make space for the buyers to imagine their own life. This requires, obviously, that you move your own life out.

Even if I weren't the tschochke queen, this would be hard. Granted, I probably do not need to keep every slip of vaguely hopeful fortune cookie wisdom, and the petals from the roses…oh, better not go there.

Except that is exactly where this must go.

I packed the pictures. No, I didn't. I couldn't. I had a friend come over while I was at the bakery-the next story, I promise, yes, I bake again-I came home and my family had disappeared into a pile of taped, labeled boxes.

Gone my daughter as baby, as shimmering dancer, as bride, my son as graduate, as triumphant dot on Alaska Glacier; gone my father, as indeed he is. And gone these last 17 years of Kodakized hilarity, our gardens, our road trips, our Okie-style rock trips, coming back with suspension sagging, and home, homelife, the best part.

Today it was my turn. I pack away the children's baby shoes, their crayoned pictures, the purple plaster masks, the tub toy chewed by Nashville, when he was a puppy, and I still bathed the kids. What can you not keep?

Then I take down the love notes from when there was love, so many postcards from so many museums, saved menus, tiny crazy stuff-a casino coin, a broken seashell, a carved wooden spoon, oy, it's endless. 

Everything I touch has its story, telling itself into my hands. I know them all. It is a flood, this time not one I can call Sophia Plumbing to staunch.

All day I am here and not here. I am gone to Los Brazos Point on the way to Mushroom Fest, the Bosque as thousands of cranes swirl overhead, the Matisses and Cézannes at the Barnes, the night on Hyde Lookout in Prescott, biscuits and gravy, cheese grits in Birmingham, the claw-footed bathtub in Exton, Pennsylvania and the night we climbed in the B& B window in Flag. I visit Monet's lilies in St Louis, the time Cincinnati was Paris, bleu cheeseburgers and onion rings at the Napa drive-in Mark Miller turned us on to. Tsankawi by dark, buying tomatoes at Safeway…the marvelous and the marvelous ordinary of loving.

What do I do about the other five Western states I cannot bear to think about, or Chaco Canyon, or Kiowa Grasslands? Or, for that matter, summer?

I remember when my mother died, my sister and I tried on all her clothes, wore her make-up, daubed on her parfum. We couldn't bear to let her go, we each kept half of her silver service, six settings each of the good dishes, one each of the elbow-length white kid gloves with the pearl buttons, that she wore, like Audrey Hepburn, with her bracelets over them. Everything held so much of her for us. It was brutal. It was all we had, and it was not enough.

These would, in time, become both something, and yet still nothing. Memory has the odd quality of a fever, a ravaging hunger for the thing remembered. Or a trainwreck you live through. Everything hurts, and you can't tell where. A disease with only the reversed arrow of time as a cure. But time is on my side: If the heart is a muscle, and an organ capable of wisdom, I am certainly doing the aerobics of love. In the Olympics of grief, I'm going for gold.

This makes the luge look like a piece of cake. Strapped in, scared to death of the enormous changes I must and will embrace, I take the plunge into the next unknown, somehow, singing, I trust and go.

What can be learned here is certainly the question, and I haven't exactly an answer. But I know this: Rilke, as Malte, says, "I have taken action against fear, I have sat all night and written." As well, I have. It is the least and the most I can do.

Write when, I always say, you love something.

Judyth Hill is a stand-up poet, living at Rockmirth, her 111 acre Eco-Arts Atelier in Northern New Mexico. She is the author of six books and the internationally acclaimed poem, "Wage Peace."

This article was originally published on February 28, 2007.