Being relatively new to this empty nest stage of life, I tend to get sentimental about odd things. A few weeks ago I caught myself weeping over the demise of a dishrag. Of course, it wasn’t just any dishrag. That ragged, stained, cotton string dishcloth carried a hundred memories. I made it (and many more) while waiting in the minivan for my son to be released from his fifth grade after school ham radio class. He’s now 22 and has just returned from a two-year stint in South America. That damn dishcloth fell apart two days before his return flight.
So I fell apart, just a little, and had a good cathartic cry. My son’s flight arrived safely, and after a 24-hour whirlwind of errands, unpacking, repacking, and travel he reached the farm we now call home. By that time I’d quelled the urge to wrap that old dishcloth in tissue paper to store in the cedar chest where I keep my prom dress, a certain pair of ragged denim cut-offs, my great-grandmother’s quilt, and various other mementos valuable for the memories they evoke. The dishcloth, a most practical item, deserved a fitting last incarnation of usefulness. So I gave it to the cats. It’s loose weave, ragged edges, and dangling strings make it a most favored toy.
But I miss it. My sink looks wrong without it. So I made my husband pull down the attic door. I climbed the narrow ladder and dug through my stash for the white cotton skeins I knew were up there, then tossed them at my son when I found them. ‘What’s this?’ he asked. Knowing the limits of his sentimentality and also his powers of concentration, given how little sleep he’d had, I spared him the whole story. ‘This,’ I told him instead, ‘Is what I’ll be doing while your sister talks and you unpack.’
That’s exactly how it worked out, too. He and I drove the pickup 150 miles to the little house near campus where he and his sister will live this year. Once there, I settled into place on the loveseat and pulled out the cotton yarn and needles. He unpacked. His sister shared the latest news and her concerns about health issues she’s experiencing. Her boyfriend of two years joined us after a while, and we spent a peaceful afternoon watching the National Geographic channel and chatting casually about various things. Overall, it seemed an afternoon steeped in the mundane.
Despite my worries, and I have many, I felt at peace there in my comfortable seat in the shabby little house. That day I advanced a spoke in the wheel of my life. It was the end of The Terrible Separation wherein my firstborn resided a continent away, and perhaps even further away emotionally, for the circumstances of his leaving had not been at all to my liking.
Now begins a new stage. All three of my offspring are in college, building the framework on which their adult lives will be built. It seems fitting that I knit these thoughts into a simple square of string cotton that will take its place on my dish drying rack for the next ten years. And when it falls apart from wear and tear, I’ll reflect back on the day it was made and smile.