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Other People’s Houses By Cheryl Hughes

Last week, I visited my daughter, Nikki, in Covington, Louisiana, just north of New Orleans.  I always enjoy visiting her and her husband’s house.  It’s light and airy.  There are metal lobsters on the wall and a wooden plaque that says “The Ocean Fixes Everything.”  On the counter, in the guest bathroom is a large hollow sea shell filled with sand and small ceramic sea creatures.  The shower curtain is coral-themed, and there’s a ceramic soap holder shaped like an ocean wave that holds a bar of black soap from Africa.

            On the mantel in the living room stands a cow, wearing a Swiss toboggan, a manatee sticking out of a can and other quirky little things.  There’s a penguin corkscrew on the kitchen counter and small narwhals wrapped around the stems of their wine glasses.

            Ceiling fans turn slowly on the screened-in sun room, humming bird feeders hang from the eaves of the patio roof, and bird feeders hang from the wooden fence that encloses the back yard.  A squirrel feeder sits atop the same fence.  There’s a salt lick for the deer, placed at the back of the property behind an iron gate.

            When Nikki met me at the airport, one of the first things she said was, “I’m so sorry, Mom, but my house is coming down around me.  I’ve had to let everything go to focus on the proposal for work.”

Nikki has a federal job, which means she deals with a lot of government bureaucracy.  Her husband, Thomas, works a two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off shift on a lift boat in the Gulf.  Add to that, two dogs and two rabbits, and you have a lot on your plate.

            Now, when Nikki said her house was coming down around her, I wanted to tell her that I’m an authority on houses coming down around oneself, because I live in one; and I doubted very seriously that hers could hold a candle to mine, which at that very moment had buckets and baskets of garden produce in various degrees of decay, sitting in my kitchen floor.  I didn’t tell her that, because I didn’t want her to feel guilty for asking me to stay with her a few days till Thomas got back home.  I also didn’t tell her about the three clothes hampers with dirty laundry spilling over the sides or the cat litter that needed emptied or the dishwasher that needed to be loaded, none of which I got to take care of, because I left in such a hurry.

            When we arrived at Nikki’s house, it was just as I suspected, she’s a complete amateur.  Her house was NOT coming down around her.  In just a few hours, the bathrooms were sparkling, the floors were swept and mopped, the dishwasher was loaded, and Nikki had made a big dent in the laundry.  She fixed pasta for dinner, and we watched some TV before we both went to bed, the two dogs sleeping up next to me.  I always love that part of my visit. 

            I stayed three more days then returned home to my tan shower curtain, plastic soap holder, and one inch of dust on my piano.  You would think all that cleaning at Nikki’s would have encouraged me to get started on my own house, but it doesn’t work that way for me.  I like other people’s houses so much more than my own.  I even like cleaning other people’s houses more than I like cleaning my own.  I think, it’s because other people appreciate my work so much more than I appreciate my work.  It’s also probably because other people’s houses are a lot more interesting than my house.

            I keep telling myself I need to buy some distinctive pieces for my home.  Spice up the décor a bit.  I could start with my bathroom.  That would be a small, manageable step.  I could get a ceramic soap holder, shaped like a horse.  I like horses.  I could order some black soap from West Africa, from a fair trade group that supports women who use traditional recipes and methods.

            I don’t know, maybe I should just keep the plastic soap dish.  I’ve had it so long, it’s probably an antique.  I’ll order the black soap tomorrow.  I’m tired, and I’m going to bed.  

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