Monday, January 3, 2011
The week before Christmas our washing machine died. This was not a sudden disaster; I'd been ignoring the warning signs - bangs, moans, high-pitched whistles - for weeks. But on Sunday there arose from the basement a horrendous clunk that could be ignored no longer, especially since M was in the house. Our cozy at-home day in front of the fire (board games, Christmas wrapping jobs, art projects) slipped wistfully away away as M and I looked at each other over the heads of our overly-excited children with a shared premonition of expensive repairs. He dug out his toolbox. I, knowing wrenches as well as I know Cantonese, put on the kettle.
Our friend who lives nearby knows wrenches rather well and offered to help instead of whiling away the playdate hours upstairs with me in the brightly lit kitchen, where spiders know their place and only rarely risk a trip to eye level. Brave woman. She descended into the depths of the house and I, feeling guilty, followed, bearing tea since I knew my fix-it talents would be less than adequate. "Wow," she said. She was NOT looking at our mangled washer. "Nice lamp."
The basement lamp used to reside next to my side of the bed. But nearly nine years ago it was replaced by a baby and since then it's slipped from room to room, demoted for reasons of dimness, aesthetics, and awkward switch placement until two years ago when it ended up in service of a fix-it job in the basement when the overhead fluorescent burned out. And there it stayed. It emits enough light to do laundry by and we never, ever turn it off. My only explanation of the longevity of that bulb is: magic.
Several hours and four cups of tea later the machine was pronounced dead. It lies in various pieces on the basement floor, a mere clunky ghost of the domestic vision it once was. It can be fixed, probably. For anywhere between two and four hundred dollars, plus a bunch of man hours we can either pay for or suffer through on our own. Mostly M's own; see above: Andi, wrenches.
Instead of fixing it we bought a hand washer that sits like a patient puppy in our downstairs bathtub. Almost every day I wash a few loads, spin them in a centrifuge, and lump them into the dryer to get them fluffy. Laundry has become the best part of most days, which means I am deserving of either your envy or your pity. In the summer I'll hang our clothes outside on the line and may go months without visiting the basement; our lamp will burn and burn with no witness. If the bulb does flicker and fail, we may not discover the lack of light until next winter when the snow and ice beat us back to the dryer in search of convenience. By then, perhaps the spiders will have woven a permanent mantle around the lamp, rendering it useless for much else. And there the lamp will stay, in our basement graveyard, with the washer for company.
More than 25 years ago, on the recommendation of a friend, I first read “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.” The moment Lucy entered Narnia and met up with Mr. Tumnus I was hooked. Now when I visit someone and we sit down to tea I think of these characters having a little snack in his suitably furnished cave and wish that real life could be that cozy. After finishing the first book I raced through the others. When I got to “The Magician's Nephew” I was astonished to learn that it was all about the creation of Narnia. The lampost where Lucy and her dear friend the faun met, it was actually created after Queen Janis threw an iron bar at Aslan the Lion. This book chronicled the beginning, when the land was being created. At that time so long ago, anything that got stuck into the ground grew. Amazing. Here it was, the genesis of the world in which I had felt so at home. But I wondered why it came so far into the series. Forever after I chose to put “The Magician's Nephew” first whenever I reread Lewis.
Years later Santa brought T the complete set of the Narnia books in hardcover. It was his first Christmas and though he was only five months old, Santa knew these were a necessity. I was surprised to see that the books had been reordered and that “The Magician's Nephew” was now listed as number 1 and that “Lion” was now number 2. I know many, many diehard fans who insist the other way was what Lewis had intended and as such should not be messed with. I personally find this new order makes more sense. I love to read about How the world was created before meeting up with the Pevensie children. In fact, this book ends with the creation of the very wardrobe Lucy walks through when she discovers Narnia.
In the years since I first discovered this world, I have come to realize that it is the How of anything that matters to me most. Who, What, Where and Why have their place, but it is the creation, the backstory the very construction and context of something that interests me. I was never the type of kid to take things apart, but my dad did. For a time my family lived above an industrial-sized garage where my father would fix cars, but once or twice he took them completely apart. It was this understanding of how the pieces fit together that provided a deeper appreciation of technology. I seem to have inherited this desire to make sense of the world around me. I want to see which pieces fit together, their cause and effect. Once the right construction is achieved and the puzzle reassembled, then all it takes is the flick of a switch. I've found that it's like turning on a light, the glow from understanding illuminates the darkness and confusion.