Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New Year

My dad was born on Rosh Hashona. His calendar year birthday is September 20th, and in the year he was born, it turned out that that he was a New Year's baby. There's a picture of him as a baby in my parents' dining room. It's in black and white, but you can still tell that the smiling baby is perched on the carpet that up until Monday, covered my living room floor.

The carpet was a Persian, I guess. My grandmother was born in Rovno, a small town on the border of Russia and Poland. When people ask us what we "are," the answer has to be, well, we're Jewish - because we're certainly not Russian, nor are we Polish. They lived on a shtetl; it was a small community. Someone, a cousin perhaps, had the audacity to marry a Russian, and the Yakira's became soiled goods in the matchmaking business. So, the only option was to marry each other - my greatgrandparents are second cousins. They had three children, and at some point, when my grandmother was a toddler, my greatgrandfather set off to New York, with a wave and a smile - don't worry, I'll send for you. Well, the call never came, and my greatgrandmother got tired of waiting. She packed up her three kids, and rolled all of her possessions in this large Persian rug, boarded a train, and began her journey. There's a story out there about how picky an eater my grandmother was, and that my greatgrandmother forced the train to stop somewhere in Siberia, where she commandeered a chicken, killed it, and cooked it so that my grandmother would eat with satisfaction.

So, the carpet crossed Siberia, had a layover in Japan for several months, crossed the Pacific, entered the country through San Francisco, crossed the United States, and made it's way to the Bronx, where my greatgrandfather was hiding, er, living. The wife, the kids, the carpet moved in - my greatgrandmother's house, then my grandmother's apartment. My dad often waxes poetic about his days in the Bronx - comparing it to shtetl life (although there hardly seems anything remotely attractive about living on a shtetl, but whatever). And, in pictures through the years, family gatherings, there's the carpet. Passover dinner, the dining room table, the carpet. A new baby, toys on the carpet. It's amazing to watch the decor change around the carpet - the barebones of the early tenenments, the kitschy 70's decor of my grandmother's New Rochelle apartment, the mixture of old and new in her retirement home in Bricktown, New Jersey.

My grandmother eventually had to go into an assisted living care facility. When she did, the place required her to cut the fringe off the carpet. Much discussion took place - it would destroy any value to the rug - but the value, to my grandmother, was having the rug with her.

After she passed away, the rug sat in my parent's garage, until I bought my house. I think it was the first thing I moved into my house. It made my house a home. Over the 12 years I've owned the house, this rug - this rug that crossed Siberia, was waylaid in Japan, had more than a dozen babies play on it - has been destroyed. Between the moths, the accident prone dog, the foot traffic, the parties, etc. I had managed to ruin what had been kept pristine for at least 100 years.

Recently, I started dating this guy. I knew right away he was a neatnik -- he has a 10 year old son, which means, you know - his car should look like he has a child. Nope - spotless - 2 years later, it still even smells like a new car. I'm not dirty (you've all heard about my shoe stealing cleaning lady), but I am messy messy messy. About 2 weeks ago, he told me that he couldn't be with me if I continued to keep my house in such dissarray, that he spent more time thinking about how I kept my house than about the time he spent with me. At first, I was like, fuck that. But, then I talked to my brother, and his response was "well, fuck that guy, but do it because it's the right thing to do - you can't continue to live the way you do, you're a grownup. I'm stressed when I'm in your house, too." I mulled it over, and talked to my friends. All of them were so excited about the prospect of me cleaning up my act, so to speak. So, over the past week, the beginnings of Operation Clean Up are underway.

So, on Monday, I went home because I forgot my cellphone. It was lunchtime. When I went to leave to go back to work, my deadbolt was busted. I had to call the locksmith - he said it would be about 2 hours. So, I sat down on my couch. I had already rehabbed the kitchen (isn't Target great???). It was time to start the living room. Without much thought, as if I was possessed, a copmlete frenzy! - I started rolling the carpet up - quite the feat - I had to move the t.v., the couch, everything in the room myself. Not only was it hard physical work, the smell of the thing itself made the job tough. But it was trashnight, it was an opportunity - and I tossed it out onto the street. My back was killing me, I was covered in filth - but all of a sudden, the room looked so much bigger. The musty smell was already floating right out the door behind the carpet. I cleaned up, and went back to work. By the time I got back to my house at 6:00, the carpet was gone. There's probably some homeless guy sleeping under the el wrapped in my grandmother's rug.

I stared at the sidewalk - it was really gone. I called my brother - he reassured me, said it had to be done. I went in my house, sat on the couch. And, all of a sudden, my living room had such potential - fresh - a new start - the hardwood that was hidden under that rug is truly beautiful. I saw a new rug in my head, smaller, lighter. And a valance over the window. Perhaps new pillows for the couch.

Some people talk about spring cleaning - but New Year's cleaning seems appropriate, too. I don't know how I'm going to tell my dad that that carpet is gone, but someone born on New Year's should understand new beginnings, and a fresh clean start better than anyone, right?


Sherry W said...

I'm sad it got trashed, but if it wasn't recoverable, why keep it around?

I recovered being a messy in two phases:

1)Stopped buying anything unless I new where it would go.

2) Threw out about 1/2 of everything I owned. Don't worry about who gave it to you or if you may 'need it some day'. Get rid of mementos you only look at twice a decade when you go through the box of crap it's thrown in.

3) Spend 10 minutes a day at a set time to run through the house. Put away the dishes, clean up your knitting project, etc.

I'm not perfect, but no longer do I cringe if someone drops by my place.

EmilyG said...

This is a lovely essay - worthy of something like This American Life.

What a complete heartbreaker that the carpet had to go, but clearly it had to, and you honor its rich history by writing about it. Incidentally, you also honored its history by *living* with it rather than leaving it rolled up and protected in a garage.

Happy New Year,

Elysbeth said...

Remember, when the shofar sounds for the final time, you'll be asked if you were the best you possible. The carpet was from the past, it served all the multitudes of purpose, and in the end, it served as a signal of a new start.

Messy, yup, my hotel room looks like 4 teenagers live here.

Anonymous said...

You are brave to take such a big step. But you did. Life goes on. And you have the story .. the history of the carpet. Life goes on, just make sure you pass the story along too.

A beautiful post, Wendy. Loved it. Best of luck in your new cleaned up lifestyle! Invite your brother over!

Emily said...

I'm sure your great-grandmother would have been the first to tell you to get rid of it if it was in a state - I know my grandmother would, she couldn't be doing with mucky stuff. Perhaps you can get a new (smaller, ?nicer) rug with her in your mind - not her taste, but yours, but it'll always be the rug you got with all this in mind.

I'm a terrible messy hound, but off to Sydney in January for a year, and we have to get rid of so much, I shall try not to re-fill, and to be ok about getting rid of stuff. Hard, but satisfying. Thanks for this post which has encouraged me.

buttercup said...

I love the story of the rug. What a wonderful family tale. Everyone else was right, your GGG would have told you to get rid of that old smelly thing a long time ago.

As a side note... Boys really are dumb aren't they??? If he was obsessing about your place and not YOU - he needed to go. But I'm glad that was the catalyst for you to start the de-clutter. Sherry's tips are great.

Happy New Year!

JoAnn, Wynnewood said...

You're a better man than I, Gunga Din. Just because some self-absorbed, neatnick told me he thought more about my messy house than me - I kick his narrow minded ass out. My Aunt - also from that same Shtetl in Russia - always told me love me, love my dog. She meant this is who I am, this is what I am - got suck an egg.
As far as the clean up. Good for you. Good advise from Sherry. I have a terrible time throwing things away, especially books and magazines (cooking, knitting). That's why knitters have stashes. We buy because we want it. No end in mind, we just want it.
I would have found someone to clean the rug, and if it was really crummy, put that clean rug into my attic for sentimental reasons. I never knew any of my grandparents, have no stories from the past so I envy your history.
As I said, you're a better man than I.
L'shana tova. A happy and healthy new year. Tell that guy to get some help - OCD is a terrible thing.

Carol said...

Feng Shui. You'll find good things, literally and figuratively, when you clean out. I think I would have kept the rug though!

Dorothy said...

It must be contagious. I'm decluttering and clearing up around here this month too. I want a nice clean house before we are shut up in it for the winter.

I'm sure your Dad would rather remember the carpet in its glory days than as a trashed and worthless rug.

Happy New Year, by the way!

mariss said...

My favorite line was when you said that the value was keeping the rug with her (even if it had to lose the fringe).

Lovely story, and your family history sounds pretty interesting. Good for you though, for doing what was right for you!

(It's Marissa from knitting circle by the way).

Ellen said...

It sounds like the rug has served its purpose in life. Would you have felt better if it was still pristine and rolled up in the garage? I am in a similar bind with some things from my late mother-in-law's house. Should we use or just admire them? I'm going with use. In a way, that's what she would have wanted.