When I was a child most mothers in my world stayed at home. By the time children were allowed out on summer mornings at 9:00 a.m., laundry would be fluttering from clotheslines, rugs would be hung from windowsills to air, and mops would be shaken from windows. Homes were a beehive of activity. Dad went to work but it was Mom’s job to keep the small corners of their world dust- and dirt-free. It was not unusual for a neighbor to knock on the kitchen door at any given time to borrow sugar, flour, eggs or some other comestible that could not be purchased till later in the week on payday. Very often, someone would come knocking just for adult conversation. The coffee pot would be put on and any child in the vicinity would be told to go out and play until supper.
Neighbors were not the only unexpected visitors to our house. My great-grandmother was 105 years old when she died. I never knew where she lived, but I do remember those times, when I was a young child, that she would appear, wraith-like, on our front doorstep for a visit. She always seemed to float in a cloud of black draperies, making me think of a black ghost. When “Bapchi” came to visit, she never carried more than a heavy leather handbag containing a bible, rosary beads and a large, worn coin purse out of which would tumble crinkled bills. (She often gifted my sister and me with a penny.) There was never a suitcase or overnight case. Everything she owned she wore on her back. She traveled by bus closest to her chosen destination and walked from the station to whichever relative she wanted to visit. One never knew when she would ring the doorbell and conversely, she would leave at will when she deemed the visit finished. If the moon was full and the night bright, she would very often be gone when we got up in the morning. She was not one for goodbyes as she expected to be back.
“Bapchi’s” son, John, my great uncle on my father’s side would come for surprise visits with his wife from time to time, as well. He did make it a habit to never arrive before noon. His belief, which he would proclaim at a loud bellow to any who would listen, was that a good Polish woman had her housework done by noon each and every day—the moment he stepped in the front door. Uncle John was a large and gregarious man. He had a great sense of humor and was very forthright. My mother, gritting her teeth with resentment at his pronouncement, despised the necessity to have the house clean before the noon hour, but she did her best by the family into which she married. Without fail, the house would be so spotless it would sparkle in the sunlight and everything would be in its place. Daily, my mom was ready for whichever friend, neighbor, wayward relative or door-to-door salesman would come by on or before the appointed hour of noon; if no one appeared, she would revel in the quiet and read a book till supper chores called.
I am fortunate that the life I live does not have the stringent requirements to which the women before me were held. I am fortunate that no one critiques my home. If they ever should, I would simply point out where the mops, rags and cleaning supplies are so that they could remedy the situation to their satisfaction. I am happier still that no one pops in unexpectedly. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say that.
Steve and I did have an unexpected visitor the other day. He does show up at the most inopportune times at least once a year. Elwood has never made it past the lanai, though. We don’t trust him, and we definitely do not want him in our house. We have learned to just ignore him so that he will go away in search of a meal or his bed.
The first time he visited, he was but a mere youngster. My granddaughter, Sam, and I were swimming when she said she saw a snake in the pool with us. You never saw an overweight old lady with a small child hanging around her neck get out of six feet of water so fast. When he visited again the next year, I named him Elwood. He’s grown in the last few years, and is now just about six feet long, making him all the more intimidating. He reminds me of my great-grandmother in that he appears all in black and leaves on a whim. He is very difficult to ignore while he is around.
I went to the library in search of a book that would identify the kind of snake our Elwood is. The array of books seems endless, and I am amazed at the depth of love and appreciation some people have for folk like Elwood. I was never able to adequately identify our long, black visitor. Around these parts, though, black snakes are considered friendly. It means that there are no poisonous snakes in the vicinity.
This morning we found one of Elwood's young’uns swimming in the pool. Steve snatched him up in the pool net and then threw him into the woods next door. I swear I could hear the little thing yelling “Aaaaah! Sssssnaaaakessss don'tttttt flyyyyyy!"
The only thing I can find to recommend Elwood’s surprise visits is that I don’t have to have my house cleaned by the noon hour, nor must I prepare a feast leaving me free to happily read a book of my choice indoors.
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at