When I was growing up, my mother used to iron my father’s shirts and the family’s bed sheets (before no-iron percale), while watching “The Million Dollar Movie” at four o’clock in the afternoon. She preferred comedies and tear-jerkers and, whether laughing or weeping, could iron two Oxford shirts to perfection in 15 minutes.
She could have brought everything to the Chinese laundry on Arcadia Street in downtown Old Greenwich, but her Scottish blood wouldn’t allow it. Besides, she took pride in doing the job herself.
If the weather was too inclement for a fresh-air fiend like me to be outside playing, I’d watch those classics with her, lying on the dining-room floor (where our TV was) with a couple of pillows from the couch, while the smell of spray starch filled the air and steam clouded the windows.
It was on those afternoons that I absorbed the nuanced performances in Brief Encounter; Random Harvest; Now, Voyager; Notorious; Rebecca; Wuthering Heights, Dodsworth and Roman Holiday; the witty, sophisticated badinage of stars like Clifton Webb in The Razor’s Edge; Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Woman of the Year; Myrna Loy, Cary Grant and Melvyn Douglas in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House; Kay Kendall and Rex Harrison in The Reluctant Debutante; and Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Indiscreet.
The décor of the London apartments created for the latter two films would rival anything found in Kensington today, and my mother simply reveled in their luxurious digs. Every interior shot of a barrel-vaulted foyer where Kay delivered rapid-fire repartee to Rex through her long patrician nose; or the cunning breakfast nook, where Ingrid served Cary scrambled eggs, elicited from my mother a deeply indrawn breath. I’d hear it over the thump of her iron, and I’d sigh in pleasure with her.
What I enjoyed most, and think back on often, was the emotional journey we took together, a journey that lasted no more than 90 minutes but whose after-effects are still with me today, some 50 years later.
Those movies evoke a simpler time (or at least the illusion of a simpler time—debatable if I can clearly remember practicing “duck and cover” as a third-grader in case of nuclear attack). And, in light of the three major storms in the last 14 months—including Hurricane Sandy—when we lost power, water, heat, cable and Internet for a total of 20 days, simpler times seem more precious than ever.
I find I am so grateful for small things, like a bedside lamp by which to read. Or a warm bed. Or a kitchen. (Ours may be old—I’m talking 1957 old—but it works.) While a privacy fence suffered some damage, our house was untouched. We still have a roof over our heads. More to the point, we’re alive.
Yes, there were inconveniences. During the outage, we needed to warm ourselves in front of the fireplace before jumping under ice-cold sheets. My husband woke each morning, donned winter clothes, and trekked out to the patio to boil water over his propane-fueled camp stove (the Pocket Rocket) so we could have oatmeal and coffee. (My hero.)
Now, with power restored, I am experiencing the unadulterated joy that comes from re-establishing order out of chaos. I revel in seemingly simple things—a hot shower, a flushing toilet and enough running water to wash the floor or brush my teeth. I sing while vacuuming. It thrills me to do the laundry, to plug in the leaf blower, to hear the furnace click on and the doorbell ring.
After ten days, on November 7, the day after the election, our cable and Internet were finally restored. (Read about what we did on Election Night, here.)
Talk about order out of chaos. All day long, we watched TV and reveled in every bit of post-election news and exit poll. And that night, we slept more peacefully than we have in a long, long time.