You might think it’s got something to do with “for better or worse,” but actually it’s because her feet run cold and I have a hot body, as in Death Valley hot, not Brad Pitt hot. Then there’s the fact that she likes chicken breast and I like thighs, she cooks fruit pies and I eat them, and she disdains leftovers and I consider them a clear sign that God loves us. Finally, there’s the intriguing fact that she sees dirt and I see clutter, which is to say we both have become our mothers.
Now, her mother was gone long before I came on the scene, something about her feet running cold. But the first time I met my wife’s younger sister, I recognized the archetype: her house was a micro-Kmart trying to hold off bankruptcy on out-of-date steroids, car keys, cigarette cartons and unpaid bills piled to the ceiling, walkways barely wide enough for her dogs winding through canyons eroded through magazines, broken air conditioners and saddles. And that was the living room.
My mother, conversely, was the product of a bourgeois family courtesy of oil wells on land they had homesteaded in Oklahoma. My sister and I always had our own bedrooms. I was a sophomore in college visiting the home of a roommate, stunned that at noon his mother had not yet washed the dishes from that morning’s breakfast, that there was still egg stuck to the stove – that’s how sheltered I was.
To this day, my mother will consign wine goblets to the dishwasher before the first celery stalk hits the ranch dressing. She lays out her clothes for the next day every night before going to bed. She puts away her plastic Christmas tree precisely at 10 a.m. on the day after Christmas, and worries that the 1,300 miles she has put on her two year old Camry requires an oil change.
So, back at our house, lifelong members of that ubiquitous but secretive club, Unknowing Victims of Maternal DNA, my wife and I houseclean our way through the day. She dusts anything more than a micron deep, whereas I consider dust a part of the Plan, a natural stage best left undisturbed in the cosmic life cycle of cemented sand dunes among which Moab nestles. She leaves stuff at the top of the basement stairs, looking like tourists waiting to get on a bus; I deal with it. I follow her around the house, turning off lights she’s turned on, trashing the Kleenexes and ketchup containers she stole from fast food restaurants in case of nuclear attack or sudden global cooling and leaves scattered around the house like orphans in the war in Chechnya. She prefers to make the bed, aligning sheets with the same precision I used to send satellites into orbit with.
But she doesn’t do ovens. She has to draw the line somewhere.
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