The House Rules, by Rich Paschall
A place for everything and everything in its place. Perhaps you have heard this old proverb or words of advice. It was often handed out as instructions for life, usually by parents, methinks. In the 18th century, it may have been a popular topic of preachers and local leaders. That was an era when you were also told that cleanliness was “next to godliness.”
The idea of cleanliness may have come out of a 1778 sermon by John Wesley. If cleanliness will get me next to God, I am all for it. If I have to be orderly too, this will take a good deal of work. I wish to be neat, clean and orderly, but I am still looking for a large chunk of time to work on that. I have been looking for that for years, in fact.
I thought of “house rules” recently while eating at the kitchen table with my young South American roommate. Yes, he is back for more Culture Shock, but that is another story for another time. We were feasting on one of his favorite items, chicken wings, and he was putting the bones on a small saucer.
In my head, I could hear my mother scold him, “That’s not for chicken wings, that’s for coffee cups.” At that, she would have grabbed the saucer and replaced it with a small plate of about the same size. “What’s the difference?” I wonder now. Either way, we are going to wash the small plate when we are done. If you come for coffee at my house, you will never know if that saucer once held spilled coffee (or covfefe) or chicken wing bones, as long as it is clean.
That particular saucer was from a set of china my mother had for special occasions. By the way, it was from England, not China. Anyway, as God is my witness, I do not recall EVER eating off that set until she was gone and I was left with it and a lot of knickknacks I don’t need. When we were younger, she had another nice set for dinner. We also had plastic plates or TV dinners in aluminum trays.
As for the knickknacks, two might belong on top of the large stereo, another two in the dining room and one on the dresser. Random shelves were usually populated with random knickknacks. If one was out-of-place, there could be hell to pay, as the saying goes. My mother and my grandmother knew exactly where these items must stand.
There could be no variations. It was as if the locations were handed down by God and no other place would do. Worse yet, if something broke, we would hear about it for at least a year, maybe longer, depending on its worth and sentimental value.
I hated to touch these things, particularly in my grandmother’s apartment. She was a stern old woman who rarely smiled, and she could let you know her displeasure at something being out-of-place with a mean look and a few terse words. My mother could hand out the same look, but we were lucky if we only got a few words as well. Silence was not her style.
“Why are those bells in that order? That is not the correct order! Fix it.”
Roomie has asked me a number of times if he could put things in a closet. Apparently, my clutter of coffee table books and table games looks out-of-place to him (not to me) and I should not have this stuff lying around. I usually give in to these requests because I made the rule where it belongs and it is not important enough to me that it stays there. My books on baseball, theater, and The Doors (look them up, millennials) have been banished to darker places.
I do not do the dishes often as roomie thinks he is better at it. When they are dry, I might ask why he did not put everything away. His usual answer is that he does not know where everything belongs. I tell him to put it somewhere, I will find it or ask if I need it. Would that work at your house?
You probably have several drawers in the kitchen. Is each designated for certain items? We have one for silverware, one for other kitchen gadgets and larger items (rolling-pin to chase roomie around the house like a cartoon), and one “junk drawer.” Everyone has one of these. It is for the items not designated for somewhere else. This could be batteries, a tape measure, random tools, a flashlight, scissors, tape, matches, etc. Junk drawer items should be in the junk drawer!
It would be possible to go on about the house rules, particularly the strict ones from my mother or grandmother, but you get the point by now, or you are a hopeless case like I am. I could not understand why my grandmother would have a certain doily to go under a lamp, and another to go under a Hummel. (OK, go look up doily and Hummel. We’ll wait). These doilies were not interchangeable.
Unlike the previous generations, I can not stress out about silly house rules that I made up in the first place. With the return of roomie, even if for a brief period, there is no reason not to alter my life so we both feel comfortable. Everything may have a place in our home, but that place can be changed tomorrow and that is OK with me.
See also: “CULTURE SHOCK, Travelling to America”