I don't know how it happens, really. After the whole cancer thing, well, I was fairly sure that I had my priorities right. Many people had stepped forward to be encouragers and I was determined not to lose track of those people again. I had learned what was important, and by golly, those people? Veeery important.
So I stepped out of the shadow of cancer and got back to the business of living. And with living came things like work, which was followed by unemployment in the wake of state budget cuts, and then came school, which was kind of a challenge for my old brains. Right along with college came the misery of homework. Tests to be studied for. Books to be read. Fears to be conquered. All that, in addition to juggling a job and housework.
I probably should confess. I'm not doing all that great at juggling the housework. You know, Tim was out hunting the other day and came upon two women in the woods. He's sort of a shy fellow, socially awkward, and so finding women in the woods made him a little nervous maybe. I don't know. But he told me about it and said, "I never went hunting and found women before," and he laughed. I said, "Well, you should have brought them home." Long pause. He looked at me surprised. "Brought them home?!!" and I looked around me. "Yep. You should have brought them home. And if they cooked and cleaned and did laundry, we'd have been saved. You need a wife. Did you ever notice?" He hadn't. I tell you, men are an impractical sort.
We're not living in complete and utter filth, but I must admit things have gone downhill a bit. Clothes get washed, but not folded. Ironing tends to sit in the basket until somebody needs a specific item. It is then pulled out the laundry basket, ironed and put on still warm. We eat a lot of casseroles and soups. Tim fends for himself a lot more in the kitchen than he used to, and I feel guilty about that, because when we dated, he said to me, very seriously, "Listen. You're a really good cook." Pleased, I said, "Thank you." He said, "I hate to cook. Please don't ever ask me to cook. I will eat whatever you make, and I will never complain. Just don't ever ask me to cook." All these years he has never complained. He has kept his side of the bargain. Lately, I'm forever saying, "Do you mind making yourself a sandwich for supper tonight?" or "There's a pizza in the freezer for supper. I'll be working" He's been pretty cheerful about things, but the fact is, I have not kept my side of the bargain. So yes, I see housework as an epic 'fail', as the kids would phrase it.
Here's another epic fail. All those friends? The ones that I would never forget? Yep. They've been shifted to the back burner as well. I rarely get out to go visiting. I often think, "I should give so-and-so a call, but usually when this occurs to me, it is at some ungodly hour, some hour when even a good friend will not be pleased to hear from you. My friend Susan is headed to back to Florida for the winter, and I have had time for exactly three breakfasts with her since her return from Florida last spring. That's it. Just three. I haven't had time to talk to New Mary since I saw her in the college parking lot when we were both signing up for classes. Old Mary? I've got the funniest card for her. Have I sent it out yet? No. I've got to call and get their new address, and I haven't had time. One of the women from my circle of friends at church called and was giving me the latest updates, and I have to say that I almost felt like I was on the outside looking in. I said, wistfully, 'You know, we need to get together, just have a 'girls' afternoon,' and Kathy said, just as wistfully 'Yes, that would be nice' So I've got all these wonderful friends and acquaintances, and no real time to socialize.
I guess that's why I love my job so much. I love my coworkers. Our store motto is to 'Work hard. Have fun. Make money.' There is no competiveness in our little crew. Everyone works hard. We have fun. It's a rare thing to find yourself in a stress-free work environment, to be able to just come to work and enjoy your time there, and I will never ever take that for granted in today's job market. So I enjoy laughing with my coworkers. And our customers? You know that old saying 'salt of the earth'? That sums up a big percentage of our customers, and I enjoy them too. Sometimes I meet customers who read this column, and come in to say hello. I've gotten to know other customers simply because they come in every week for their dog food or their bird seed. Since we allow dogs in the store, I've gotten to pet a large number of dogs, which makes up, a little, for the empty spot Buck left in my life last spring. So yes, I think that I have the best job ever.
Still, though, as dear as my customers are to me, I have to say, I was a little surprised a couple weeks ago. I was headed down the aisle to lunch. I also had a test to study for. It was a busy day at the store. As I walked briskly, I heard my name called. I turned around to see an elderly woman coming at me. She had crocheted a pink scarf for me, and she gaily tossed it over my shoulders. How dear was that? I'd talked to her just once before. She had stared at me, and said, "You write for the paper, don't you?" and I said, "Yes." She said, "You know, sometimes, I read your articles, and I find myself thinking, 'I should give that girl a call...' because you just sound like someone who would be easy to talk to," and I told her to feel free to do just that, and thought no more about it. But this woman had thought of me. She had crocheted this scarf, thinking of me. She had fringed it, thinking of me. She had driven it to the store, thinking of me.
How does it happen? How does a woman learn what is important and then promptly get caught up in life and lose track of it all again? I felt ashamed once again, ashamed at my own busy-ness, and my own preoccupation. How did I manage, once again, to lose sight of the things that matter the most? As I hugged Elsie and thanked her for that beautiful scarf, I thanked God once again for the friends that I have, both old and new. I thanked Him again that I am not loved as I deserve, but better than I deserve. I vowed once again to be a better friend to the dear people in my life. This time though, if I forget, there is a bright pink scarf that will remind me of their importance. I am surrounded by lessons, and the most important ones are not learned from a text book.
Debby Hornburg lives in Scandia, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her blog can be found at lifesfunnylikethat.blogspot.com.