By Sue Murphy
I bought myself new dish towels this morning. In fact, I just went crazy and bought new dishcloths, too. Four new towels and six new dishcloths. It felt like Christmas.
I wouldn’t have bought them at all, but I have family coming for Thanksgiving, an extravaganza that involves dishes and more dishes that must all be washed and dried, and I would have been embarrassed to have my guests use my ratty dish towels. (Spoiler alert: I’m planning on them helping with all that washing.)
For just me, the dingy old towels were fine, just like the slightly scratchy bath towels and the faded coffee mug and the yogurt that is really not my favorite but is on sale.
I can’t imagine I’m alone in this. Right now, people are having chairs recovered that the cat has used for a scratching post the other 11 months of the year, buying a new set of dishes so one person doesn’t have to use the Fred Flintstone Yabbadabba Doo dinner plate, and getting the car detailed in case someone slips with the carving knife and must be driven to the emergency room for stitches.
All family members to their battle stations! Other people are coming, people who you’d just as soon not know that, the day before their arrival. your lunch consisted of peanut butter crackers eaten leaning over the sink. Why? Because you’ve been in deep, deep cleaning mode for weeks. Crumbs under the couch are fine for the immediate family, but when other people are coming, everything must look its best.
My mother-in-law’s living room drapes were always drawn so the sunlight didn’t fade the furniture. The sofa was covered in plastic. Why? So the room would look good for other people.
In some homes, there are rooms that are, for all practical purposes, reserved for other people alone. If other people come, family members get to sit there, but not before. That’s one of the great perks of hosting Thanksgiving: For one golden afternoon (or overnight, or weekend), you get to live like other people.
Years ago, I went to visit my sister, and my 5-year-old niece met me at the door with a defeated expression.
“We tried to clean up, Auntie Sue.”
It bothered me that anyone thought that I would be making an inspection at any level, but I understood completely. I did the same thing when they came to visit. When other people are coming, the carpets must be cleaned and the windows washed and flowers must be placed where there were never flowers before.
When my daughter and her family moved back to Birmingham, I was thrilled, but it took me a few months before I stopped treating every time they came over like it was a “visit.” At one point, I had to relax and remind myself that they were family, and family can be OK with the old dishtowels.
Buying new towels today felt like a gift … for other people. Why do I do that to myself? Why do I feel that other people deserve the best while I, by myself, do not? The towels cost me $14 total. I’m good for it.
From here on in, I’m going to designate some random Tuesday in February as New Towel Day, maybe do it again in July. I might go crazy and institute New Coffee Mug Monday and New Cookie Sheet Thursday and Buy Whatever Yogurt You Want to Day on some dreary Wednesday in January. Why not?
To other people, I am other people. I need to remember that.