Around here, there is a certain bliss in returning to “work” after a “vacation.”

My husband loves a good project. In addition, he defines “vacation” as “the time to begin all projects”.

Jim comes by this mindset naturally. I believe his ancestors built the pyramids at Giza during Thanksgiving vacation then capped off the holiday season with the construction of Machu Picchu. And the first time I met his extended family, it was at a Labor Day barbecue. His uncle had the whole clan cleaning out a clogged septic line. There’s nothing like buckets of sewage to give a family reunion that special ‘je ne sais quoi.”

After thirty years of vacations in which Jim keeps a circular saw in one hand and a tape measure in the other, you would think I would have anticipated this year’s project oriented holiday. But no, I never see anything coming, not even the obvious. Instead, with an unexpectedly successful homemade holiday behind us, I deluded myself that we were headed for a vacation week of little mess and deep relaxation.
Then Boxing Day dawned. It is a day Englishwoman Deb and Bermudian Lynn have never been able to explain to me. Perhaps it means, “handymen start your power tools.” in anglo saxon. In any case, here at casa Sheehan, Jim announced on Boxing Day that he was going to makeover Elizabeth’s old bedroom into an office for himself.

Until this vacation, when Jim said, “Meet me in my office.” we all knew to go to the pantry, stand by the washing machine, and await further instructions. And if he said he was going to spend an evening doing Green Hope Farm paperwork, we all knew he would settle into a desktop in the playroom about the size of that miniature rug I made for Ben. So yes, a real office was long overdue for the guy and I got behind the project in a naive, misty eyed sort of way. Besides, it sounded like a low key project, something he could putter away at while the rest of us read books and ate stale holiday treats.

The only problem was that I had been using Lizzy’s room as a place to store my enormous yarn stash and I was not the only person using the room for storage. Every last child’s book, stuffed animal, toy, or gizmo lived there. There were bins and bins and bins of legos as well as a surprisingly large collection of dress up costumes, circa 1989. The room also housed the girls’ vintage coat collection, a collection so extensive that Rachel Zoe would have been proud to call it her own. And in addition to all that yarn, there were the art, crafts, and sewing supplies as well as half finished quilts and other works in progress….. Well you get the picture. The room was packed and every last box of stuff needed to find a new home somewhere else in our house.

One of the reasons why Elizabeth’s room had become a closet was because the guy who helped us design our house twenty five years ago was brilliant when it came to passive solar design, but not a big believer in closets. He felt anything in a closet was something you could live without. This philosophy always worked better for his bachelor life style than ours, but here we are living with his ethos two decades later. We have a house with very few closets, all of them overstuffed and children that will probably go on to build homes for themselves with immense closets ( either that or they will continue to leave their cherished mementos at our house).

In any case, as soon as Jim began his project, the few closets in this house needed to be purged so we could find a new home from all the stuff from Lizzy’s room.

How do you spell MESS?

As the purge began, piles mushroomed everywhere. These heaps merged in the upstairs hallway with everything Emily owned, all of which she was sorting through before she leaves for a semester in Italy next week. The situation deteriorated further when Jim disassembled the enormous old bed in Lizzy’s room and Emily decided to she wanted this bed in her room. Her bed then needed to be moved to Ben’s old room and Ben’s old bed went to the barn. Not surprisingly, every time a bed got moved there was more stuff to be sorted. When there are no closets in a house, under the bed becomes valuable real estate for shoving miscellaneous stuff.

And why weren’t we turning Ben’s old room into the new room sized closet? Oh that would be because it is already Ben’s home winery. It’s convenient to make wine for yourself especially when you can do it at your parent’s house and have their home not yours filled with the wonderful yeasty smell of living wine.

So there I was enjoying my “vacation” on the floor of several closets, chucking out vital stuff like my fifth grade report cards. It all made me wistful for the orderly Green Hope Farm office. However, when I drifted into the office to escape the unruly mess in the house, I found that piles had temporarily gravitated into this space too.

As piles multiplied, friends dropping in over the vacation week grew increasingly alarmed. As I tried unsuccessfully to find places for any visitor to sit, I noticed how swiftly a glazed expression would transform even the most cheerful face. I could see the frantic inner dialog, “When had the Sheehans become bag people? What forces beyond gravity were holding all these teetering piles in place? Was this what followed when a family opted for a “green” Christmas?

And I recognized the alarm in their eyes. It was the same look I had worn myself 35 years ago when I first encountered what a Sheehan means when he or she says, “Happy Holidays!”

And yes, I use the pronoun “I” deliberately here, because I was alone in this sea of piles. There were no cozy scenes of loved ones roasting chestnuts by the fire. Every last Sheehan but me had beat a retreat from the mess. Jim was shut away in his new office space, sanding and polyurethaning the new desk he had built himself. Ben and Lizzy had gone to ground in the quiet order of their own apartments, Emily had decamped indefinitely to a friend’s in Boston and Will was spending a suspiciously long time at the neighbor’s taking care of their cats and dogs.

Yup. It was a Sheehan holiday at its finest. Mess, mess all around and no sound but the distant buzz of a power tool.

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