Friday, June 22, 2007

Speaking of Moving...

...I am reminded of a section from one of my all-time favorite books of humor, Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson (yes, THE Shirley Jackson who wrote the chilling short story "The Lottery.") I first read this wry book, about a mom raising four kids in the 50's, when I was in 6th grade, and it has never left me. I love her long, elaborate sentence structure, wonderful details, and well-placed comedic turns.

Here is part of her moving story:

The phone rang, and when I answered it, it was a lady who introduced herself as a Mrs. Ferrier. She understood we were thinking of moving. I said we were not and she said oh, that was fine, because her husband had just been transferred to our town and they had been getting pretty desperate about a house. I said we were not moving and she said they were ready to take just about anything, and when could she come and look around our house? Because, she said, they were living at present with her cousin, all three children, and they were getting so desperate they really didn't care what they got, so long as it was a roof over their heads. I said it was our roof and we planned to keep it over our own heads, and she said would it be all right to drop around tomorrow? I said no, and she said about three, then, and thank you and goodbye.

...When Mrs. Ferrier stepped inside our front door at one minute before three that afternoon it was perfectly clear to me without hesitation that we were not going to become fast friends. She stood just inside the door, looking around. She looked at the hall closet, half closed, at the flotsam and jetsam lining the stairs on both sides, and at the wallpaper in the hall, which was the cabbage rose design we had chosen with Mr. Fielding nine years before. She closed her eyes for a minute and then, with me following, went on into the living room, where the library books still sat on the green chair and someone had left a jacket on the television set. "Nice large room, if it was fixed up," Mrs. Ferrier said. In the dining room she tapped the table thoughtfully, perhaps looking for termites, and pulled back a curtain to see if the room overlooked the road, glancing briefly at the dust on the windowsill. In the study she nodded to my husband, turned competely around once, and then remarked that we seemed to be making no practical use of the space in our house. "This room would be much larger," she said, "if you took out all those books."

Mrs. Ferrier thought the master bedroom should have faced west, and she barely put her head inside the smaller bedrooms. "They would be much larger," I told her, "if we took out the beds."

Mrs. Ferrier fixed me with her cold eye. "If you took out the beds where would you sleep?" she wanted to know, and I followed her meekly downstairs.

"Well," she said, "...Say it takes you a month to get out--I'll have the carpenters here on the first of May."

"I hardly think--"

She smiled at me, which did not make me like her any better. "I thought someone had told you," she said. "I was a Fielding before I married. I told the family that it was a pity to have the old family house falling apart in the hands of strangers; we owe it to the town, after all to have Fieldings living here. So we are coming home again." She sighed nostalgically, and I unclenched my fingers from the stair rail and said as quietly as I could that I was sure the villagers would be dancing in the streets when they heard that the Fieldings were coming home again. "Goodby," I added firmly, opening the front door. "I'll see you in a day or so, then," Mrs. Ferrier said, and of course I did not push her down the front steps.

With all of the furniture and books we have removed to make our house look more spacious, I often think of this passage. "The bedrooms would be much larger," I want to assure the imaginary potential buyer, "if we took out the beds...."

I also love the phrase "flotsam and jetsam lining the stairs on both sides." We have that too, when we're not selling a house!

And speaking of selling a house, our home has been listed for a week now, and we have yet to schedule one showing. I wasn't too worried before, but now that the weekend--prime time--is upon us, I am trying not to be anxious.

We're going to look at about 8 houses in Kenosha on Sunday, all farther away from the neighborhood we've been looking in. I think it will be fun.

I suspect God knows what He's doing with the timing of it all!


Anonymous said...

I didn't catch at first that you were quoting the story-- I was appalled on your behalf! Once I figured it out, I was laughing.
Belssings. God has the perfect place for you... and the perfect buyer for your now-house.

At A Hen's Pace said...


Okay, I fixed that, I hope!


Jenny in Ca said...

I loved reading this excerpt! I will have to go look for the book now.

good luck on showing, I remember going through it 4 years ago...ugh.

much grace to you,

Jan said...

I too read this books as a child, and found it hilarious. I still do. Especially that story!