About Pieces of String
And where to write on a greeting card
At one point I married a Yankee.
In my defense, my immediate family was made up of therapists, rocket scientists, authors, artists, drug dealers, drug addicts, runaways and world travelers, a communist union organizer, most members of the LGBTQ community, ivy league professors, one who married a couple of his students (though not all at once), the exotically ill, and a Catholic.
When it came to unique ways of expressing rebellion, I was down to seeds and stems.
The Yankee had a grandmother named Violet, a lovely woman they stored in Maine per the Yankee convention of 1692. Violet eventually died, and the future ex-husband and I had the job of clearing out her attic.
To the uninitiated, the most salient aspect of Yankeehood is that somewhere in your home you have the first toothpick you ever used. And every one after that. And also the ones wasteful guests thoughtlessly tried to throw away.
My dead ex Yankee mother-in-law once exclaimed, “Oh dear,” when she opened a card I’d included on a Christmas gift to her. (To be clear, she was not yet two of those things.)
Let me back up. First she’d untied the ribbon around the gift. The card was tucked under it. I’d knotted the ribbon before tying the bow, and I’d pulled that thing tight. There’d be no escaping gifts here. Also there’d be no cutting of ribbon, it turned out, because my DEYMIL picked apart first the bow, and then the knot for a good six minutes, carefully releasing the ribbon to join its ribbon ancestors in the bag behind her chair, to be used in perpetuity. Then she opened the card.
The cover of the card showed something snowy and seasonal. On the inside right it read, “Happy Holidays” On the left I’d written in pen, “Merry Christmas - hope you enjoy these!” Inside the box was a pair of cashmere gloves.
The problem wasn’t the gloves. We hadn’t gotten to those yet. The problem was I’d written on the inside left side of the card, because in Yankeedom you tear that side off and use it as a non-folded card at some point in the future. You can’t reuse it if there’s writing on it. The right side of the card I’m thinking goes into some sort of corn pudding, but don’t quote me on that.
Anyway, Violet’s attic was a series of dry, dusty rooms abounding in basically everything. There were water-stained portraits of people looking sideways. There were stacks of books, including one signed by Houdini. There was old furniture, trunks filled with old clothes, and there were contraptions from the days of TB sanatoriums. There were old baby carriages and board games and legal papers and other old documents, and sewing boxes and button tins and there, toward the side of a back alcove, was a cardboard box about two feet square marked, “pieces of string too small to use.”
And that’s what was in it.
I know what you’re going to say. You could just tie them together. No, you couldn’t. They were too short. You could stuff a pillow with them. OK, you could. If you were in a gulag, say, and had just eaten your cotton batting or feathers for dinner, and your captors had provided you with a pillowcase, but the various thicknesses and chunks and bits would make a really unpleasant pillow. Well who would save this, then, you would ask?
“Who would save this?” I muttered, as I picked up the box to throw it out.
I put the box down.
I picked it up. I put it down. I called the future ex husband over and asked if he thought there was hidden treasure in it or something. He rummaged through it and found nothing. “Toss it,” he said.
But I couldn’t. Instead I hid it like my shameful love of canned asparagus and moved on to other things that needed clearing. Skis that may have belonged to Paul Bunyan. Some sort of racquet meant for beating cows or rugs or children. A host of apple-focused implements.
By the end of the weekend we’d made numerous trips to the dump and the donation drop-offs, and our car was filled with stuff we’d take home. Just before leaving I went upstairs to grab the box. It was gone. Running downstairs I asked the future ex if he’d seen it.
He’d thrown it out. Just took it to the dump. Like some heedless string squanderer.
I spent the ride back asking what was even the point of being a Yankee if he was going to throw things like that box away and keep andirons, for god’s sake, and fucking handmade doilies and antimacassars because if you need an “anti” thing you shouldn’t use the “macassar” thing in the first place so who cares who made them and how delicate the workmanship. And it was workwomanship anyway, and why did he hate me, because possibly nothing had ever better described me so he’d basically thrown me away, and you know, I didn’t have to marry a Yankee. I could have been a Krishna. I think we only had one of those in the family. Or maybe a circus performer, though straw made me itchy so that would have been on him and he’d have to live with that.
Other than that it was a very quiet, long ride home.