Mud and Beauty

I had no time to look out the window as I was toiling away at work on Friday, but when I came out I discovered the heavens had opened up and covered my car in wet snow, a somewhat disturbing shade of brown. I don’t mean to imply it was dark chocolate, like an actual mud hole, but for that much fresh snow to drop from the sky in any variety of tan is a moment to pause and consider. Growing up in the frozen tundra that is Rexburg, Idaho, I’ve seen more than my share of snowfall, but I had never seen this, and it shocked me a little.

My windows were streaked with beige mud, which wasn’t a problem for the windshield or the back because they have built in washer fluid, but the side windows are not equally endowed, and I knew getting on the freeway in such a state could possibly end in a sideswipe or a pileup, or a number of other things that lean towards a rather bad day. Unfortunately, just about the only thing I do not have in my car is a package of wipes, so I hunted around until I found a used a face mask, and tried to clear the dirt sufficiently to get home. Sadly it seems that the very qualities the make disposable face masks so clever at repelling covid also make them rather unabsorbant, which means I just moved the dirt around until I’d created a nice Jackson Pollock painting, but was no closer to actually getting on the road. Finally, I resorted to pouring water down the glass to clear the worst of it. Thank heavens for 40-ounce Hydro Flasks.

Off I went, and 30 minutes later I stopped at a traffic light going downhill, sending a cascade of brown, muddy water pouring from my roof and down my windows. At this point I’m looking around at all the other cars, and noticed that while some cars suffered the same shame, many others did not, meaning the sky clearly had no sense of equality. After that I had no more minutes to worry about the state of my vehicle, and went on about my evening. When I finally arrived home for good later that night, I discovered my son, Porter, very subdued and eating our favorite Chinese ramen, which must have been difficult, what with his jaw dragging along the floor. I know that face.

“What’s up, Port?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

I could could see he wanted space, so after a few spare words, I kissed him goodnight and went off to bed. He would talk to me when he was good and ready.

The next morning, I showered and put on work clothes to scrub my dirty house, and was just starting to make breakfast when Porter appeared, having been somewhat revived by a hot bowl of Chinese ramen and a good night’s rest. The story of the previous day crumbled out over buttery pancakes and maple syrup, a surefire way to loosen tongues and sweeten what’s ailing.

Porter is 18 and has been taking voice lessons since the summer of 2019. For the last few weeks he’s been working on a special piece for a program at school, and he’d spent his day working with this voice teacher to create the final audition video. But it had all turned to mud, like brown snow streaking down a black car, obscuring the windows and ruining his chances. I’ve been there plenty of times myself, so I know exactly how he felt. It had all been too much the night before, but the day was new, and he was determined to try again. He saw the signs of Saturday’s cleaning. “Don’t put away the ring light, Mom, I’m still using it.”

I heard him working at it as I washed dishes and cleaned the stove. Occasionally I was required to push a stop or start button, or to make sure the vacuum didn’t interfere. By the time I had finished the upstairs, he had redone his video and hit submit. I grinned to myself and called out, “Are you ready to go?”

Off we went to my sister, Roni, and Matt’s house where we tore out chair rails and baseboards, and generally made an enormous mess. While Porter was ripping up tile, I made it to the carwash, trying three before I realized the last one was my best bet, and contented myself to sit in a line clear down the block with all the other muddy cars.

Porter and I never did manage to change out of our work clothes that day. We both came home tired and dirty, but the house was mostly clean, and the car was washed and gleaming. Matt and Roni’s house is still torn up, but it’s going to be beautiful when it’s all put back together.

One day many years ago, my herd of sisters and I were sitting around our big old dining table having a beauty day, but possessing no cotton balls for nails and makeup, we had to improvise. Shara, who now has four daughters of her own, was very young, and watching it all with her huge round eyes. “Humph,” she said, “it takes a lot of toilet paper to be pretty.”

I suppose that is a cue for a bit of scatological humor, instead I’ll just point out that she was far more right than any of us understood at the time. No matter what we do or how hard we try, sometimes the mess just falls from the sky, hitting indiscriminately, muddying the road and streaking the windows until we can’t see clearly. Fortunately, Porter and I have good sturdy work clothes. We’ll be just fine.

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