MARTI HEALY: Toilet paper art and other treasures of youth
My almost-2-year-old cat, Tuppence, made lace-art from the toilet paper again. I naively though we had moved passed this particular kittenhood delight. All the barriers I had incorporated to deter such expression of her creativity had quietly been removed for weeks, maybe even months.
And then, just a day or two ago, I glanced into the bathroom as I was passing the doorway and saw great heaps of white “ribbons and lace” spread happily across the entire floor.
She has two variations on this theme: one is the spread-throughout-the-room version, the other is simply fluffed and folded into one huge bunch – both are complete with cutouts and floating bits and thin veils fluttering in passing breezes, with just enough left draped from the roll to resemble a wall hanging or tiny mural. This time it was so energetically displayed, it seemed to be a kind of “personal best” effort.
The talent is quite commendable, I must admit. And it never fails to make me laugh – despite the waste and hassle of cleaning it up. I wish, just once, I could see it in the making. But it is a silent, secret art.
As I rewound foot after foot of the paper, hoping to salvage a bit of it, I wondered why Tuppence had suddenly reverted to this childhood game even though she is now passing into being a young adult. But while tucking the shards and torn bits down into the wastebasket, my thoughts flashed back to just a week or so ago – to the blackout most of us experienced during the ice storm. And I recalled how one joy I took from the experience was tucking myself down under piles and piles of covers on the bed, a warm cat entwined in my legs, and reading a good book by flashlight. It felt very much like being in the middle of my childhood again. The books all came alive in the cave of hidden secrecy just as they did then. And the time passed unhurried, unworried. A private joy all to myself.
Even now, I thought, I have been spending many spare moments and evenings piecing back together an old hand-crocheted blanket that weathered my parents' 72-year marriage, more than a dozen household moves, and the upbringing of three active daughters. It was the blanket that for years was draped across the back of the family sofa; the blanket in which we were warmly wrapped whenever we were sick or hurt or broken in some way.
I remember poking my fingers through its openwork in boredom and innocence, making puppets of my thumbs. I'm sure there was as much soup and hot tea and fresh cookie crumbs spilled on it as there were tears. It must have been cleaned many, many times over its life. And when I came across it while closing out my parents last home together, it was like uncovering a large bit of my childhood.
It has been patched more than a few times, I can tell. But it is still falling apart in places. And I find myself desperately trying to stitch it together again – to make it whole once more. I wasn't sure why it was so important to me. But now, I think I understand.
It's a bit like the words of author Neil Gaiman: “I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.”
It's also a bit like Tuppence and the toilet paper. Sometimes doing or having something to remind us of the ways of being a child is terribly important. And terribly right. And well worth the salvage efforts they may require. So that, hopefully, they will remind us how to once again know genuine comfort and peace and the authentic joy of our original selves.
Marti Healy is a local writer, author of the books “The God-Dog Connection,” “The Rhythm of Selby,” “The Secret Child,” and a collection of her columns: “Yes, Barbara, There is an Aiken.