The minute the neighbor walked across the yard I began to straighten up the house. Every room was in disarray.
Honest excuses are easy at such times. I had been working two days in the gardens, spent a time-consuming hospital vigil with a relative, and was consumed by a family death in California. Each was legitimate, but they came across as weak reasons for sloppy housekeeping.
In fact, I was working outdoors when the neighbor came down the driveway and began a friendly conversation about the lovely day, so I issued an invitation to come inside.
The most surprising thing in the episode was that I let someone into a messy house and worse yet, someone who had never been in my home. For all she knows, there are always papers strewn on the dining room table, pages of The Blade scattered on the davenport, and my oatmeal bowl and coffee cup still in the sink.
The broom and dustpan in the corner were proof that I planned to do some sweeping.
The untidy conditions continued through the upstairs bedrooms: two pairs of shoes near my unmade bed, notebooks of stories and ballpoint pens on the dresser along with the previous night's jewelry, blouses hanging on a door hook.
The bathroom was no better. The morning pills were still on the counter and there was dirty laundry that had not made it to the basement, and more shoes.
When one pair of shoes begins to hurt I change to a different pair. That's a daily habit and accounts for the six or eight pairs that I usually take with me when traveling.
All of this reminds me of Erma Bombeck's column written when she learned she had a terminal illness. The column, titled "If I Had My Life to Live Over" became a hallmark of her creative journalism that always seemed to target her readers' soft spots and make them smile.
Ms. Bombeck's thoughts in the famous farewell column are more about life than about death and make you wonder why we spin our wheels when it isn't necessary and chances are no one expects it.
"I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded," she wrote.
She continued in her entertaining voice to strike another chord. "I would have eaten popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace."
I don't know whether or not my messy house fazed the neighbor, but it is more important that it didn't faze me.
Sometime in the golden years I obviously have mellowed to a point that knocking myself out to impress anyone is not a priority.
A year ago I no doubt would have kept the conversation going in the driveway just to avoid any possibility that the neighbor would see my unmade bed and dirty dishes.
But on the historic visit I thought, "So be it."
Thank you, Erma. I finally got your message.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.
Contact her at: email@example.com
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