Sunday, January 28, 2007

Of Corns and Calluses

Twenty-six year ago I had a corn on my little toe from wearing rubber riding boots. I got a terrific pair of Dehner’s (one of the things in life that truly were worth the money) and treated the corn with Dr. Scholls and never had another problem.

Until, that is, I fell in love with another pair of non-breathable shoes. This time my downfall was a pair of garden clogs that I’ve worn so much I have worn out three pairs in three years. I noticed a couple of years ago a thickening on part of each foot and started pumicing them when I bathed. They never hurt but kept getting thicker. Finally there were definite centers and I though, ah-ha, they are corns. In a strange place. I put some salicylic acid on them and sure enough, in about three days the centers fell out. A very small thing, leaving a little hole.

It made me remember my grandparents. I grew up in the house beside of theirs and was freely in their home and knew their every routine: how they got up in the morning and while Mamaw did her toilet Dadaw would make breakfast for each of them of a single fried egg, a piece of toast, some runny oatmeal, and a single piece of bacon, and how this would sit and get cold until they were both ready to eat together; how Mamaw would then do the downstairs cleaning while Dadaw went back upstairs to dust and vacuum; how they each had their things -- Dadaw the furnace, Mamaw the sewing; how other things they did together -- like processing the apples for freezing. I remember how Mamaw always called Dadaw slower than Christmas (he was) and how Dadaw complained that now that he was old he couldn‘t work but 5 or six hours before he had to sit down and take a rest.

I remember this stool they had. We called it the saddle I think, or the saddle stool, something. It is surprisingly hard to remember sometimes these things that otherwise I remember so clearly. It has curved legs and its top and cushion were hourglass shaped and it was small and light and I’m sure one of the cousins has it. I have Mamaw’s Bible. Everyone got something priceless like that when our grandparents died.

I remember some afternoons going in their back door and into their family room and Mamaw sitting on the couch with one foot in the dishpan of hot water, Dadaw sitting on the saddle stool with her other foot propped on his lap, him with his sharp pocket knife out scraping the calluses off her feet, scraping the toenails to length -- they said as they aged their nails had gotten too thick to clip. And then she would do the same for him. This is what fifty years of marriage looks like.

We haven’t been married fifty years yet, and I don’t have to have husband scrap my toenails yet, but when the callus around the corn came off three days after the corn did, I had to have him cut a piece of it off from another piece that hadn’t quite released yet. It was an amazing thing, the layers of skin over a huge wide area that my body had laid down to cushion those little tiny corns. First pieces about the size of a dime and about an eighth of an inch thick peeled off. Then a thinner piece reaching out to about the size of a quarter. All off the outside ball of my foot, just under my little toe.

And that too made me think about how we ourselves get all callused up. Life as often as not doesn’t actually make any sense to me. I try to hold on to the deep belief that the universe in general is a good place, but I have to admit that mostly, I don’t like people. I like my animals and find peace there. I like the earth. And the sky. And the trees. And the lichens. And the carrots. But even these things lived with naturally require a hard spot. I try to not grow calluses about people but I probably do. I try to use the psychic pumice stone on those calluses. I try to figure out what the corn might be, and how I might treat it.

But when those calluses fell off my feet, my feet were sore. That’s how people feel to me, always. This is probably one of those things I’m not supposed to admit out loud. But they all feel like that. The people I really don’t like, well, the callus is fine for them, but the ones I really do like, love, depend on, need (though I will almost never admit it), try to take care of -- where they are in my heart always feels like my feet did just after those calluses came off. Tender. Sore. Like Janice Joplin’s voice. So obvious that the toughness is only a façade. So tender that even just the sheets on the bed cause them to hurt.

Sometimes I stand in heart chakra opening yoga asanas and cry.

And that makes me think of my grandparents’ again. As Freewill Baptists they participated regularly in the sacrament of foot washing. Symbolic ritual service. Unto the least of these. And what we are here for really is so much about what we are here to give. And there is much of that that comes out in my cooking for my family. How little care is in a happy meal, a Boston Market supper. How much loving care and service in a scratch cake. When a person dies, what do we do? We take food. Why? To be of some small service. To make things a tiny bit easier. And then I wonder why we don’t do more of this when someone is born. And do it for each other just because. I think a lot of it is because we don’t know what would be of service anymore. Another casualty of modern convenience.

I hope it is a real service, at least sometimes, to say what no one else is willing to say, even to the people I care the most about.


.. Dallas Meow >^^ said...

That is one of the most fascinating posts I've ever read. I too am not a people fan, too many hurt. I need to develop longer lasting calluses . . .

Teri said...

We have monthly potlucks at our church. It's a tiny community church. Many of the members are 70+. The son of the founder died last month. He was 89 and had alzheimers. Yet, he came to church every week until the last two weeks of his life. Potlucks give us a way to support each other. It gives those who live alone a time to sit and eat with someone else. Like a family, we don't always get along and there have been a few unpleasant times the last week or so. I am at home in a way that I wasn't at home in a larger church. I'm definitely not a people person. I'm an only child and it is sometimes hard for me to relate to others. I keep trying somehow.

Danielle said...

That was a beautiful, powerful, poignant bit of writing. Thank you.

Caroline said...

I think I have trouble figuring other people out. I don't know why they can't get off their cell phone and drive; why they need to be in such a hurry, why the need to prove themselves obnoxious to others (loud music, rudeness, etc). Why can't everyone just take a few deep breaths and calm down? Feel some peace? Everyone needs to slow down a little and remember the "Do unto others..."

the Contrary Goddess said...

I have been tickled in that some of my closer friends have now referred to themselves as my calluses. Folks, if I LIKE you (and if I put up with you in my life, I probably like you some), you are more likely a sore spot. Just so you know.

laura said...

i just left a long comment...and the cyber world ate it...damn.

so basically, here's what i said and if it shows up somehow later we'll just delete this one...

i wanted you to know that i think this is one of your finest writings. i was listening to stevie nicks sing "bella donna" and "kind of woman" while reading it. it brought me to that weird edge of emotion where your chest is tight and the tears are there but they simply won't come all the way..they sit there only threatening to spill over.

i loved the picture of what a long marriage looks like...and i'm saddened that so few will ever see that. how people just give up so easily and move on to the next person...and the next. how their children will never see what you as a child got to see in them. it is just too sad.

my mom called while i was writing to tell me the date of the funeral for my uncle who also passed away this month. and then the tears finally came. and it started raining outside. him and his wife were married probably 45 years or more.

i am happy to be one of your sore spots. that i occupy a place inside of you that CAN be hurt. i know you will get that...and know that it isn't a mean thing to say.

and it's not just the eloquence and ease of the way you put ordinary and not-so-ordinary words together, it's some kind of beauty, like you and how you guard your heart. your writing is like that yet guarded. there is a push and a pull. i can't explain it.

the Contrary Goddess said...

thanks la, I knew you'd get this even if no one else did. I like the woven threads of this one, which is very often how I experience life. I'm awful glad you are a sore spot too.

Karen said...

I don't really know what to say except thank you that was beautiful

the Contrary Goddess said...

thank you karen!

Michael Nolan said...

I'm late to the party by a year or so, here...but your website has had me enthralled for three days now and I only just got back this far.

Our spiritual similarities are profound and between this post and the previous one about "Peaceful Warrior", I've been a bit emotional today.

You're doing a wonderful and beautiful thing, CG. I salute your soul.