Washcloths on Tobacco Road
by Nicole Freire
One of my all time favorite books, a book I've read probably 30 or 40 times, is Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott. Of the many favorite passages from this wonderful book (What, you haven't read it? What is your problem? Go out right now and get it. Or check it out from your local library.) that I read again and again, this is one the best:
"Today I've felt all day like we are the Joads. Everything we own is so cruddy looking and secondhand…………All the other babies have beautiful little nurseries, and Sam has just the corner of my horrible hovel of a room. There are three feet of floor space between his crib and the platform where my mattress is and that's it. There's a broken-down dresser with a thin foam pad on it that we use for the changing table. It's too hideous for words. It's Tobacco Road."
"Tobacco Road" then became my personal shorthand for whatever situation I felt it called for. If the amount of flip-flops and dirty socks next to our front door gets too big, then we're living on Tobacco Road. Is the recycling container full of nothing but pizza boxes and beer bottles? Tobacco Road. If my bedroom has more than four laundry baskets full of clean clothes just waiting to be put away, Tobacco Road. Am I running a late night errand to Rite Aid wearing a sweatshirt and my pajama pants? Tobacco Road. It became my catchall noun/adjective/descriptor.
Remember how I had my tonsils out a few months back? Like I'd let you forget. Anyway, not eating for a few weeks has this crazy side effect. I lost some weight. And continued to lose it, enough so that one day I had to go through my closet and purge it. It was easy enough to get rid of things that I never liked anyway or didn't fit anymore and soon my ‘destined for the thrift store' bag was filling up rapidly.
I started to take a closer look at what I had stored in there. Why do I have 6 white t-shirts, when 5 of them are so worn and thin that they should not be seen outside? Why did I have a dress that was 9 years old and didn't fit? Who needs 3 black skirts, especially if only one feels nice to wear?
I moved on to the dresser. Old sweatpants that had gone from black to a faded gray? Into the bag. About nine more t-shirts went in too - they were too small, or too faded, or just looked awful on me. Onto another drawer. Pajamas that I wore post-partum - seven years ago? Out. The nightgown that made me look like an old woman? Out.
And then ... I moved on to the underwear drawer. Can I say ‘underwear' on the Internet? I had some newer underwear, sure, the kind you want to be wearing if you're in a car accident and there is a possibility that the ambulance driver or the nice emergency room people might see them. But I also had stacks of OLD underwear. Underwear that was threadbare, the elastic worn and frayed. Why on earth did I still have these? Was I keeping them for some kind of bad underwear emergency?
It was so very Tobacco Road. I threw them all away.
I had done pretty well. I was not someone who needed to keep old, tacky things around. I deserved un-icky underwear and shorts that weren't always on the verge of being consigned to being a pair I'd wear only while gardening. I felt I was taking care of the situation; that I was attending to the little details that make one feel generous and whole, full of confidence and self-worth.
And then last night, I was putting away some laundry (finally) in the linen closet. And there they were, this horrible stack of washcloths. These are so awful that I could only take a picture of half the stack. They are worn, they are stained, and they are old. Some are washcloths I used on my babies. The babies that are now 11 and 7. And it wasn't like I didn't know they were awful - I did. Each time I pulled one out of the linen closet I'd think, "Ugh, these are disgusting" and then wash my face with it.
Am I not worthy of new washcloths? Why was I keeping these around? It is so easy to push some things aside - and that's ok. There are other things happening that demand our attention - kids, money, crabgrass, money, car trouble, money. Also, granola.
Maybe that's the lesson that I'm trying to learn (and foist upon unsuspecting readers). Everyone is worthy of good. Everyone is deserving of love and generosity. You do not need to hold on to anything that is worn and outdated and embarrassing. That also means letting go of old visions of yourself, old tapes that run in your head - the ones that say over and over, you're not good enough, you're wrong, people think you're weird, blah blah blah.
There is little expense involved. You do not need to run out and buy a whole new wardrobe or a whole new personality. You can simply let it go.
We all deserve new washcloths.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.