At our house for the last 20 or so years, it’s been just the Secretary of Health and Human Services and me.
If we were to bound from bed, we would quickly hit the wall, if not literally, then figuratively. So instead we ease our way upright, making sure that all body parts are attached and functioning.
In spite of this slow start, we still dance each morning. Our dance is not the macarena, twist or even the rhumba. It’s more like a slow-motion do-si-do in square dancing.
Here’s how it works:
The alarm is always set for the same time, and I’m so used to it, that I often wake up within five minutes before it goes off. I shut off the alarm in advance, so as not to disturb the secretary, then bathe and dress.
The next stop is to go to the curb to retrieve the daily papers. Over the years, this has occasionally been problematic. A few years ago, I went down the front steps, not realizing that everything was glare ice, took one step at the bottom of the stairs and went down for the count. This is a minor hazard of living on frozen tundra.
I eventually regained my footing, limped to the curb, retrieved the papers, and returned to the house.
The secretary always says she waits for me to return before following my footsteps to the bathroom and the clothes closet. But I know that isn’t true.
I’ve since taken to going out through the garage during the winter months, the idea being that my chances of survival will increase if I don’t hit my head on any steps.
Back in the house, the two papers go to the dining room table, and I head to the kitchen.
My first task is to make the secretary’s coffee. She drinks decaf; I see no sense to drinking coffee except as a caffeinated pick-me-up.
I make a java jolt for myself only on those days I’m at the Peach office, because it doesn’t have a coffee pot.
After I make her pot of coffee, then I unplug my cell phone charger, turn on the radio and make my own breakfast.
Then I sit down and eat breakfast while reading about the tragedies and follies that have beset the world over the previous 24 hours.
My breakfast rarely varies. I start with a bowl of cereal, read through one section, then serve myself a couple of pieces of toast and a glass of orange juice. It is during the second phase, when our daily dance begins.
We have a relatively small kitchen. It is probably stretching it to say that the area of open floor space between the cupboards is no more than 5 feet by 8 feet.
The refrigerator is in one corner, diagonally across from the toaster. The coffee pot is in another corner, diagonally across from the cupboard with the coffee mugs.
The secretary comes into the kitchen, usually silent. I am standing by the toaster.
She reaches into the cupboard for her coffee mug. I’m buttering my toast. She steps over to the coffee pot. I cross behind to the refrigerator to get the orange juice and put away the jam or jelly.
She goes back to the cupboard where the coffee mug was while I’m pouring my orange juice. I put away the orange juice and go back to pick up my toast.
She goes to the refrigerator to get the cream for her coffee, then returns to the corner with the coffee mug, while I sashay back to the dining room table to finish breakfast and reading the paper.
She disappears upstairs to turn on the computer to check the e-mail and finish doing whatever it is that spouses do before they are ready to face the public.
Ten minutes later, she comes down and we say, “Good morning,” never having acknowledged until then that we have been in each other’s conscious presence since the night before. That’s the benefit of having lived with someone so long, we don’t have to say much of anything to be comfortable in each other’s presence.
She then opens the patio door and throws some peanuts out for the squirrels while I tell her if anything particularly outrageous is in the news. If the daily paper has nothing noteworthy, I give her a report on current weather conditions based on my walk to the curb.
As she sits down to put in her contact lenses, I take my dishes to the kitchen and head back to the bedroom closet to grab a sport coat and a tie.
By the time I get back, she’s usually eating breakfast. All but one section of the paper — the one she is reading — has been transferred to the living room coffee table.
We do have variations to this Dance of the Semi-Conscious. Some days she starts a load of laundry. Some days I have a morning meeting and need to be out of the house earlier.
But on those countless typical days, where we have danced around each other for the first hour, at the end we come together after I have put on my overcoat, if needed, and picked up any papers I may have brought home. We tell each other our general plans for the day, then I tell her to have fun and she tells me to be safe.
The daily dance ends, as it began, in the reassurance of knowing the other is around and well, without feeling any need to impress or entertain. Only then do we bound into the day.
Tom West is the general manager of the Peach. Reach him at (320) 352-6569 or by e-mail at [email protected]