Tuesday, February 19, 2008
No Rest for the....weary? wicked?
Yesterday I had a physical task to do and it was taking me longer than expected. As I lugged yet another box of "stuff" from the spare room to the basement, I heard two voices in my head, one saying, "No rest for the weary" and the other one saying, No rest for the wicked!"
Where do these two voices come from?
The "weary" voice is from my maternal grandmother, who worked long hours most of her adult life at the Belmont Laundry, while her two daughters were cared for by her mother. My grandmother was a young widow, and she worked for the next fifty years, the last twenty as housekeeper for a priest. "No rest for the weary," I remember her saying, after washing the rectory floors.
The other voice comes from some Longmeadow stay-at-home mom whose name I have mercifully (for her and for me) forgotten.
Back in the early 80's, during the few years I was on public assistance with my younger daughter, I used to do some housecleaning under the table. (Wonder what the statute of limitations is on welfare fraud? I can picture my enemies trying to find out.) In any case, welfare benefits, both then and now, were some 40% lower than the federal poverty level, and the couple hundred bucks a month I made from housecleaning really helped.
Of all my housecleaning jobs, the one I liked the least was the house in Longmeadow. (Actually, I take that back; it was probably a tie with the trailer park home of the disabled guy who'd let his dog lift his leg over the toilet. Phew!)
The problem with the Longmeadow house was that it never really seemed to need cleaning! I'd dust shelves that weren't dusty, wash windows that sparkled, wipe countertops that looked like they'd never held a speck of food.
Guess I had never before been in a house where everything was new and the walls and floors met in every corner and no oily city dirt blew in to coat everything dull.
Mrs. Longmeadow had me wash the kitchen floor every other time I came, but she didn't like the effect of mops because they made the floor look streaky so she would have me wash them on my hands and knees with a bucket and a cloth.
One day, as I was so engaged, she passed through the kitchen, saw me, and said brightly-- she was always so bright-- "No rest for the wicked!" I was stunned. I'd never heard it said that way before.
Mrs. Longmeadow's version, I've found out since, seems to come from the bible, Isaiah 57: 57:20 But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. AND 57:21 There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. "No rest for the weary" seems to be a working-class variation.
It must have been easier for Mrs. Longmeadow, seeing me on my knees in her kitchen, to think of me as wicked, because then I was only getting what I deserved. Yet somehow, thirty years later, both weary and wicked still resound in my soul.