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.


Anonymous said...

I too have heard both variations, but never gave a thought to the meaning until I read your post.
The weary version is also bible based:

"Those who pursue us are at our heels; we are weary and find no rest" -- lamentations 5:5

Although I prefer Matthew 11:28:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

Ruthie In The Sky said...

I think Mrs. Longmeadow was a royal, snobby, effin' bitch! And the only reason why she wanted you on that floor is because in her sick mind it made her feel like she was something so much better. Your priceless description of that horrible person made her intention very clear to me.
What a difference my experience was: I, too, cleaned homes while I went to college. And one of the families that I cleaned for practically adopted me. Many times after I cleaned, I would end up in the kitchen with a glass of wine and conversation with the lady of the house.
The family went to a fly-in in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Her husband attempted a roll in an antique plane. Halfway through the run, his plane malfunctioned and crashed. The plane exploded into a fireball in front of the entire family.
My memory of her dignity in the face of what happened has stayed with me. She was and probobly still is a class act.

Michaelann Bewsee said...

Two thought: thanks, anon, for the bible reference.... I'm not actively religious, but was surprisingly disconcerted the other day when an NPR story gave three biblical references Mike Huckabee gave-- and no one who was interviewed recognized them! Seeing as so many biblical quotes and stories have passed into our literary wealth (or at least I thought), I wonder what's happening. david and Goliath, Loaves and Fishes,don't remember the third.

Ruthie, as you might guess, i have loved the physical work I've done in my life-- farming, waitressing, hosuecleaning...good for the soul.

Anonymous said...

I personally only use "No rest for the wicked". There is never any peace within those with no love for others and themselves. They love money and power. They are selfish and self serving. Always having to look over their shoulders because 9 out of 10, they did someone wrong. Therefore, they have NO REST.

Todd R. Brown said...

Excellent discourse. Per my micro-short story today:

__Latest encounter with the Planned Parenthood protesters during their 40 days of prayer vigil/horseshit/much ado__

I pull the car over to the curb. "So, what day is it?"

Looks of bafflement by three elder folks sitting on patio chairs. "... Oh, we started last Wednesday. What is that? Six days."

"So tomorrow you rest?"

Ah ha ha, they giggle. "No, there's no rest for the wicked."

"Who are the wicked?"

"It's an old saying."

"It sounds familiar. I thought it was 'no rest for the weary.' "


"I heard another one recently: 'Wicked are the righteous who presume to know their god's will.' "

Looks of bafflement as brains try to parse stealth idiom into recognizable meaning. More puzzled silence.

"Yeah. Chew on that one." And away ...

True story.