the winter house
It’s so funny to me the things you remember about yourself and the things you completely forget. Maggie came up to me the other day, as I stood at the stove making gravy, and said to me, “I hope you know cornstarch is poisonous.”
I said, “What? No it isn’t! What are you talking about?”
She laughed and said, “Do you remember? That one time I used cornstarch to make my lip gloss a matte finish? And I came down to show you, and I was all impressed with myself.. and you listened and then said—with a totally straight face—'You know cornstarch is poisonous, don’t you?’”
Needless to say, I had completely forgotten that. It’s nice—to have someone remind you of laughs gone by. And tonight? The same thing happened. But kind of different.
I was on the phone with me Mum in Florida. I love to call her that, me Mum. I was born in England, and it makes me happy to remind her of that. Anyway…she was sewing and I was making lotion. Each of us had the other on speaker. We talked about the parties she has attended, her new friends, old friends. Family. Life. Community. The stuff of mother-daughter conversations.
She said, “Are you making lotions right now?”
I said, “Yep. Twenty-four tonight.”
She said, “That is amazing. And to think it all started with that medical bill.”
I paused in my whipping. “That’s riiiight…I had totally forgotten that!”
A few years ago, my daughter Maggie got her arm caught on a handrail-partition at the airport in Providence, Rhode Island. She managed to get her arm unstuck, but when she went to step toward me, she fainted. Something about white blood cells rushing to the location of her now fractured wrist. She came-to quickly, but nevertheless were not allowed to get on a plane. Apparently when you lose conciousness in an airport they want some pretty firm reassurance you won't do it again on the plane, miles above the earth's surface.
The ambulance was called, our luggage was dragged out of the belly of the plane, we were rushed out of the airport--she on a gurney--and tore through the streets of Providence on our way to the emergency room. All was well. We took a later flight out that evening, after assuring she was safe to fly.
Months went by. School started. The bill came in. Even splitting it—it was too much.
I was recalled to the present when Mom said, “I was telling this man at the holiday party about your lotions. I said to him, ‘She had to pay this medical bill, but she didn’t have the money. She called me and said, ‘Mom—’”
I finihed the sentence for her, " '--I need to find a way to turn one dollar into two!’ I totally forgot that I said that to you!”
One day, right around the time that the medical bill came in, the Head of our school came in to my classroom. I happened to be putting on hand lotion at the time and she needed some. I passed her the jar of lotion that I had made for my family. Just an odd mixture. This and that. It was cheaper than premade lotion, and had the added benefit of being made with more natural ingredients. She loved it! And as the days went on, she would pop in and grab the lotion whenever she needed some.
One day she said, “How much would you charge me for that?”
I said, “I don’t know? Five dollars, I guess? I could just tell you how to make it.”
She said, “I don’t want you to tell me how to make it. I want you to make it for me, slap a label on it, and I want to give it to people as gifts. I think people would buy this.”
I went home that weekend. No label. No idea what to call this lotion. But I loved the idea that it came out of our house. Our house that we had always called “The Little Winter House”. My son, daughter, and I had always gone to Cape Cod for the summer. They attended the summer camp where I worked. For eight years we did this. For all of those years, we rented a summer cottage. Thus, our house in Missouri was dubbed, “The Little Winter House”.
That weekend as the kids and I sat eating lunch at our kitchen table, I asked Will, “Do you think I should call this lotion—this company—The Little Winter House?”
He, who happened to be taking a marketing class in college at the time, said, “No. Just: ‘The Winter House.’ People like three words in a title, not four.”
“…and I said to the man,” Mom went on, “so she knew she made this lotion and a couple of people had liked it. So she thought maybe a couple more people would like it…and she turned it into a company! And my granddaughter makes lip balms and sells them under her own little company called The Mudd Room. They don’t make a whole lot of money, but my daughter always says they consistently turn one dollar into two, and that’s all she ever asked for.”
And, truth be told, I’m not really telling this story for me. Or for you, or you…or you. I tell it for Maggie and Will. So they can see that even the falls and the breaks can lead you to greater things. Things you never even considered.
So they can see that even one word or two at a lunch table, or one conversation in the middle of a random day can make all the difference in the world if you are paying attention.
Success in life is variable. One person’s definition may not be another’s. But your success, whatever it may be…it comes in pieces.
Gather them. Listen. Pay attention.
The picture is there, you just have to put the pieces together.
~originally posted December 2016