I like order. What an understatement. My cousins, too, learned neatnickness from our grandmother, Memere.

Many French Canadian women inherit a flair for le menage. Not biologically hardwired like us, one cousin’s husband, says, “It’s a sickness with you people.”

He profits from this “illness.” His shirts hang in his closet lined up by color; easier to get dressed. Easy is good. Our clean-gene acts less like an ailment, though, and more like a quirk in our genetic blueprint, midwifed, birthed, and nurtured by generations of women. We believe organization inhabits us as inborn nature. For example, as the vacuum sucked chipped and dropped onion skins from the refrigerator drawer, my husband teased, “I bet your cousin doesn’t do that.”

I smiled, “Bet she does. Let’s call her.”

She laughed, “Of course I do. What was he thinking?”

Before leaving to travel alone, I winked, “This panel of light switches won’t stay like this, will it, all matched up or down?”

My cousin insists, “Even I don’t align light switches.”

I don’t either; our tidiness sparks jokes like that. Also, everything-in-its-place people often share a certain aversion to stuff. A friend visited, saw the almost empty armoire shelves and asked, “Where are your collections?”

“Collections?”

“Knick knacks.”

“Nope. No collections.”

My son Zac calls me a reverse hoarder. My dinged Outback frequents Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the local transfer station’s recycling bins. Zac tells how I’ve FedExed him half-eaten chocolate-chip snack bars so as neither to waste nor keep them. Reduce. Recycle. Reuse. Repurpose. Also good, right?

I shuffle what’s here, to fill empty places where there are no, you know, collections. One recent dawn (this idiosyncrasy wakes up with me most days at 5 a.m.), I started summer clutter clearing mere minutes after June’s spring cleaning finished. The urge struck to move an antique deacon’s bench, no longer used in the basement, to a spot next to the blank wall outside the dining room. Just as my husband Jon poured himself a bowl of Raisin Bran, I said, “How ’bout we try that bench here?”

He flashed the look that says, “Uh oh. Here she goes. Housekeeping.”

He offered, “I’ll help.”

We hiked the old bench up the stairs, and placed it in its new home. I paced to inspect it from all angles, and said, “Hmm. Maybe it would look better against that bare wall inside the dining room.”

We switched it. I studied this layout and decided the first way added more balance to the sparse space. We shifted it. Each time we changed it, I dusted any grit from baseboards, and wiped any grime from the wooden floors under the new arrangements. Of course I did. My cousin would have, too. My husband knows better than to label my perhaps trying trait as ever-so-slightly Adrian Monk-ish. He did say, “Now can I have my cereal?”

While Jon ate, Zac called from his bakery. “I’m trying to teach work ethic to teenagers in their first jobs. One boy texts all the time while at work. One girl runs late daily. Another dumped dirty dishes on a pile of clean ones. Mom, I’m untraining chaos here.”

I said, “Ew. Tough stuff. Life gets messy sometimes.”

Who just said that? Would Memere, my cousins and our DNA agree? I’ll repeat those words so I can hear myself. Life gets messy sometimes. That truth has a lot to teach. I wonder, can we learn to reverse-nurture our basic nature?


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