This past Christmas, my wife suggested we give one another an “experience” instead of a gift. She said for her experience she wanted to go somewhere warm where she could hear the ocean. So I took her to Walmart and had her sit in a beach chair in the gardening department while I held a conch shell to her ear.
As for my experience, I knew immediately what I wanted: help cleaning my office, which I hadn’t done in two years because I’d been researching a book and didn’t want to mess up my filing system. But I was heading down the home stretch and thought I could risk a little cleanliness and order. So one morning, as winter was waning, my wife spent nine hours filling five 39-gallon trash bags with junk and hauling them to the curb for Ray the garbage man to carry away. She also took two boxes of books to the library for their annual book sale after I checked to make sure I hadn’t written my name in any of the more salacious ones. Ministers in small towns have to take all kinds of precautions against scandal.
With my office squared away, my wife set her sights on the rest of the house, as she does every spring. She began with the basement. I could hear her down there, muttering to herself, vacuuming the spider webs, yelling up the stairs to see what I wanted done with the projector my grandpa Hank left me. It no longer works — the bulb is burned out — but just as soon as I throw it away, I’ll come across the light bulb it needs and be sorry I pitched it.
“Keep it,” I yelled down the stairs.
“Can we get rid of the Ping-Pong table?” she asked.
We hadn’t played Ping-Pong in years, but whenever our basement floods, it’s awful handy to be able to stack things on the Ping-Pong table so they don’t get wet, so I shouted down to her to keep it.
She yelled back that she needed my help.
I had feared it would come to that, so had a plan, which was to act like I hadn’t heard her, sneak out to the car, and drive to the hardware store to see if they had a bulb for the projector, which they didn’t, but when I was there I remembered my grandpa had also left me a broken hammer, so I told Charlie the hardware man I needed a new handle, then told him the old joke about a man who owns Abe Lincoln’s axe, whose handle had been replaced three times and the head twice. Charlie laughed, even though I suspect he’d heard that joke a hundred times.
I stopped at the Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone, wanting to give my wife ample time to finish cleaning the basement, it being rude to interrupt people when they’re in the middle of something important.
The next day she started cleaning the kitchen, emptying the refrigerator and washing the shelves. My wife is funny about her kitchen. She doesn’t want me anywhere near it when she’s working in there, so I didn’t offer to help, not wanting to annoy her. It’s that kind of thoughtfulness that has made our 33-year marriage so strong.
“I’m going to clean the garage while you work in the kitchen,” I said. But the garage wasn’t all that dirty, so I went out to our screen house and took a nap in the hammock instead. If you’ve ever tried sleeping in a hammock, you know it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, and I was only able to keep at it for a few hours before waking up, by which time I was hungry for lunch, so I went inside to ask my wife what she was feeding me, and that’s how, I explained to Charlie the hardware man the next day, my grandpa’s hammer got broken again.
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and the author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series featuring Sam Gardner.
This article is featured in the May/June 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.