“It’s a dead mouse,” Jo shrieked and leapt behind me, shielding herself from the horror. To be fair, she had inadvertently touched the corpse of the small rodent (hidden just out of sight under the edge of the couch) with her bare foot, (compliments, I assume, of Sabrina’s cat Earl whom I had recently babysat). “This just wouldn’t happen at my house”, she moaned hugging herself and rocking.
You have to know Jo to understand the full extent of her trauma at the incident and at her generosity in being here to begin with. Aside from the fact that we are the female version of ‘The Odd Couple’ incarnate, time away from her home and husband is usually acutely uncomfortable for her. But like the trouper she is, a week after I broke my ankle, she arrived at my house, suitcase and mop in hand, to help me until I was on the mend. A gift well beyond the call of duty, even for our 43 year-old friendship.
Like an avenging matriarch she cleaned, disinfected, and ran my washing machine to within an inch of its life on a daily basis. In Jo’s world, sheets, towels, clothes, skin, everything, must be 100% clean all of the time and never touch the floor (if I put my feet on the bed wearing my indoor footwear the verbal lashing was fierce). By her own admission, the absolute craziest thing she did while here was to wear a pair of socks three days in a row and was aghast that she could sink to such depths. At the end of each day, two days at the most, regardless of how tired or sore I was, she declared it mandatory that I drag myself upstairs on hands and knees, drop backwards into the tub for a full bath or she threatened a work lockdown. Being the Oscar part of the couple, I usually only wash field clothes when they are in danger of becoming one with the earth and at the end of a long day in the field I may have a shower before bed but am more likely to leave the embedded dirt where it lays if I’m returning to the field when I wake up. Laundry can build up and my house suffers enormously when outside projects call (who am I kidding – my house lives with suffering).
At one time or another, my freezer has been fully stocked with venison meat labeled RK 1, RK 2, and RK 3– roadkills 1,2 and 3. For Jo, any new food is treated with slitty-eyed suspicion and eating my garden greens (as opposed to standard iceburg or romaine) was a walk on the wild side. If I was cooking, utensils were whisked away and washed before I finished using them and supper dishes were on the drying rack before swallowing my last bite.
We got a lot done over the 3 ½ weeks Jo was here, outside and in. Most jobs took the two of us six hours when it should have taken one. (Once, we drilled all the way across a wall looking for the stud and the bit kept falling out because we couldn’t get it locked in.) I’m pretty sure that any competent farmer or carpenter would feel less pain stabbing themselves in the brain than watching us do just about anything. But that’s ok, we usually ended up laughing and it was always an adventure shared. Just like when we were teenagers – we got ourselves into some crazy scrapes but always came out safe(ish) and laughing.
Jo was one of the first people I met when my family moved back from the North West Territories. We were 14 years old and in the same church youth group. We clicked immediately and have been fast friend ever since.
She is incredibly generous. Mindful of my lack of income she would trick me into letting her pay. One time she ran off laughing into the grocery store with my crutches tucked under her arm, leaving me stranded at the car. With infantile determination, I crawled across the parking lot on bare knees muttering expletives. When I finally reached the curb (after weathering startled looks and shredded skin), I sent her a strongly worded text. When she arrived back to the car, she said in a small, contrite voice, “Don’t be mad, I was just trying to help”. “I’m sorry” I said, and started to cry. It’s hard being helpless and dependant.
Jo is not an outdoor girl. She is allergic to weeds, dust, grass, pollen, animal hair, generally everything outside of a sanitized bubble. Her nose itches and her eyes water. She doesn’t like bugs or anything that crawls. Mosquitoes swarm to her, eager to tear out hunks out of her tender skin leaving bruising and welting in their wake. Yet she trudged through the blueberry fields weeding, spreading nutrients, sulphur and laying irrigation lines with only the occasional whimper (or curse, depending on her mood). I on the other hand happily sleep rough wherever the mood strikes me, cohabiting with nature and all it’s inhabitants. Yep – Felix and Oscar.
Our whole lives we have each lived on the extreme – but opposite – side of what is considered normal. The Odd Couple, Laurel and Hardy, take your pick. Like two misshapen puzzle pieces, together we just fit.