Sometimes its only when something is taken away and then given back that we really appreciate it.
In my case it was my apartment, which I always considered small.
Until my daughter and family moved in that is, while their home was being renovated.
And as they filled my place with themselves, a child and dog and all the accoutrements that goes with a family of that number, I realised just how small it was and I feared for my sanity.
But then they left and I saw I had nothing to moan about in the first place.
Once they were gone my apartment appeared HUGE, and airy and very spacious.
This family upheaval reminded me of the old story which I have stolen and put my own twist on…
Nana Pepper Pot
Once upon a time there was a woman and her name was Nana Pepper Pot.
Now though Nana had loved many times and moved many times and lived in many places of many sizes, she finally ended up living on her own in a small apartment by the sea.
This was good because she enjoyed living alone.
She loved to write and paint and now could do so without interference, spreading her paints and writing equipment far and wide across the kitchen table and leaving them there for days on end if she so pleased.
She could come and go exactly when she wished.
She could leave her yellow bicycle beside the fire and hang her clothes out to dry on it.
She could cook or not cook depending on her appetite.
She could leave the books she was dipping in and out of strewn across her sofa.
She could place her house plants hither and thither.
She could be tidy or untidy depending on her humor.
Yes! she was very happy to live alone, but she was not so happy with the size of her apartment.
And even though she could skip seven steps from one sitting room wall before arriving at the other,
And even though she could jump ten leaps from the kitchen before she arrived at the tall panes of glass that slid open to allow her onto her balcony. (On which she liked to spend her summer evenings, with a glass of wine, sitting hidden among her runner bean plants, gazing across at the mountain.)
And though she had a separate bedroom, with a high wide bed in which she could lie and through the window, look across at that same mountain
and a bathroom with a full sized bath,
She longed for her home to be bigger.
“But look” her friends remarked when they called in for coffee, “Even with your yellow bicycle here by the fire, you still have plenty of space.”
And did some yoga stretches to prove it.
And even when Marcella knocked the tulips off the coffee table while executing the Downward Dog (Don’t ever try drinking coffee before yoga), there was still space enough for Nana to leap up safely from the cobra pose (her favourite) and catch the flowers before they hit the floor.
And though she noted how her friends were able to put on their coats and get past each other to reach their shoes, without stepping on each others toes, she just felt if ONLY she had more space.
When her friends were gone, she mooched about moodily, straightening the rug, washing the coffee cups, (this was one of her tidier days), watering her plants, dusting the many stones she collected from the beach on her morning walks, and as she became lost in her chores, she suddenly had an idea and wondered why she hadn’t thought of it before.
The woman of much wisdom
The woman of much wisdom lives in a large yurt on the top of the mountain.
The same mountain Nana could see from her small apartment.
No one knew the woman’s real name (It was Ann! but she knew if she admitted to an name this simple it would cause much disappointment to those that came in search of her wisdom. And though wise, it never occurred to her that she could have taken on a more exotic name for herself, one that would suit her new station in life!) so people referred to her in short as ‘the wise woman’.
She was well known to the people of the village as someone who had an answer for everything.
She also dabbled in cures, which if truth be told rarely worked, but the locals continued to come with their ailments as they knew it was in-vogue to be seen attending a healer, and no one wanted to appear to the other as odd.
So it was a common sight to see the wise woman stumbling across the mountain in her long robes and hessian sack, picking wild herbs for her potions.
On this particular day, as she sits outside her yurt in the morning sun, drinking beer from a bottle, she glimpses something yellow wending its way along the small boíthrín* leading to the base of the mountain.
She takes another sip before hiding the still half full bottle in the folds of her flowing purple garments.
(sometimes, she feels that the expectations the villagers have of her, causes her much inconvenience).
When she looks again she sees the yellow thing, possibly a bicycle, leaning against the gate from which the path up the mountain led.
After a good twenty minutes, during which, she thinks grumpily, she could have easily finished her beer, a woman appears over the brow of the hill.
A red faced woman whose hair is tied up on top of her head in an untidy fashion.
It is Nana!
And Nana throws herself down on the grass in front of the wise woman, blowing her fringe off her hot forehead and sighing.
“Phew its hot, that’s some climb, I’m puffed”.
The wise woman does not reply but instead purses her lips.
She wishes people would take a more respectful stance on approach.
She always imagined that they should walk slowly towards her, hands clasped, eyes lowered in reverence.
“Well what can you expect!” The wise woman’s best friend, Mary, also a wise woman, remarked when Ann mentioned this to her.
“You do choose to hold your sessions on the top of a mountain,
It’s the reason why I live in the wood by the river, on the flat.
My clients are able to approach with respect! Your’s are so puffed out by that climb up the mountain, they need to lie down for a minute or two and catch their breath.
I know because I have to do the same when I come to visit you”.
She was a very insightful wise woman.
But our wise woman preferred her mountain top for obvious reasons.
“How many times” she pointed out to Mary “Have you complained about your lack of privacy,
How many times have you nearly been caught unawares?
Remember the time I came upon you and you were having a sneaky cigarette?.
Ha Ha you nearly swallowed it in fright, thinking I was a client.”
She chortled at the memory before continuing.
“Nope! I would gladly give up my clients lack of reverence in return for not being caught on the hop!”
“Or with a bottle of hop” Her friend had a mean streak when provoked.
But now she takes a deep cleansing breath and putting that memory and her friends nasty reply aside, turns to the red faced woman lying on the grass in front of her.
And Nana remembering who she is visiting, scrambles to her knees and bowing low clasps her hands in front of her chest and explains her problem.
“Please can you advise me what to do”
The wise woman looks out across the valley as though in a trance and just as Nana, thinking the woman hasn’t heard her, is about to repeat her question, speaks.
“Is that your bicycle down at the gate?”
“It is” replies a puzzled Nana.
“Well bring it in to your apartment” the wise woman instructs.
“Oh I always do that” says Nana, wondering why the wise woman has an interest in her bicycle
“Well do you have another bicycle then?” The wise woman asks testily
“Yes” Nana replies surprised “I have a purple one. Unlike the yellow bicycle which I keep by the fire, the purple one it lives on my balcony. You see I don’t use it that often because sometimes it…”
“Bring it in too!” The wise woman snaps, cutting Nana short “and put it by the fire beside the yellow bicycle and come back to me next week,”
Still puzzled by this odd request, Nana heads off down the mountain to do as bid.
A week later, the wise woman sees the yellow bicycle approaching again, but this time she enjoys her beer a while longer before once again hiding it easily, just as Nana appears.
“I don’t understand’ Nana exclaims when she has caught her breath, ‘Moving both bikes in has made my home smaller not larger!”
“Have you a dog?” The wise woman asks ignoring Nana’s obvious agitation.
“I don’t” replies Nana “But my daughter does.”
“Borrow your daughters dog” Instructs the wise woman “And bring the dog and her bed and her bowl into the apartment, and come back to me next week”
Nana stomps off down the mountain, very dubious of the wise woman’s advise but determined to go along with it as, everyone says she is very wise.
A week later the wise woman see’s the yellow bicycle approaching once more.
Nana, when she appears over the brow of the hill, looks so tired and tearful that the wise woman, who, unlike her friend, is actually really quite kind, has to stop herself offering Nana one of her bottles of beer.
“I really dont get it!” whimpers Nana, when once again she has caught her breath “I now have a dog getting in my way. Her bed is taking up a lot of space and every night I step in her water bowl when I get out of bed to pee.”
The wise woman closes her eyes.
She wishes people wouldn’t use such crude words in her presence but she understands it is part of the healing process.
She also wishes she could take one gulp of the now warm bottle of beer hidden as usual in her garments just to sooth her nerves.
Really! people came to her with the oddest of requests, this being a particularly difficult one.
She takes a deep cleansing breath and opens her eyes again.
“Do you have any children?” She demands.
“Well Yes” replies Nana “I have the daughter who owns the dog and another daughter who is also married with three children. In fact it is my eldest daughter, who owns the dog, lives nearby and she is married to my son in law and my grandson is two and really so sweet and they are renovating their house at the mo…”
Again the wise woman cuts her short
“Bring your daughter and grandson and their bedding and clothes and your grandsons toys into your house and come back in a week.”
So once again Nana trods down the mountain and goes home to do the wise woman’s bidding
And arrives back a week later.
This time her hair is on end and her eyes are red from lack of sleep and she doesn’t pause for breath.
“Really this is getting ridiculous” She shouts, sorry that she has ever come to see the wise woman. “My apartment is now so crowded you couldn’t swing a cat in it”
This gives the wise woman an idea and just as she is about to enquire if Nana knows anyone who owns a cat, Nana throws herself onto the grass and continues with a loud wail.
“AND my daughter is missing her husband and my grandson is crying for his father and they are keeping me awake at night”
“Well duh” says the wise woman “Bring your son in law in too so!”
‘Oh and come back in a week!’
These last words she has to shout after Nana’s departing figure.
The following week the Nana appears unexpectedly and the wise woman barely manages to hide her bottle in time.
“Where is your yellow bicycle?” She demands testily “I didn’t see it coming along the boithrin”
Nana is that cross, she can barely spit the words out in reply.
“My home is now so crowded with the two bikes, my daughter, grandson, son in law, the dog and their accoutrements, there was no room to manoeuvre the yellow bicycle out the door. I had to walk all the way.”
The wise woman thinks deeply
“Ok” she says after a few moments have passed.
“Go home and send the family back to their own house, along with their dog and all their accoutrements. Then, put the purple bike AND the yellow bicycle out on the balcony and come back to me next week”
Broken, Nana turns slowly and with head drooping goes back down the mountain.
She is actually looking forward to the long walk home, so dreading is she at the thought of trying to squeeze herself into her over crowded apartment.
A week later the wise woman smiles to herself and quickly tucks the just sipped at bottle into the folds of her garments.
She has just spotted the yellow bicycle jauntily wending its way along the boithrin.
Ten minutes later Nana hops up over the brow of the hill as sprightly as a daisy.
Her cheeks are glowing.
Her silky smooth hair is swinging tidily about her face.
“You are so WISE and so AMAZING” She says, not one bit out of breath.
“I did as you bid and sent everyone home and put both bicycles out on the balcony and now my home feels so spacious and roomy and LARGE.”
and with that she flings herself at the wise woman and gives her a big hug.
and if she feels a bottle of beer hidden among the folds of robes she gives no indication.
“But the people of the village say you take no payment? I MUST bring you something in return for your wisdom”
The wise woman looks across across the valley
“Well” she says, after much thought.
“A six pack would be nice,”
*Boíthrín; small road or lane way, usually with grass growing down the center.