I power washed my friend’s deck last summer. It’s not that our small town lacked entertainment so desperately that I was reduced to forceful grime removal but rather a matter of Ya Ya Diplomacy. Yes, Ya Ya, the name of my gang of girlfriends as playfully Christened by our Methodist pastor.
Our gang consists of six friends, all teachers, and we have a list of things we have done together including surviving divorces, surviving teaching middle school, sitting through a million youth football games and welcoming the birth of children. One Thursday in June we added to the list of things we’ve faced together when we laid Natalie’s eight-week old son to rest after a terrible accident.
My friend, Natalie, left town to be with her ailing grandfather days after her son’s funeral. We were at her house freezing the innumerable pans of lasagna and chasing “bad” out of her house. You can call it ghosts, bad ju ju, whatever. We chased it out with brooms, shovels and steam cleaners. We hauled it away in a Chevrolet and washed it clean. We were extending God’s grace to a woman so desperately needing it in any way we knew how.
I went to Natalie’s home shortly after the ambulance took her baby, Tate, away and I rarely left for days afterward. Monday was spent in baby Tate’s room holding on to Natalie and holding on for Natalie. Witnessing the wail of a mother who feels crippling grief and guilt is something that changes your outlook on a number of things. Watching that mother being carried in to her baby’s funeral by her husband, daddy and brother affects people. This is why I needed to powerwash.
I was methodical. I didn’t want to leave evidence of a shoddy job but rather a slate wiped clean. That deck had been our summer headquarters for a number of years and it deserved a little care. I made long, deliberate horizontal strokes and washed the deck by sections. I washed the tops and sides of the railings and nearly everything else that wouldn’t be blown away by the powerful spray of water. I washed until the wood was dripping and new-looking.
I’ve never denied the fact that I talk to myself and that’s what I was doing as I was squeezing the trigger on the power washer that day. With every layer of age and grime that blew off the wood railing, something better was exposed and my thoughts were cleaner and clearer. I pondered what it meant to help a friend get through the worst tragedy of her life and what a gift it was for me when I went to town to purchase the clothes Tate’s father would wear to his funeral. I thought about how faith dictated the things that were said in a whisper and written on the inside of sympathy cards and how many people wrote checks to keep their hands busy.
There’s a story about the friends of an ailing man who carried him on a mat to be healed, one friend on each of the corners of the man’s mat. I thought of this story, tightened my grip on the power washing wand, tightened my grip on Natalie’s mat and carried on like a good little Ya Ya should.