Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Tale of Johnny Town Mouse

I can’t reconstitute dried beans.

I don’t know why.  I soak them.  I boil them.  I follow the directions to the letter, but, every time I try, all I end up with is a pile of hard, moldy beans and no dinner.

This is because I am a Johnny Town Mouse.  I’m sure that even those of you hazy on your Beatrix Potter know the story: country mouse visits the city, is completely lost.  Town mouse visits the country, is completely lost.  Upshot: we all have a situation that works for us, and there is nothing wrong with that.

"And what you do call this bit of greenery, Timothy William?"

I make no judgements about town or country mice.  It’s just how we are built, and I’d like to think we all have our uses.  In my mind, being a certain mouse has less to do with setting, and more with skill set.  This town mouse lives mainly in her own head, and sometimes forgets to pay sufficient attention to the physical task at hand.  If being a town mouse meant living in town and having a glamorous lifestyle, I wouldn’t be out here on the water, wearing worn-out t-shirts and scrubbing pots using the salt water pump.  No, we town mice just need a layer of infrastructure between us and actual skilled work.   To illustrate, the son of a friend was once asked where milk comes from.  He promptly answered, “the store.”  That is a town mouse.  If you need some reading or writing done, or Mom-ing, or, really, anything that I can produce in my own sweet time, I’m your girl.  Just don’t ask me to understand how things work.

Erik, on the other hand, is a Timmy Willie Country Mouse: practical and quick-thinking to the tips of his toes.  Erik is the man you want on your side when things go wrong, because he immediately has six ideas to fix it.  He has a wrench in his hand while I’m still back on, “Oh, something broke?”  I can drive a car; Erik can fix a car.

Unfortunately for me, living on a boat is Country Mouse territory.  This became clear to me again when we had to fuel the boat before leaving Nuku Hiva.  Normally we pull alongside the fuel dock, but this dock was a sheer concrete wall built for container boats, and was too high for us.  There was a risk a wave would tip us right into the wall, even with the fenders out.

“We’ll do a med-style anchor,” said Erik.
I looked blankly at him.
He rolled his eyes and took a breath.  This is a clue that he has explained this to me before, but I did not retain the information.  (I’ll admit the possibility.“We’ll set the anchor, back up on it and go stern-to the dock and set stern lines,” he finished.

So far so good.  Anchoring and stern lines I can do.  We set the anchor and backed up... but there was no one on the dock to take lines.

“Dinghy the lines over,” orders the captain.

I try to drop the dinghy from the davits, but the bow is stuck.  Erik rushes over to set it free.  I get in the dinghy, but can’t open the shackles fast enough to keep water from pouring in from the stern tube.  Then the motor won’t start.

Erik is, by this time, almost incandescent.  I am not nearly speedy enough.  Before I know it, he is in the dinghy with both lines, and is climbing the fuel dock wall like a gecko.

I won’t even get into what we went through when the lines weren’t long enough, and I couldn’t immediately produce a rolling hitch.

So I am a girl who buys tins of beans.

This mystifies Erik.  He does not understand why my beans don’t work.  And I’m sure his beans would turn out plump and soft if he ever went near the kitchen [/cheap shot].  Because Erik is a Timmy Willie.

Not long ago, we made the acquaintance of a few other boats.  One evening, the ladies were sitting around talking, and it emerged that one of our friends has a farm back home.  So, instead of buying flour before setting out, they brought their own grain aboard along with a handmill.  Another woman also did the grain/mill thing, and so they traded tips.

When we returned to Papillon, I related this story to Erik in a can-you-believe-it kind of a way.  He turned to me with a small frown.  “What do you mean?” he said.  “I thought that was a great idea.”  We stared at each other, the town-country gulf yawning between us.

How to explain to my dear spouse?  I wasn’t making fun of our friends – not at all.  But I am impressed with myself when I bake a loaf of bread... in our breadmaker.  And even that fails sometimes.  I am at the outer limit of my country skills.  Trying to mill my own flour would mean ending up with a grassy, grainy mess.  Not flour.  No question.

A few weeks later my mother came to visit.  I told her about the grain and the mill, and she reacted just the way I did: she laughed in disbelief.  Because I inherited my town-mousery honestly.  During her visit, we brought up the mill again and again to tease Erik.  And, every time, he earnestly tried to convince us what a good idea it was.  And my mom and I giggled, because the idea was so outlandishly ridiculous.  Of course it was a good idea – just not for us.  We lack the mindset, we lack the skill set.

Some days I wish I were a country mouse.  They seem so quick and capable.  But then I sit back against the cockpit cushions with my cup of tea and my book, and I know it will never happen.  I’d much rather take a walk with the girls or write these stories to you.

And that is why I have thirty tins of red kidney beans in my locker.  Better safe than sorry.


Tamara said...

I'm so with you! I once thought Tom was teasing me when we said that his dad was changing the car's oil in the driveway. "What, like he transported a service station here and told the technicians to change the oil?!?"

Apparently, you can change your car's oil without help from a professional. And put new shingles on the roof. And snake a drain.

I'm simply proud of knowing phrases like "snake a drain". They were foreign to me prior to meeting Tom.

Kate said...

Beans are tricky. I have mastered level 1 - where it takes three times longer than the package says, the beans are edible, but not tasty. I am a town mouse too. No shame. We have other skills :)

Love Kate

Anonymous said...

Red Kidney Beans are only palatable in chili as far as I know.

Us townies admire the country folk's skills but are quite content to live the townie life. I still laugh at those girls grinding their flour- seems like a lot of extra work to me.

Love Mom