One day in the life of the Hibdon family.
This is a true story. Mostly.
Now that the Hibdon kitchen had been completed for more than a month and a half, Mrs. Hibdon decided it was time to unpack the boxes in the basement and move back into the kitchen. The rest of the family was rather confused at her statement that “there are important things in those boxes,” since they had survived without them for several months. The younger Hibdons’ idea of a necessity was something that was useful; for instance, a cake pan or rolling pin. To their knowledge, all such necessities had already been restored to their permanent residences in the kitchen; however, there were still a few empty shelves, so they were forced to admit that there might be a few items missing.
After breakfast, Mrs. Hibdon asked her daughter Susan to carry the remaining boxes upstairs. When this was done, she pointed out a sink full of soapy water and asked “Now, will you please start on the walls?” The blank look on Susan’s face must have indicated her mystification at this request, so Mrs. Hibdon clarified it with “You can tell how dusty they are.”
“You want me to wash the walls.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Didn’t I do that last week?”
“Of course, but you can’t expect things to stay clean for any length of time.”
Susan had been in this situation before, and knew it was useless to argue. “Resistance is futile,” she muttered as she went to work.
Five minutes later, Mrs. Hibdon stepped down from her chair (where she had been vacuuming the shelves, which her youngest daughter, Ellen, had cleaned just two weeks earlier) and inspected Susan’s work.
“Wait a minute, you’re not telling me this is done, are you?”
“Umm… Well, no, I never said a word, but now that you mention it—”
“What’s all this dust? This is not a good job. You have to go over it three times. Once up and down, then rinse the sponge, then across and rinse it again, then one last time to get off whatever you didn’t get the first time.”
“I went over it twice…”
“Well, there’s still dust on here. Do it again.”
Susan’s first impulse was to comment that “you can’t expect things to stay clean for any length of time,” but then she remembered the window washing episode of last summer. With a suppressed sigh, she went to work.
Half an hour later, Mrs. Hibdon checked the walls, and Susan was relieved to see that they met her satisfaction. She was about to leave the room when Mrs. Hibdon bent over and peered up to see the bottom of the cabinets.
“Wait a minute, did you do this part? You have to do the cabinets, they get dust on them too you know.”
“Mmmmhmmmmnnnnnnngg…” Susan tried to smother a groan of astonishment. Seventeen years had not been enough to accept her mother’s delusions, and every day brought with it a surprise that, in retrospect, seemed to fit in perfectly with Mrs. Hibdon’s patterns of derangement.
During the next few minutes, while Susan was intent on her dust removal, Mrs. Hibdon set out to put all those important items (whose identity was, as yet, unknown) in the newly spotless cabinets. The Hibdon children had long since learned to block out all but the one most pressing foolishness of their mother’s, so Susan tried not to observe her activities too closely. This was, of course, impossible when Mr. Hibdon entered the room and said in shock, “Mary, what are you doing?”
Mrs. Hibdon replied, in equal shock, “I’m putting this stuff away. What does it look like I’m doing?”
Mr. Hibdon recovered quickly from his initial state of stupefaction, and was now trying to calmly sort through the boxes on the floor to establish just what “this stuff” might be. Susan turned and, surveying the scene, attempted to contain a wild giggle. Picking up an old coffeepot, Mr. Hibdon inquired, “when were you thinking we might use this? They don’t even make filters to fit this thing any more.”
“Of course they do. They make everything you could ever want to buy, we just don’t know where to find them. Why would we keep that around if it was useless? Besides, we’ve had it for years. We can’t throw it away.”
“Yes, dear. And what about this?”
“What about it?”
“Why don’t we throw it away?”
“Throw it away! We can’t throw that away! Look at it, it’s beautiful!”
“Oh, you’re right. What is it?”
There were several seconds of oppressive silence while the three pondered the object in Mr. Hibdon’s hands. “I think it’s a shortbread mold,” offered Susan.
“Hey, yeah, I think you’re right. See, we can’t throw that away; it’s part of our Scottish heritage,” Mrs. Hibdon said.
With a laugh (cleverly disguised as a cough) Mr. Hibdon said, “Mary, it would take two recipes of shortbread to fill this thing, and you would only get six pieces out of it.”
Mrs. Hibdon, trying to sidestep reality, said firmly, “David, we are not throwing that away. We will need it someday, and then where will we be?”
“In an uncluttered kitchen?” attempted Susan. Mr. Hibdon laughed until he saw his wife trying not to do the same. “Okay, why don’t we put all of this in the garage?”
(The family garage was filled with furniture that Mrs. Hibdon said she was going to refinish, but never actually did. Thus came about the term “garage-ing,” which the young Hibdons defined as “the disappearance of any purposeful household item.”)
“Good idea, Susan.”
“No, we can’t put it out there.”
“WHY NOT?” exclaimed Mr. Hibdon, who had already picked up one of the boxes and was on his way out the door.
“Because it’s cold out there,” declared Mrs. Hibdon. “I mean, if we ever want any of that, we’ll have to stand in the cold and sort through everything.”
“What are you talking about? We’ve already established that WE ARE NEVER GOING TO USE ANY OF THIS!” cried Susan in exasperation.
“Besides, there’s no room in the garage.”
“Oh, that’s right. The garage is full, because that’s where we put the things that are practical, like doors and chairs,” Susan recalled.
At that moment, something caught Susan’s eye. “A waffle iron! How did that get in that box?”
“Oh, that goes in the cupboard with the spice rack. Will you put it away?”
“What’s this waffle doing in it?”
Mrs. Hibdon poked it and said, “Hmm, when was the last time we had waffles?”
Susan’s curiosity got the better of her, and she inquired, “Is it in the crusty stage of stale, or has it gone through the complete cycle so it’s spongy again?” All of the Hibdons knew about the staleness cycle, known as the “Archway Ginger Snap Effect,” so named because Mr. Hibdon bought a bag of Archway Ginger Snaps about every six months. He always insisted that he loved them, but for some reason, only about four of the cookies were actually eaten. Every two weeks, one of the children took out a cookie to run tests on it, and it was found that staleness was not a continuum (as is generally assumed by the public), but a cycle that runs from a hard, crusty state (when most people throw whatever it is away) to a pseudo-normal, squishy state.
“Boy, is this thing old. David, will you throw this away?” requested his wife, tossing it to him. “Wait a minute Susan, you can’t put that there.”
“Why not? This is the cabinet with the spice rack.”
“I know, but that has to go on the shelf with the crock pot and the fondue pot so there’s room on the top shelf for these ashtrays.”
With great effort, Susan resisted the urge to slap some sense into her mother, since she knew it would never work anyway. She was suddenly faced with three absolutely ridiculous facts: One, that somehow she was supposed to cram a waffle iron onto a shelf that was already crowded with a crock pot and a fondue pot; two, that they even owned a fondue pot; and three, that she was making room for ashtrays.
“Ashtrays? What do we need ashtrays for?”
“Hey! Back in the sixties, we used to know people who smoked.”
“Right! The key words here are ‘back in the sixties,’ when Johnson was president, people wore bellbottoms, you made tuna casserole, and smoking was the hip, groovy thing to do. Notice that all of those things are bad ideas.”
“Well, it might be a bad idea, but people still do smoke.”
“That’s beside the point! The only way we will ever use those ashtrays is if we meet someone who smokes, and we live in Utah, so that’s pretty much hopeless in itself. Not only that, but we will have to actually like them enough to invite them to our house, and furthermore, we have to like them enough to let them smoke in our house. None of those things will ever happen! We don’t like anyone enough to invite them to our house!”
“Not true. We don’t dislike anyone enough to invite them to our house,” chuckled Mr. Hibdon as he threw a mystery object into the trash on top of the waffle.
“Hey, wait a minute! What are you doing?”
“Sorry, my hand slipped. Hi, Martin, hi, Ellen, how are you?” he greeted his son and youngest daughter, who had just walked in the door.
“Fine. What’s going on?” asked Ellen, trashing a bent spoon.
“Hey! What are you doing?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing at all,” she replied, retrieving it.
Martin, who had been standing in the doorway and looking around with a quizzical expression on his face, turned and left the room without a word.
“Well, you guys can all make fun of me, but I know I’m right. You’ll all be sorry someday when you don’t have that shortbread mold.”
Susan wrote this story during her senior year of high school. The assignment was to write a satire reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice.
The part about the waffle is 100% true.
This article appeared on pages 18–21 of Issue 11 | July 2013.