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  • There had been a leak in Mr. M.’s library that started on the ceiling and ran down one corner of the wall over the bookcases.
    The company sent me in for the final touch ups, after the plaster was repaired, the wallpaper replaced, the molding and trim repainted, the gilding restored.

    I had a ladder and drop cloth set up, and some plastic draped over the adjacent areas. Not that I would spill a drop of anything. I have very steady, careful and patient hands. Even when the rest of me might be raging my hands tell me, “Step back Madame and let us take over.” If I weren’t so attached to them I might suspect that they harbor a secret contempt for me, but we are a team and they appreciate my supporting role.

    I went about my work, quietly, and Mr. M went about his.
    Watching Mr. M work is a lesson. Even when he is not at home, just the sight of his desktop is instructive. He favors index cards as the preferred ‘Note to Self’, and they form a square around the desk surface. I imagine some cards change daily, and some over the course of the week. They cover his desktop and then there is space for a notepad, a small laptop and other documents, stacked not spread.
    He seems to think very precise thoughts in a very structured manner.
    While I was there, he made a series of phone calls, probably all lined up for him on one of his lists. Each of the phone calls sounded fresh, each seemed as if it were the first call of the day.

    When I went to work at his country home he sent a clear and accurate set of driving instructions along with personal comments about food and schedules.
    “Who does something like this?” asked my assistant when she read over his, typed notes.
    “A very successful person does,” I told her. “He does not want us to waste our time, or his. The directions are for any guest. He wants everyone to find their way and arrive relaxed and feeling cared for.”
    “Oh,” she said, “He is helping us.”
    All of the structure provided a freedom from anxiety. I knew what time they woke up, when they ate breakfast, lunch and dinner, and that after dinner and tea Mrs. M. liked to read in private, as was her custom at the start of the day.
    There was no guesswork over those details and therefore no conflict of expectations. Many people like to be rid of these structures and rejoice in the ‘freedom’ that they have without realizing the importance of being clear and up front.
    They are in control of their lives, and in many, very real ways, in control of others. But they are not cruel, or ‘bossy’ or manipulative or secretive. They are not passive aggressive. They are pure power. It is remarkably refreshing. Crystal clear. Most people will not let you know that they want to control you. The M.’s are graciously honest.

    He and his wife have an eye for details.
    When we stayed at their country home to work on the furniture they were gone during the week and came back on the weekends.
    “I notice you don’t use any ice,” they said.
    “I notice your generation does not make the bed,” they remarked.
    I got a phone call one afternoon, “I noticed there were two bagels left, please feel free to finish them.”
    I took pains to put all of our dishes from the week back in the order they were in before.
    “Did I get it right?” I asked Mrs. M., like a kid waiting for my grade.
    “Just right,” she said, and smiled.
    I could relax for a while.
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