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If it isn't written...

04/19/02 12:00AM By Willem Lange

If it isn't written, it doesn't exist. I've used that line a thousand times. But that's all it is: a line. I use it to inform my wife that whatever she's only asked me to do is not my responsibility. It's like whatever you were typing on your word processor when the power went off.

I use the line most in spring. As the birds return to begin nesting, their example proves irresistible to Mother. She remembers I used hunting season to defer last fall's projects, and suspects I'll use trout season to put them off again. So as the weather improves, I receive requests that, if I weren't a sportsman, would seem reasonable, but which in the context of my larger life, don't.

The other morning she said, "You remember I asked you last week to sand and refinish the oak threshold in the hall?"

"Mmm, no. Did you write it down? If it isn't written down, you know, it doesn't exist. I can't do it today. I'm going to the pond to see if the caddis are hatching yet."

Who could argue with that? Well, Mother, for one. But I've always found it easier to live with situations that couldn't get worse than those that were so good they were bound to; so we often achieve a compromise that takes the bloom off everybody's rose. The fishing is less fun because I should be doing something else; the threshold gets put off because I am doing something else; and nobody's very happy.

Frustrated by a list of uncompleted chores, Mother remembered that last Thanksgiving we accomplished miracles with a punch list. So Friday evening she said, "You've had a pretty good spring so far." A chill gripped my heart. "And you've got some trips coming up. I think you ought to forget the fishing for this weekend." She was right. So I resigned myself to a day at hard labor around the house.

At breakfast time Saturday I heard her approaching. "You say it doesn't exist unless it's written down?" she said. "Well, here it is." It was a clipboard with twenty tiny Post-It notes on it, each describing a separate task. Put knobs on closet doors. Move rocks. Help plant roses and junipers. Not too bad. And visually much better than a list. I had to hand it to her for creativity.

So for most of the day I pecked away at 'em. Planting roses is more complicated than it sounds. Cleaning the furnace was as bad as I'd expected. But knowing she was watching the spirit of the performance, I tried to be at least not unpleasant.

Mid-afternoon she headed for the grocery store. "What would you like me to pick up," she asked, "for a picnic?" A picnic? Where?

"Up at the pond. I'll read in the truck, and you can fish. But you won't have to justify it as research. Ken called, and said they're taking a size 14 Brown Caddis."

Yes! This is Willem Lange, living and learning in Etna, New Hampshire.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.
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