Ask Miss Ophelia

20 May

Dear Miss Ophelia,

I’m a thirty-something-ish mother of five.  My children and I seem to be suffering from a severe case of shiftlessness.  Our house is a great mess and we often struggle to get all our work done.  I realize that this inability to accomplish what we set our hands to places us as objects of your entire contempt, yet I write to you today not so that you may take on a stony grimness towards us, but because your forte lies in doing.

We hope your level of action can help us find our path of duty.  If you could just tell us what we ought to do, I’m sure that we will be able to restore order.  It has come to my attention that conscientiousness is key to your shiftfull, (may I call it that?), way of life, and I believe it is something that lacks in ours.

In an effort to abide by your principles, I’ve already taken up the habit of knitting to pass those times when my hands seem idle.  I like to carry a little project in my purse to fill the inconveniently still moments in line at the grocery store, or while I wait for a traffic light to turn green.  Yet, sometimes my brain finds forms of work, like folding laundry and doing dishes, to be idle and so before I know it my hands are reaching for the knitting.  Have you experienced this problem?  How do you overcome it?

I hear you also have a great deal of expertise in cleaning out junk drawers.  We have a nasty one in our kitchen.  And another on my desk.  There might be a drawer in my bathroom that could use some attention as well.  And, well, pretty much the entire basement could be viewed as a drawer if looked at in the right light.  I am a bit worried though, your work with Dinah leads me to believe that you don’t approve of old shoes and hymnals in with pantry items.  I just want to warn you up front – this might be a difficult obstacle for me to overcome.

On the other hand, we all look forward to your lessons on bed-making for the children.  This morning my youngest threw out every blanket in his crib, including the fitted sheet and mattress cover.  It’s fair to say that he’s ready, and excited.

My husband anxiously awaits your reply.  If we haven’t heard anything soon he’ll be boarding a slow boat to Vermont to fetch you, that is, if I can get his suitcase closed.


Shiftless in Michigan


Posted by on May 20, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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7 responses to “Ask Miss Ophelia

  1. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    May 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    When Miss Ophelia is finished at your house, please send her my way.

    I confess: of all the literary characters I’ve come across so far, I can most relate to Dinah. Honestly — the overall chaos, the drawers, the excuses she gave — “I has things as straight as anybody, when my clarin’ up time comes.”

    Remember my spring cleaning post when I wrote about spending 10hrs. gutting closets? That was one of my “clarin’ up times”. And like Dinah, I didn’t really want my kids to use their closets again until the “ardor of the clarin’ up time abated”.

    (Awesome post, BTW)

    • Christina Joy

      May 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm

      Yes, Dinah and I, we’re like this *fingers crossed.”

      Oh, I loved your spring cleaning post. It reminded me that our mistletoe was(is) still hanging. I’m afraid the ardor here has long since abated. It’s about time for another “clarin’ out time.” Watch out, family.

  2. Sandy B.

    May 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    I loved this — how fun and clever!! : )
    Miss Ophelia would describe me as shiftless, too, I fear. At first, though I adored her compared to Marie St. Clare, I couldn’t relate to her because I don’t share her strengths. But I came to really like her, especially as her heart softened towards Topsy. I was also completely with her when she was insisting that St. Clare write out the papers for Topsy NOW. I found myself circling the word “now” over and over again in that chapter and writing exclamation points in the margin. I am quite a procrastinator, I confess, and I was very inspired by Miss Ophelia. I was thinking of writing a post called “Lessons in the Perils of Procrastination from Miss Ophelia” (but oops, I don’t have a blog yet!).

    Shiftless and Procrastinating — but Aspiring to Do Better — in Arizona : )

    • Adriana @ Classical Quest

      May 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      Yep. The “now” pricked my conscience too.

      ~In Denial in the Midwest

    • Christina Joy

      May 20, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      I think HBS did a beautiful job in approaching the problem of slavery from every perceivable angle. In Ophelia we have the northerner with all the answers, until she’s faced with actually solving the problems herself. I too, really enjoyed her transformation with Topsy and have found myself thinking about my relationships with my own children as a result. Oh, HBS, always the mother in her speaks to the mother in me.

      And “now!” Yes!!! How did I leave “now” out of this letter? I think my crying babies might be saying it from the other room as I type.

      Looking forward to your blog!

  3. Jeannette

    May 20, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks, Christina – witty and thoughtful post!


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