Noe Valley Voice May 2000

Florence's Family Album: Signs of Life

By Florence Holub

Since becoming an octogenarian in 1999, I admit I've begun to act my age -- moving slower, sleeping more hours each night, and accomplishing much less during the day. But over the past two months, I seem to have miraculously picked up speed again.

In February, I had a sudden burst of energy directed almost exclusively at household chores! Before, I'd been able to neglect or overlook such drudgery completely.

The kitchen was my first target. I found myself scrubbing the floor and cleaning the stove, de-gunking the burners every few days, even scouring the bottoms of pots and pans. I knew things were getting out of hand when I painted the bathroom and began sorting through old clothes, shoes, and shopping bags in our closets. The day I found myself giving the not-half-bad kitchen curtains a critical appraisal, I started entertaining the notion that Martha Stewart had finally taken possession of my normally tranquil soul.

My man Leo couldn't help but notice the flurry of activity, and in March he asked -- in jest, of course -- if I was pregnant. He remembered the strange behavior that had preceded the birth of each of our three sons. My tidiness at that time was caused by the nesting instinct, but now, during these august years, why was I occupied in such pointless pursuits?

Last month I came across a plausible explanation. Minerva, who writes the Sunday horoscope column for the San Francisco Chronicle, clarified how my sign, Aquarius, the perennial gadabout, could have a sudden need to stay home and clean house like crazy. She suggested that three rather pushy planets -- Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn -- had been hanging out in my house and prodding me to shape up. I guess that's as good a reason as any.

Over the past decade, Leo and I both could have used more frequent visits from Jupiter and Saturn. For several years, the facade of our house on 21st Street has been in dire need of a new paint job. It was 30 years ago when our 19-year-old son Jan scaled a 30-foot extension ladder to cover the surface with brown paint. Jan is still a great fixer-upper, but he doesn't live in the area anymore, so last fall we began thumbing through the ads in the Noe Valley Voice. There we found an attractive advertisement for Robert's Quality Painting. It stated that no job was too small. We liked the sound of that.

In February, Robert started sanding and puttying, and then on days when it wasn't raining, dabbing on a fresh coat of brown paint over our poor weathered shingles. At the end of the job, our house looked like new!

In fact, the facade looked so fine, the wooden steps leading up to it seemed shabby by contrast. Fortunately, I was entering my Jupiter phase. So I painted the steps, which in turn made the plant ledge look bad. It was a week before things got up to snuff.

While doing the front steps, I could not bring myself to paint over a charming chalk drawing of a snail that our son Eric had done when he was a little kid. At Leo's suggestion, I painted around it. We are delighted we can continue to observe our talented son's early work. (He grew up to become a graphic artist and printer.)

One day we were admiring the shiny new facade when we noticed a fresh raccoon print on the ground next to the narrow space between our house and the neighbor's house down the hill. So the little masked beggars are still around, we thought.

We used to hear them romping on the roof at night, but for over a year we'd seen no sign of them. The footprint reminded me of a strange encounter I'd had about five years ago. One evening, while straightening up after dinner, I heard a thumping coming from the wall on the dining-room side of the house. The noise sounded like the scratching sound our dog Fred made when he sought relief from a flea or two. However, Fred was no longer with us.

When I went outside to investigate and peered into the crack between the two houses -- this space is barely big enough for a cat to squeeze through -- I was surprised to see a dark shadowy mass with two glowing eyes suspended 15 feet above the ground! How could the raccoon remain floating in midair?

It turned out that during the last roofing operation, a large piece of metal had slipped down and lodged between the houses, providing a secure daytime sleeping bunk for our neighborhood's more clever nocturnal creatures.

After we saw the new evidence of raccoons, Leo decided to join in my tidying-up frenzy and clean out the debris that had collected around the outside of the house. In all, he removed three barrels of aged cedar shingles, broken bits of asphalt, and an unclaimed pair of nylon pantyhose. (Perhaps one of our house guests dropped it from a window.) Then he got a pole and poked out the two-by-three-foot dented piece of metal that had served as the raccoons' posturepedic mattress. Please forgive us, furry ones!

Getting back to horoscopes... A few years ago we were at a dinner party and one of the guests remarked that she was having trouble with a person she worked with, adding that she always had difficulty with people born under the sign of Libra. Thoughtlessly, I volunteered that my mother-in-law was a Libra, to which she blurted out, "See!" Before I could say a word in defense of my admirable mother-in-law, our host, who was a noted physicist, interrupted with, "You don't believe in that stuff, do you?"

Actually, it was my mother-in-law who first introduced me to the Zodiac. Since she knew the exact moment of her two sons' births, she had asked a professional astrologer to chart their future. He told her that her youngest son, Richard, would achieve success early in life. This turned out to be true: Richard Holub was in his 20s when he was decorated with a Legion of Merit medal while serving in the Air Force during World War II.

The seer then predicted that her other son (my man Leo) would find success later in life. Leo has always been a respected and dedicated worker, but recognition did arrive late in his career, and we're happy his mother lived long enough to savor it.

It seems to me mankind has forgotten how vital astrology has been to us. According to the encyclopedia, the ancient stargazers studied the heavenly bodies and divided them into 12 divisions that gave us our present year. Three thousand years ago in Babylonia, astrology was consulted for large-scale events such as wars, floods, and eclipses. In the 4th century B.C., the Greeks worked out individual destinies based on the moment of birth. Soon, the Romans and Arabs became the chief exponents of astrology and astronomy. During the 15th and 16th centuries, astrology was one of the foremost sciences taught in European universities.

In the 18th century, astrology and medicine were closely linked. Each sign was associated with a part of the body, so birth signs indicated weaknesses the patient was subject to. My sign, Aquarius, rules the circulation, and Aquarians are said to suffer from varicose veins (I've got 'em), as well as hardening of the arteries (not yet, but how can I tell?).

Leo is a Sagittarius, with Aquarius rising, according to his mother. (Astrologers consider the rising sign to be as important an influence as the sun sign.) That could explain why he too has recently become work-driven.

Do I believe in all that stuff? Well, only when it seems helpful. Still, I would really like to know how much longer these pesky planets are going to be staying in my house!