When it comes to the life of Ruth’s mother Helen, we saw her devastation after her husband abandoned the family which caused her to commit suicide by driving into the Fingerbone Lake. As a result, Ruth and her sister Lucille were left to the care of their grandmother, Sylvia who tried to bring back ‘normalcy’ into their lives by implementing housekeeping routines. Grandmother Sylvia tried to execute her task of bringing up Ruth and Lucille by imposing a routine of rigid and conservative housekeeping like that of Fingerbone community.
When Sylvia died, Ruth and Lucille’s aunts, Lily and Nona, took over to care for them but they became anxious when their own housekeeping routines are disrupted by the adolescents. Eventually, Lily and Nona searched out for their aunt Sylvie Foster to care for her nieces. And this is where the story starts to take shape. Sylvie’s Erratic Housekeeping in Ruth’s Eyes When Sylvie came into the lives of Ruth and Lucille, she introduced an unconventional way of tending to her nieces through her own ways of housekeeping. That is, her idea of nurturing the Ruth and Lucille includes not requiring them to attend school and socialize with everyone.
Being a drifter, Sylvie did her best to ‘keep the house in order’ in her own erratic ways. For instance, she leaves the doors of the house constantly open in order for the girls to sleep outside and explore the woods. Moreover, under Sylvia Fosters care, the window is used only in daylight and the curtains have no functional use because the window is used at night. Because Sylvie "dislikes the disequilibrium of counterpoising a roomful of light against a world full of darkness", they eat their evening meal in the dark, with the kitchen lights off.
This particular scene about how Sylvie disliked the contrast of a dark window against a lighted room revealed the complete mess and disarray of Sylvie’s housekeeping skills – stack of old cans and newspapers, leaves which have gathered in the corner, and burned curtains hanging on the window that had never been replaced. In this case, Sylvie seemed to view housekeeping in a metaphorical sense as described by Ruth in the following passage: “ There were scraps of paper among them, crisp and strained from their mingling in the cold brown liquors of decay and regeneration and on these scraps there were sometimes words.
One read ‘Powers Meet’ and another, which had been a flap of an envelope, had a penciled message in an anonymous hand: ‘I think of you’.