Friday, September 25, 2009

Dishwashers and dry sinks

My dishwasher broke down a few days ago. So for three days I did dishes by hand. Now that might sound like "big deal, whatever, three days, quit complaining or shut up completely you lazy, whining slob." And I admit that's exactly what it sounds like. But I wasn't complaining. Honest. Granted, I was eager to have my dishwasher fixed, and if the repairman hadn't been able to do so (which he did yesterday), I would have bought a new one this weekend.

What I really felt for three days, however, was guilt.

My father grew up on a farm during the Depression--as in the *real* Depression, not the Feeling Sad that the U.S. has experienced this last year. I don't want to minimize what the declining economy did and continues to do to some families. But this wasn't a Depression, not if most of you got to keep your homes, not to mention your satellite dishes and cell phones and iPods and laptops.

But that's not my point. My point is that my father and my mother and my aunts and uncles and my grandparents experienced the real thing. My father wrote and published a Christmas book a number of years ago entitled The Hired Man's Christmas. It's a true story and takes place during his childhood. One of the most poignant moments in it for me is his retelling of a trip his family took to town so his parents could buy a box of "dog food"--a box of broken cookies from the bakery, bits and pieces, some of which had likely been on the floor before making it to the box, that used to be sold as dog food before the Depression hit the small town in Upstate New York. My father talks about the shame he could see on his father's face as he went in to purchase the box, the bakery owner knowing my grandfather didn't have a dog . . . but he did have a young son.

Dad held the box on his lap on the way home, sneaking in a bite here and there, his father silent and unwilling to chastise him.

My father's family was, in truth, barely touched by the Depression. It was hard to hit a family that was already so poor they didn't yet have indoor plumbing--a family so poor that the house was never warm in the winter. My grandmother had to get up before everyone else on the farm so she could start the fire in the kitchen's wood stove and melt the dishtowels that had frozen onto it overnight.

The farm was what Dad used to call "hardscrabble." He and my grandfather and my uncles--when they weren't overseas in WWII--worked hard and the farm still failed. My grandfather tried to raise dairy cows for a while, only to have to put them all down when the government ordered him to during a livestock health scare. By the time my grandfather was in his 50s, life had beaten him down completely. He died a painful and slow death from lung cancer before I was born.

But my grandmother? She kept going, because that's what women did then.

I have a ledge that runs around my eat-in kitchen, and it's filled with antique kitchen tools: butter molds, rolling pins, fat strainers, hog scrapers, wooden spoons and forks. They're reminders to me of a harder and, in many ways, more grateful life.

The antique I covet the most, however, is the dry sink I don't own.

When we were looking at homes before buying this one, we put an offer in on one in a different neighborhood. The woman selling it had a dry sink in her front room and was willing to include it in the contract because my realtor had told her realtor how much I wanted it. I was sorrier to lose the dry sink than to lose the house.

As I was doing dishes by hand this week, I thought about how much--especially free time--we have today. My washing machine and dryer work well. My wood floors are varnished and don't require daily scrubbing. My air conditioning keeps my windows closed and the dust off my furniture and rugs. I don't have a fireplace hearth to keep cleaned. I don't have farm animals to feed--or to kill and clean. I have more than I need. We all do.

So what am I doing with that free time--the free time my father didn't have when he was a child, the free time my grandmother didn't have when she was 40 . . . or 50 or 60 or even 70? Am I making good use of it? One of the things that upsets me the most is hearing anyone--but particularly adults--say they are bored. Bored! My mother always told me, "Only boring people are bored." I believe that only lazy people are bored. There's so much to do, so much to be grateful for, so much time and resources to take advantage of. Bored. We should be ashamed to ever use that word.

I'll get a dry sink one of these days . . . when I find just the right one, the one that calls to me, the one that feels smooth under my hands, the one I can picture in my house--the one I can picture in my grandmother's house. Wen it's finally sitting against my wall, I'll look at it and cry. And then find something to do that is worth doing.


Ron said...

Great post -- but just where do you plan on putting this dry sink you're on the lookout for?

Bobbie said...

Don't worry. If we find it, I'll make room for it. I'm thinking behind me and under your lightning photo.

Maryanne said...

I can't understand the bored statement either-- I always want to say, come with me, i have plenty for you to do. I often wonder about the hard life people really used to live. My life feels hard enough and it is nothing like the endless work that generation faced.

Dean said...

Excellent post. It reminds me of a poem I re-encountered recently.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

by Robert Hayden

Bobbie said...

Dean, that poem is beautiful and vaguely familiar. And reading it made me cry. Thank you (truly).