I must not complain
Just this morning, I complained that I had forgotten the night before to empty my dishwasher.
As I stared into a machine full of sparkling clean dishes, ready to be stacked into the cupboard, memories of growing up in Branch in the 1950s came to mind. My mother, caring for a family of nine, had no dishwasher. Heck, she didn’t even have indoor plumbing. Without the convenience of electricity, every drop of hot water had to be heated in a boiler on the big wood stove. I can picture it now, the large aluminum pan of steaming water.
For the life of me, I cannot remember any dishwashing liquid. It simply did not exist in our household when I was a child. Good old Sunlight Soap and a box of Rinso or Surf were the cleaning agents of choice. After a complete Sunday dinner with salt beef and cabbage, clearing it all up was no walk in the park. My sisters and I argued so much about washing dishes that sometimes we came to blows. I must try to remember this the next time I groan about an unloaded dishwasher.
With an automatic washer and dryer sitting side by side in my basement, I still find myself uttering mild expletives regarding dirty towels and dishcloths and the like. If I miss a few wash days, I mutter to myself about where all the dirty clothes come from. Then I wonder to God how my poor mother kept us all clean with no running water. Every ounce of water had to be lugged from outdoors. Getting clothes clean was difficult enough, but getting them dry could be next to impossible. With the propensity for fog in St. Mary’s Bay, no wonder clothes were always strung from one end of the kitchen to the other.
Because there was always a baby in the house, flannel diapers and little nighties took priority over everything else. And winter time was deadly! I often wonder what I would do now if I had to face a clothesline full of laundry, frozen as stiff as a poker. The amazing thing was that no matter how frozen our article of clothing was one day, the next day it would be ready for wearing. Looking back on it now, I am filled with appreciation and awe for my mother, and I remind myself to thank God for those people who invented automatic appliances.
I picture my mother on her knees, scrubbing the canvas floor, and then allowing me and a crowd of my friends to trample all over it in our boots. Here I am with sweepers and Swiffers and vacuums and machines that almost clean on their own. I spend a small fortune on Mr. Clean, Pine Sol and similar products. Yet, I question why my floors are not shiny and spotless, and the answer evades me.
And then there was bread, delicious, golden-crusted bread, which was a staple in every house. No matter how tired or how pregnant my mother was, there were times when midnight would find her up to her elbows in dough. In the dead of winter, the precious dough would have to be wrapped tightly to prevent freezing. Baking it, the next day, meant keeping lots of dry wood next to the big Findlay Oval range. With a sharp stab of conscience, I now realize how I took for granted, the enticing smell of those lovely loaves of manna. Yet, I have the audacity to grumble when the bread truck is late or the store is out my favourite brand. Worst of all, I haven’t baked my own bread in years.
I have come to a reasonable conclusion, however. I will never be as good a housekeeper as the generation of women before me, and as the title indicates, I must not complain.