Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Morning Thanks--Sunday dishes

Because I was raised by a father who washed dishes, you may think of me as one of those proverbial apples who don't fall far from the tree. That's not true of every last male in the universe, but probably far more today than once was. 

Among the good farm folk of the region, daily tasks were once strictly segregated: men worked outside, women worked in. I remember watching my mother-in-law serve her husband coffee and what not else, as if they were master and slave. They weren't. He just happened to be occupying a principality where he lifted no fingers. He was inside.

I'm not complaining about doing dishes, and I'm troubled to admit my wife and I don't share household tasks. She does far, far more. I do them once in a while. Sin abounds.

But on Sunday, after dinner, lately I have been appointed to all the clean up. Everything. It's a dastardly plot created by our grandson, a first-grader, who steals his grandma away into the basement to play Legos. He neither needs nor cares about me because she gets right down there on the floor with him and does whatever appointed task he has in mind. Last Sunday they were making a movie. She was a gaffer or something. 

"Papa can do the dishes," he ruled long ago on a Sabbath, grabbing his grandma's hand. She leaves smiling, a mess of dinner detritus in her wake. 

I don't roll my eyes, just my sleeves. I don't go into some kind of black funk. I do the dishes. As appointed. By myself. On Sunday. After the biggest meal of the weak. Alone--did I mention that?

My wife, the farm girl, likes this new Sabbath tradition. She makes dinner alone, because in her kitchen helpmeets are hindrance. She's the kind of artist who will only work alone in her studio. She creates Sunday dinner. Ergo, I clean up after.  Just and fair division of labor.

Okay, maybe I was a not thrilled yesterday. It's my job and I know it, but just because I know what I have to do doesn't mean I relish doing it. I was scraping dishes and scouring pots, all by my lonesome, when I realized my father-in-law, who's 97, was standing close by.

Age has made most of his physical movements troubled. He doesn't walk well, even though he's at the controls of a walker he could no more do without. He probably needs a wheelchair, but seems to understand that he will be sentenced to one the moment he stops exercising; so he walks around the room after dinner, unsteadily and not without strain and pain, as he did yesterday. And then, once he'd circled things, there he was a couple arm reaches away, watching me, watching and dreaming he could help.

He used to. He used to do absolutely everything for his invalid wife. When she died, he used to help with dishes here, carting dirty glasses and dishes from table to kitchen counter. He used to do what he could. No more because, in truth, there's very little he can. He's got his mind, but his world is ever smaller and doesn't include doing Sunday dishes.

There he stood, in silence, tap water running in the sink in front of me when suddenly it dawned on me how much he would have loved being able to do what I was doing. How much he would have wanted walk down our stairs and get down on the floor with his great-grandson. All of a sudden I knew he would have done anything to help. Done dishes alone. Spent all afternoon in the kitchen, if he could somehow make himself useful.

With him standing beside me, that walker between us, just for a moment in my soapy hands those dirty dishes turned into a blessing.

And that's why this morning I'm thankful for washing dishes, and humbled by so much I can do. 

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