ďThe Chinese symbol for discord is two women in the kitchen.Ē
He thought he was mumbling imperceptibly, but we could hear what Harold was saying as he walked out of the room. We knew he was right, but we glared at him anyway. Millie and I didnít look at one another, but we both watched him, and Iím fairly sure it was the power of that glare which forced him out of the room.
We worked in silence. She brought the potatoes up from the cellar. It was, after all, her house. She washed some of them, and I washed some of them. I went about doing it the way I usually would, but then it occurred to me that maybe I should watch the way she was washing them.
She ran the water as she held the potato in her hearty hand. She grabbed a brush from the sideboard and scrubbed the potato vigorously until brown turned to tan and the peel was nearly scrubbed off the thing. She would quickly grab another from the bowl, giving each potato the same amount of care and attention.
I took a deep breath. I didnít usually scrub that hard, but I figured that I should start. This was, after all, her house. I should respect the way she does things and, perhaps even follow suit. I was learning as I went along. There was no precedent for this situation in my life, no one to guide me.
Brian and I had lived on our own as man and wife for two years. I was beginning to come into my own as a housewife. Then one day we came home to find that our apartment had sustained terrible damage from an electrical fire. That night we moved in with Brianís parents and had to start all over again.
Gone was my nest and my control over it. I found myself in another womanís nest. Lost. My mother-in-law and I always got along very well, but things were tense when Brian and I first moved in with my in-laws after the fire. I didnít realize it at first, maybe because we were still in a daze over the trauma of the fire, but we would drop our belongings and leave them where they fell. That didnít bode well with Millie.
She keeps her home impeccably clean. She was constantly picking up after us. Under normal conditions, she actually enjoys house-cleaning. She enjoys it so much that she has even picked up house-cleaning jobs for some extra money. This was a different story.
She tried to be patient and cut us some slack, but I could hear the heavy sighs as she picked up our stuff. I was oblivious to it at first, but then I became more sensitive to it, and, finally, I, too, began to be more tidy.
I was picking up my things out of personal responsibility and respect for her, but I still felt out of sorts. I was living in a house that wasnít mine. Outside of taking care of my belongings, I didnít feel comfortable cleaning the house. Cleaning seems to me to be a personal thing between a woman and her house. I did want to make some kind of contribution to the household, though.
For the first few months, mealtime was always a series of questions. Who wanted what, who was going to cook what. Then things changed.
One night I offered to cook dinner for the whole family. Of course it still wasnít my house. It wasnít even my food, but for a short while my domain was the kitchen. Dinner came out great, and everyone was pleased. So, I cooked dinner again the following night.
And the night after that.
Before long we had worked out a solution to the full nest syndrome. I would cook dinner every night, and Millie would clean the house. That was fine with her. Cooking wasnít her favorite chore. Cleaning was.
For a little while every day I had my own spaceóthe kitchen. I found freedom in the creative task of cooking. I even washed the potatoes my own way.
Although our physical space was cramped for the year and a half that we spent living under the same roof, at dinnertime my mind and fancy were free to explore. It may sound corny, but my spirit did actually soar during those solitary times in the kitchen.
When we use our gifts things go much more smoothly.
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