Sunday, June 6, 2010

I'm Not a Slave Anymore

It has bothered me almost all my life that women cook and wash up, while men joke, eat and doze. I must have made a vow, when I was a girl child washing dishes after family suppers, that I wasn't going to be a kitchen slave when I grew up.

In the extended family I was born to, there was no wonderful sacred society of women cooking mysterious dishes and delicious meals, secretly passing on the legacy from generation unto generation unto the sixth or seventh generation of them that love to eat.

My grandmothers on both sides of the family were the offspring of rural folk who made do with what they had, and it was obvious that what they had was not exotic. We had plain old American meat and potatoes, served with a Jello salad and maybe a sheet cake, or possibly a cobbler, for after. For excitement, there was sometimes the relish dish, made up of store-bought sweet pickles and canned olives served in a fine glass dish divided down the center for this very purpose.

The most exotic and mysterious I ever saw my grandmothers get about kitchen duty was when my dad’s mom, a largish lady decked out in an old dress with a homemade floral apron over it, cleaned some butchered chickens at the sink while I watched. She showed me the grit inside the gizzards. I thought that was interesting.

But generally, there was nothing of note going on in the kitchen except work on the part of the family women. The family men, waiting for the women to feed them, sat around in the living room and made fun of each other.

In the early 1960s I was old enough to be enlisted for KP by my mother after we ate. No one asked me if I preferred to play with my cousins. I don’t remember being asked about my preferences at all. It was just a bald order: Get in there and help with the dishes. To be honest, my big brother had to do it too. We were burdened with one dirty dish after another, as the women put the food away, and sometimes we could hear manly snores from the living room.

And there I think I made my vow, while staring down at the cold, soapless dirty dishwater I had my hands in trying to find that elusive last spoon, and here comes my ma with a giant kettle of encrusted mashed potatoes and she plops it into that water…I vowed that I would not wear this ball and chain when I was a grown-up.

Well, I grew up, got a great job, got feminist, and still cooked and washed up while the men joked and watched football or whatever on TV. I think I divorced my first husband because of it.

Now my dearest is retired, and he's the head cook and I'm the chief bottle washer. It is good and right and fair. He makes more than meat and potatoes too. And so can I. Apparently we both have become the sacred society of kitchen workers because our respective children call us and ask for our secret recipes.

Here’s my secret recipe for candied yams, recently requested by my daughter Milo:
Open a big can of cooked yams, drain and dump it in a casserole dish.
Put some brown sugar and butter in a bowl with a wee bit of water and stir it around a little after nuking it. Pour it over the yams.
Put a bunch of mini marshmallows on top and bake it for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Very mysterious and everyone loves it.

If you know a kitchen slave, or you are one, I share these vital words: Break the chain, while you still can!


Nessa said...

We have a whole family of non-traditionalists. Everyone does everything. Stereotypical behavior is good-naturedly ridiculed when we see it.

Mrsupole said...

I think I made that same vow and still stick to it mostly. Somehow after years of me not doing much cooking or cleaning my hubby has finally started doing it and it is great. We also have kicked the restaurant habit since watching some show about how unclean a lot of them are. Something about if you cannot see inside the kitchen, to not eat there.

So now we mostly eat foods that are frozen and sometimes I am not even sure how safe that is. I am slowly trying to get back into cooking again but due to the back and shoulder pains it is sometimes hard to want to cook. Mostly we make a lot of sandwiches for dinner now. It is okay but I do want to cook more.

Maybe the chain to be broken is that men should want to learn how to cook and clean if they expect their wives to work.

I remember visiting on the farms in Indiana and the men ate first, the children second, and the women got to eat if there was anything left. The one good thing about that is the women did not have a weight problem, but if I had to follow those rules then I would be taste testing all of the food before it was served. Yes, I hated those rules and totally broke the chain.

God bless.

Brian Miller said...

smiles. at least you are doing it together right? thats a step in the right direction...i smiled at your recipe...hope you have a great day..

Elisabeth said...

I'm not a save either, but sometimes I wonder.

When my husband or daughters cook, I act as sous chef. You know the one who helps, cleans up after, assists in all those pesky little ways, but I've never really enjoyed my own sous chef.

My husband and I often share the cooking and it's so much better and easier. He will complete all those things I hate to do, like washing spinach. I hate to wash spinach, and chopping onions.

But I tend to do the lion's share of cleaning up.

I'm not a slave though, however much I might sometimes feel this way. I get help, and I do a minimum of housework.

Thanks for a terrific post.

Shadow said...

you are one good girl. i must say i putter around the kitchen a huge amount of time, fortunately i love it. but the guys do get to put everything in the dishwasher...

Birdie said...

funny post Chris :-) I grew up hearing "eat, eat, eat" and at the same time "don't eat too much you gonna be fat nobody will love you" ... it's terrible what words can do to you; I hated food, yet I was addicted to it; it was my prison and my hell for over a decade. When I started to cook for my son, I started to enjoy it. I looked up at the recipes on the net and I actually for the very first time started to even enjoy eating. I try new recipes and I enjoy it. And I don't mind the dishes neither but I have to say that my husband helps with that, so I'm lucky.

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...

I feel this relation of experience. I am also the chief bottle washer to the chief cook, I also play sou chef chopping and prepping to his mastery of creative blending and cooking.

:) It's more fun now, and i feel a part of rather than relegated to slavery.

I was never a slave before either, I believe now that my Grandma understood just how hard my grandpa worked on the farm; yard, animals, garden, equipment, and how hard he worked while they lived in the city too, 2 jobs where he was up at 4am and not home until 5-6pm after laboring hard all day (not a suit and tie type of job).

They were equals, I just didn't see it because I only saw what she did as my reflection.

I also see now how much my g-pa loved her. She got a drivers license only 5 years before she died. Before that G-pa would drive her everywhere, he would sit for hours waiting for her to sift through stores, fabric samples, malls... he was a patient and loving man. She finally decided to get a drivers license which was fun to watch and be a part of as she learned. :) G'pa was very patient and kind.

She hated traveling, and he sacrificed that want and stayed close to home until her death after her death he experienced lots of traveling. I never knew it was a sacrifice for him until she died.

I guess I never bothered to look at both sides because I heard this stuff about female empowerment and suddenly I believed that my family was a reflection of dis-harmony.. that the women were obviously brainwashed and oppressed. I was going to break the mold. :)

LOL - Not so much

TechnoBabe said...

Love it!! I made the same decision in my first marriage. Okay so I didn't work but was raising three little kidlings and washing and scrubbing and cooking my rear end off. I hated holidays. Extended family get togethers and women working the entire time and men laughing resting watching TV smoking drinking making fun of the women. What a great time for the men. After the divorce I told my kids things would be different. And they were. Forever. Good for you. I really like the way you wrote this. And hey, the recipe sounds delish and perfect for me.

Andrew said...

I'm the oldest of seven, five boys and then two girls.

My brothers and me were always put to work cleaning up and washing the dishes. I learned that if I am going to eat, there is more to it than using a knife and fork.

I was in a common law relationship once and she insisted on doing all the cooking and cleaning. I mean all of it. I felt I was being left out. :)

evalinn said...

It´s not easy to break the chain, but I´m trying my best!

Magpie said...

I always swore that wouldn't be me when I grew up too!!! In all my adult relationships, I've made it quite clear, that those were shared responsibilities. If I cook, you clean...if you cook, I'll clean. But the best way is when we both share both jobs. Makes for a much happier home. :)

RNSANE said...

I used to love to cook - in fact, I have about five hundred cook books and, for awhile, I even usual, with me, though, I never charged enough and did it for nearly nothing for friends. Finally, I figured I had to give it up because I could never say no.

When I had my back surgery 25 years ago, spending long hours in the kitchen became too difficult for me. I rarely did it. Easy meals became the rule. Now I seldom cook. My boys have always helped and they are great about cleaning up. I raised them well.

Syd said...

We equally split cooking and cleaning. I do the gardening and we both share other tasks. My wife would not have a ball and chain nor would I want her to.

Vicki Lane said...

I've always enjoyed cooking -- and I don't mind doing dishes. But recently my husband has taken to making pizza one night a week and it's a pleasure to eat someone else's cooking once in a while.

Monkey Man said...

I love to cook and so does Mrs. MM, so we share duties for the most part. Now that I am unemployed I do most of the cooking and nearly all of the cleaning. It is about being a team as far as we are concerned. Although I must admit, I would rather do the dishes all the time because I clean them better and organize the dishwasher more efficiently. Spoken like a true man, eh?

Collette said...

I am still one of the "drafted" ones when my whole family gets together. But at home, it's one of the few chores my daughter has & I usually clean most of my dishes out anyway...LOL!

Kim A. said...

Some of my best memories are of the Sunday dinners at my Grandmother's house. She was fond of the relish plate and we had lots of Jello on beds of lettuce with real salad dressing on top. It is funny that I remember my dad always heading off to the the back restroom with the latest copy of Reader's Digest after dinner. Yep..the women cleaned and I still do but it is by choice now. And I have learned to ask for help!


Anonymous said...

Roles have changed over the years. I was one of 7 girls and 1 brother. My dad worked 3 jobs in the 60's, My mom taught us everything about running a household and how to raise kids. I cherish that forever. I am married 40 years to the same man. WE help each other cleaning and cooking something he didn't do years ago, Roles change.
Whatever works for you.

Marion said...

I was lucky in that my mother was a fabulous cook. I still berate myself because I was not interested until I was in my early twenties...and then I no longer lived at home so it wasn't as easy to learn.

I washed dishes as well; in a family of girls it was required. There were no boys and I imagine the boys would not have had to wash a dish, judging by my father!

This was a super post, husband and I share duties in the kitchen, but since he works outside the home, and I do not, it falls mostly on my shoulders.

And now, I don't mind.

Funny that we both wrote about food!

The Bug said...

When he was a student my husband was always the cook & I always cleaned up after (when we had a dishwasher he would load it because, mysteriously, he could fit half again as many dishes as I could). But now he works full time so meals are hit or miss (there's a REASON I didn't cook LOL) & I still do all the cleaning up. I'm not complaining though - he's been working hard in the yard. I do miss my house husband though...

Titus said...

Grew up with four brothers and a father who did not lift a finger in the house. Drove me to distraction! Mother is/was most feisty etc and can shop for Britain, but she still cried every Christmas Eve at the thought of staying up till 2 am wrapping all the presents and knowing the volume of cooking she would be doing the next day. And this is a woman who boiled whole gammons, pressed tongues etc etc.
I have also noticed the chain she made for my brothers' wives.

We are a share-all household, and I swear my boy-children will never, never expect their partner to be the one that has to notice houses have skirting boards. Etc.

Great post.

Dianne said...

I did not read all the comments, not fully blogging again due to constraints.

I totally agree with your piece though. I am anti-Cinderella and my husband IS a better cook than I. Alas, the men at our big extended family gatherings still sit around and chat after eating.

But my 3 teenage-male-kitchenslaves are busy with the dish-towel-thwacking wars in the kitchen.....while I bark orders from my chair.

steveroni said...

At our house I do dishes--ALL of them. BUT, I do not cook. Anything!
Oh but I DO make the morning coffee. Some tings have such importance that we cannot leave them to chance....

Right now I just drink my "food" about 800 calories a day, and so all bets for dishes are OFF! Don't eat a thing.

Your post today is a "fun" read. Thanks!

Nana Jo said...

Love this post. Over the years we have gradually evolved a system that works for us. If I cook, he does the dishes. If he cooks, I do. In the beginning of our marriage, this was not the case. I love, love, love your description of the family 'mysterious secrets' of the kitchen, or lack thereof!

Her Big Sad said...

Amen sister!!

(I have both my grandmothers' relish dishes, and they are just as you described. One has a slender column going up from between the two sides, and two spoons can hang there... I loved that relish dish at my Nana's house... She made watermelon rind pickles and they were our family's absolute favorite. I loved the three day process and helped her can them every year. 'Course, we got to eat lots of watermelon first, in order to accumulate enough rind.... and that was fun too! Spitting seed contests! I have Nana's handwritten recipe for those pickles now, and it is one of my dearest possessions and reminders of her. I miss her so much!)

Hugs and Prayers!