Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted August 9, 2014

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An essay about subtle appreciation or lack thereof

An Epitaph for Heros and Bums

by Spiritual Echo

There are things that I did throughout my adult life that seem to have diminished in importance over the last few years.

I was walking through a farmers' market this morning, having difficulty avoiding the seduction of baskets of fruits and vegetables, far too much for a single person household. I realized how I ached to make dill pickles and can fresh tomatoes, turning them into spaghetti sauce or chutney, and shook my head at my own nostalgic thoughts.

Yes, perhaps I still could, though there are not enough people in my life any longer that I feed. Maybe, I could make a dozen jars, shop for paisley cloth and ribbon, and decorate the preserves, creating Christmas gifts. Who am I kidding? While my kids would smile at the memory, there are products on the shelves today that are equal, if not better, than Mom's homemade relish. But, once upon a time, this late summer ritual was a natural part of my life. How times have changed.

Even while I had a demanding full-time job, there was always a pot of homemade soup on the stove. I didn't follow any recipe, and it would have been an impossible task if someone asked me to recreate a soup or write down the ingredients.

I made certain that my family ate a nutritious meal each night, but on weekends, I'd always make a roast or chicken. Bones and leftovers went into a pot to make stock, and uneaten vegetables from each night's meal during the week joined the medley, along with spices and the ever-present onions and garlic. My latch-key son always had an after-school snack, a bowl of soup to tide him over until I got home from work to prepare a proper meal. As he grew older, he'd invite his buddies home for an afternoon snack. I just increased the volume.

It wasn't a habit I learned in childhood. In fact, dinners were often hit-and-miss, and sometimes there wasn't enough food in the house for anything more than a piece of rye bread and a glass of milk, but it became important to me that meals and nutritious expectations were a part of my son's childhood. It made it easier to develop this attitude based on my years in the resort business. Every night I served a full course meal to our guests, and I was used to cooking--it wasn't a big deal--back then.

There were other rituals I embraced having a family at home. By hell or high water, the house was cleaned every weekend; sheets changed and floors scrubbed, until I could afford a cleaning lady, avoiding the never-ending arguments with my son over housekeeping.

"Here's the scoop, kid. You can either be a hero or a bum. You're going to clean up your room one way or another, before my lungs reach their full velocity or after I've rained down the consequences of your sloth. Do it before I ask, and you're a hero. Do it after I've lost my temper, and you're a bum, but either way--you're going to clean your room."

The irony is that I occasionally hear my adult son tout the hero/bum threat on his children--when it suits him. I still wind up in his house once a week folding laundry or washing encrusted plates left in the sink for days. I'm not sure if it's residual rebellion or his priorities have never matched mine.

For sure, kids today are used to dinner coming from a box in the freezer or eaten in the car after parents go through the drive-thru on their way to some activity. Parents do involve their children in more activities these days, but I shake my head at the scheduling and the physical fitness goals. Are parents confused?

The caloric intake from a McDonald's Happy Meal is higher than my grandson can run off during an hour-long soccer match. Not to mention the nutritional void in the food he wolfs down in record time in order to be finished before the whistle blows, and the game begins.

My son is too old for me to think that my pearls of wisdom have any value, and though he might intellectually realize that I'm right, nagging him about his lifestyle choices will accomplish nothing. I remain silent, yet I do try to cook a proper meal from time to time for them and schedule it in such a way that it fits into their agenda and doesn't become a big deal. But it is a big deal, and damn it, it was a big deal when he was growing up.

The kids leave the table with the same lackadaisical attitude they'd have if I had made a pot of Kraft dinner or Hamburger Helper. Their bellies are full and they're off to a swimming class or gymnastics--which by the way, Grandma chauffeurs them to and pays the fees.

As I was leaving the market this morning, I stopped to admire bouquets of fresh-cut flowers and remembered how I'd always fill vases after the cleaning was done. It wasn't until I got to the car before I questioned why I hadn't bought myself a bouquet. Because the house hasn't been cleaned,you Door Knob, I answered, and then asked the second question. Why didn't you clean the house this morning?

Because I don't have to, and nobody lives with me. There's no one who cares. My mind started to filter through that epiphany, sort it out and examine its value. Maybe no one ever cared and I was doing it for myself. But if that were true, I'd definitely have done the laundry before heading out to shop. Moreover, I'd have certainly felt a right to those flowers, wouldn't I?

Upon further fondling this thought, I tried to convince myself that there must have been some muted appreciation for my efforts, wasn't there? It would be easy to slap myself on the forehead and curse at the people who take things I've done for granted, but suddenly I'm not so sure that thought is applicable either--especially if it wasn't a lifestyle that had any significance to my family.

Calm down, girl, I said to myself. Perhaps you did, and continue to do, the best you can for people you love. To do less, when you know it's the right thing to do, would be unforgivable, make you feel guilty, lazy and self-absorbed.

Yeah, that must be it, I said to my alter ego, I did my best, now get lost; there's a garage sale up ahead.

Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry


I confess, I didn't conquer my aversion to laundry then, and I haven't solved that issue now, often dressing in the morning, removing my clothes that I'll wear that day directly from the dryer.
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