Clean Kitchen

My Great Grandmother Handy always kept her kitchen clean. Despite the fact that it seemed she spent most of the day within it in a state of constant activity.

She would awake early to start cooking breakfast for my Great Grandfather “Pa Pa” Handy and whomever else was staying over at the time. Eggs. bacon, biscuits, potatoes, fresh squeezed orange juice, and half of a grapefruit for Pa Pa. Just as routine, not a single pan was waiting to be cleaned by the time any of it hit the dining table. The kitchen looked just as it did before it all started. And, one could be assured, it would be just as clean only minutes after the dishes were cleared.

She often would tend the garden and start the laundry following breakfast. Which, in my child mind, never seemed to take that long. She would return to the kitchen with a full basket of figs freshly harvested from the tree in the yard. These figs found their way swiftly into a pressure pot and then into mason jars for preserves. The kitchen remained tidy the whole time. The only evidence to the contrary were the tools of task being actively used. Once their job was done they always swiftly and effortlessly returned to the place from which they came.

Lunch and Dinner seemed to be a blur of a single meal in her kitchen. As soon as one was served, preparation for the next was already underway. There was never a time in that span of hours that a pot was not on the stove, a pan was not in the oven, or a serving bowl or utensil was not being used. But, as I’m sure you can surmise, by the time it was all served, consumed, and cleared, the kitchen was spot free and ready for its business the following the day.

Even more amazing was that everything else got done as well. The laundry, the gardening, the grocery shopping, the cleaning of the rest of the house, and tending to Pa Pa’s growing list of needs as his health began to turn. One woman against a mountain and she managed to plant her flag at the summit each day.

It was many years after she passed that I was able to truly appreciate any of these minor miracles, let alone care enough to dissect how they were achieved. But age, passing time, and having the responsibilities of maintaining a family and household of my own has made me ponder my Great Grandmother’s deft skills regularly. How did she manage to do it? How did she juggle all of those tasks? The demands and needs? No matter the day or her own health or conditions?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions but I have some clues — especially in the kitchen cleaning department.

Before she started cooking she filled the sink with soapy water. Whenever she used a pan, as soon as she was done with it, she washed it, dried it, and put it away. Instead of saving up all of those ten to fifteen second actions until they added up to an hour of washing after the meal, she learned in her years of experience that it was better for her to do them right away. That the time following a meal could be better spent on the next task than having the detritus of one create another. Remove pan from oven, plate food, wash, dry, put away, serve.

This memory lands home for me these days when I go to add yet-another-task to my list. More often I find myself thinking this — Would I rather add it to the list or would I rather add it to my journal? One is a record of things to do. The other, a record of things already done.

I know what Grandmother Handy would say.

home/ books/ newsletter/ archives/ info/ rss