Earlier today I was washing our clothes, hanging them out to dry, washing the dishes, heating water, cooking supper, cleaning the oven, and sweeping the floor, all at once. How did I manage this feat? The hot water heater heated the water, the washing machine washed the clothes, while the dryer dried them. One oven baked supper, while the other cleaned itself. The dishwasher washed and dried the dishes, and the roomba scooted around sweeping the floor.
So what was I doing during this time? I was reading to my children.
We were living in Maine several years ago when Miranda Lambert was singing, “Automatic” every forty minutes on the radio. It was April, which is still winter there, and we lived in a three walled, burned out shell of a two hundred year old farm house. There was still snow on the ground and the mornings were cold. We found a wood stove out in the forest around the house, hauled it in, and put two chairs between the back of it and the wall. We sat there in the morning to drink our coffee while we waited for the sun to rise. Coffee, I might add, which was made on an old percolator pieced together out of some random parts and a chipped mason jar.
The husband bought me an old wringer/washer for $10.00. The wringer was broken but the washer worked well. I’d fill it with buckets of water, hauled a quarter mile from the beaver pond. Yes, the beaver pond was where we got our water. It was where we bathed too, which was fun in the summer, less fun when there was still snow on the ground.
I was a brand new wife then, and there would’ve been troubles in the kitchen even if I hadn’t been cooking on a drafty wood stove. Standing in the yard, washing clothes in my housecoat and boots, knowing that we’d be eating bread both doughy and burned for lunch, hearing Miranda Lambert sing about the good old days “back before everything became automatic”, felt a bit like getting kicked down when I was already on my knees. Automatic, we didn’t even have toaster.
We struggled, we made improvements, I learned to cook, and things got better. We never did get a toaster or a coffee pot, but we fixed the well pump, got a hot water heater, and used some cardboard and a staple gun to build a fourth wall on the place.
Miranda Lambert sings, “It all just seems so good the way we had it. Back before everything became automatic.” But was it really all that good. Sure, I’ve got some good memories from Maine, some of them because of the way we lived. There were parts that were a lot of fun and did bring my husband and I closer together. But would I go back? Never.
We’re naturally happy people, inclined to resilience. It’s easier to remember the good times than the bad. We easily forget how weary we were, or how frustrated we got, how else could we look to the future with hope. It’s even easier to look at a few black and white photos of picnics and barbecues, from a time most of us never knew, and say, “look how great it was back then”.
Now I have many machines to do some of my work, and I’m still too busy sometimes, but it’s easier. I guarantee the children are not going to look back on their childhood and say, “I wish Mama had spent less time playing with us and more time washing our clothes by hand and scrubbing the floor.” If the whole point of “the good old days” was the time we spent with family then why are people being criticized for embracing technology that gives us more time with our family. Am I lacking in work ethic because I don’t have to grow all my own food, or haul my water? I would say there is a sort of work ethic to reading “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” twenty times in a row and still sounding excited about it.
I don’t think it’s the labor that we’re all really missing about the good old days. It’s the time with family and friends, the excitement of finally finishing a new dress, the comradery of a common purpose. So bake some homemade bread, and throw the bowls in the dishwasher. Invite a friends over to make jelly, and order pizza. Grow a garden with your children, and if it fails buy them a watermelon anyway. Spend time with your friends and family this summer, and let the laundry wash itself.