The Washer Woman
By Trudy Wischemann
When I was small, one of the names the neighborhood kids found for me was “Washerwoman.” It was only one of the ways that “Wischemann” could be mangled for the purposes of name calling, but it was easy and satisfactorily derogatory. For the most part, however, they let me be, and taunted other kids who enjoyed the game and taunted back.
The truth is, as I’ve grown into my womanhood, washing things has become one of my pleasures. I don’t think of it that way, of course, any more than most of us think of daily tasks and pleasure in the same breath. But by keeping most daily tasks in the “voluntary” category, I’ve been able to avoid some of the displeasures of doing them and reap more of the benefits. When thinking and writing become snarled into a hopeless ball, for instance, my ironing basket becomes the perfect vacation. When I’m cold and hopeless and start thinking the world will be better off without me, the kitchen sink is my sanctuary.
Several weeks ago, as I was working over a sermon, I found myself at the kitchen sink washing the hummingbird feeder I’d left in the utility tub eight months before all clogged with black mold and who knows what else. Thinking I was just trying to avoid writing, I gave myself a proper tongue-lashing for being there. My rant evolved into a more general critique of my intelligence for not having just thrown it away and bought a new one: even at $10/hour, it would have been cheaper, not to mention saving my precious writing time. The clock was ticking loudly away the minutes before I’d have to stand in the pulpit and deliver this message. What was I doing at the kitchen sink?
And then it dawned on me: I was doing what any woman worth her salt would do in any generation before mine. I was doing, in fact, what I wanted to be preaching about: conserving things instead of consuming them. Respecting what the earth had provided and peoples’ hands had made instead of creating more trash for the landfill and increasing the trade deficit with China. I was trying to make up for being a bad steward of many of my possessions, making amends in the easiest way possible, clearing the way for better behavior in the future. I was resurrecting a way of being instilled in my genes as well as my thought processes, a way of being I believe we need for the sustainability of the planet from this day forward. I was being rural, not urban.
The distinctions between rural and urban are controversial. For the most part, we here in California do not use the term “rural” to describe ourselves, even if we live in the countryside and are engaged in agriculture. We attach “rural” to “poor” and use it as shorthand to describe the situation where some people live so that the rest of us may pretend we belong to the culture at large. But I believe that many of us are more rural than we realize, and that this quality is a reservoir of human virtue that the future requires if we are to survive as a species.
Given the way a lot of us think and behave, this is a hard case to make most days. But let me ask you this: when you find yourself at the kitchen sink or the workbench cleaning something for continued use instead of going out to buy a new one, who do you think you really are?
Trudy Wischemann is a rural advocate who writes for the sake of the planet. You can send her your cleaning stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.