Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Labors and Rest

There are two kinds of Mennonite housewives. Those who can't rest if there's any work to be done, and those who can. There are way more of the former than the latter.

I thought of this again yesterday when my friend Gina and I made and served a hot lunch at school. We hauled in loads of stuff through the rain and pulled hot pans out of ovens and hunted for more napkins and dished up food. Then the forty-some kids and teachers came into the fellowship hall in a noisy stream and filled their plates and sat at the tables the high school guys had set up.

Meanwhile, as I am wont to do, I got hungrier and hungrier. But of course we couldn't eat until the kids were all served. And also of course, I as a responsible Mennonite woman couldn't sit and eat until Gina did. Which finally happened and I happily dug into the potato and ham hot dish she had brought which was exactly what I needed.

The kids had pretty much cleared out by then, so I suggested I make coffee and then we sit down and have dessert later. So we started cleaning and I got the coffee brewing. Soon the coffee was ready and I was too, salivating at the cinnamon rolls and wafting coffee scents. But Gina wanted to rinse off these dishes yet, and run this load through, and dish up these leftovers for Justin, and . . . Meanwhile I wiped off the tables and washed cookie sheets and cleared counters and craved some sugar and caffeine.

Finally I told her that I am just going to make her sit down and have coffee, I really am. And I did. And we had a nice little chat about motherly things that my children would have a conniption if they knew the details of.

Regina also told me that she hates this about herself, that she cannot sit and rest when there's any work to be done. She wishes she were different, but there it is, and she'll come home from her job cleaning someone's house and she really should go to bed but instead she does the dishes or laundry. Which is not a good strategy for someone who suffers from fatigue and various ongoing health issues.

And then we cleaned the coffeepot and did the last few things and went home.

I wish Gina and I could average out a bit, because I find it way too easy to ignore things that need to be done. I wish they bothered me more.

I've learned to grow up and do stuff like work on the laundry every day and do the dishes right after supper. But in one area I protect my rest-and-leave-the-work instincts, and I wish the rest of the world would come along.

I always try to make a nice Sunday dinner, and I like to brew a pot of tea, or sometimes if we have guests I make coffee, and at the end of the meal I like to linger over tea and dessert. You know, just sit and sip and talk with guests or maybe read the opinion page if it's just our family and they've all left the table. I find it very irritating to have my tea grow cold while I clean up.

My family indulges me in this, except for Amy who makes a little irritated comment once in a while about just getting it DONE, but other women don't get this at all. Older ones, especially. They leap up from the table as soon as the last person's last bite of cake is in his mouth, and then they're speeding around the kitchen with piles of china, asking me half a dozen questions at once about does this go in the dishwasher and which side of the sink do I wash in and do I have a container for the ham. I've tried to plead with them to please just sit and visit for a bit, thinking, while I recover from the mental aerobics of putting such a meal on and while I sip my tea while it's still hot, please please. But there is no stopping older Mennonite women, no there is not, especially ministers' wives. The notion of lingering is as foreign to them as having their hair done.

But, like I said, my family indulges me, bless them, leaving the Sunday comics to return to the kitchen when I'm done sipping.

Some years ago a young depressed pregnant woman called me up and asked if she could come talk with me. Of course. So she came and we sat at the table and I assured her that she will not be sick forever and someday she will feel like herself again, really she will.

Later I heard that she had raved to her friends about how nice I was, to leave all my work and the dirty dishes in the sink to take the time to listen to her.

Well, that was sweet of her but believe me it did not take any sacrifice on my part to leave those dirty dishes and sit down and talk. And drink tea.

Quote of the Day:
[After our trip to the South, during which it got unseasonably cold in Georgia and Florida]

Paul: It says here that that cold wet weather affected the tomato crops in Florida.
Ben: I'm fine with that as long as the ketchup productions aren't affected.


  1. I was raised in a home where the ladies all sat around the table after extended family dinners and sipped tea and talked. Being a part of that is a favorite memory for me. I always hated for those special times to be over.

  2. Definitely a Mary and Martha thing, too, I think. At our Bethesda retreat in May 2011 one of the ideas we have discussed is using the Mary/Martha theme and tying ;-) in aprons as well. Just a idea kernel to store away. We hope it will all work out for you to join us then.

    Another thought--I just had self-made difficulties with my laptop (tried to download or delete things I shouldn't) and the laptop wouldn't communicate with my printer at all until I called the Apple help line. When I talk to those helpful people, I feel the same way I do when in the car repair garage. The hood is up and I'm supposed to know what all those things under there do, and what to check, pull or push. Feel free to use this thought if it would ever fit into anything you are doing!!
    Mim B

  3. Well, I am firmly in the camp of untraditional Mennonite women. You could feel perfectly safe in inviting me for Sunday dinner, because I'll never jump up right after the meal to begin cleanup! My theory is that the dishes will wait till Monday morning....but the guests will be gone long before then.

    Love this post!

  4. Your post made me squeal with joy. I am a lingerer too.Thank you for making me feel content to linger over that cup of coffee......

  5. I firmly agree witrh your desire to linger at the dinner table lllooonnggg after the meal is consumed.

    Hey! I worked hard to put it on and now I want to relax - can you not afford me that pleasure?

    My dream house will have a large dining room with very comfy chairs, all padded thatcould recline some. And this is then where we would do our socializing.

    Ever notice the difference in the quality of conversations that occurs around the table vs one where people are scattered in the living room?

    Enjoyed your post, Dorcas.

  6. I enjoyed this post because my Mom is definitely a non-lingerer!(Until she had chemo & radiation for breast cancer,4 1/2years ago she could work circles around me!)I agree with you,after all the preparation that goes into a nice meal,I want to relax!

  7. You missed me in your survey of "older Mennonite women" who must do the work right away. I am, what you would call, an older Mennonite woman, but I have no problem procrastinating on doing dishes, folding laundry and almost everything else you can think of. Works okay if you live alone but....

    Mary H

  8. Although I am a "Martha" in many ways, I agree with the lingering-a-bit idea after a company meal. It IS pleasant to just sit, relax and chat. And besides, who should make the first move to clean up, if clean-up is to be done?--the company or the HOSTESS?
    It's downright inconvenient to have everyone trying to pile things around the sink in an unorganized manner when the hostess is still trying to make room for the dishes to be stacked there, even if the effort is well-meant. So sometimes I just nicely tell my guests who are expecting to help, to just sit for a bit until I get things organized. :-)

  9. The Baritone4/02/2010 8:10 AM

    Re: Your quote of the day-- I was just in GA last weekend, and saw as high as 77 degrees. :-) B-)

  10. I was blessed to land in a family that thinks lingering at the Sunday lunch table until 3 or later is just perfectly normal. The conversation is never the same once the "Table Effect" is gone.
    The other evening my almost 12 year old daughter informed me that the best part of supper was sitting and talking afterward! That made this mom smile!
    Love your posts! Christie

  11. I am definitely a lingerer!! and enjoy that time as well. Also I would rather start to put food away myself and then the guests can come help once I have the dishes and other things organized. My hubby often will rinse the dinner plates while I am serving the dessert so it doesn't matter if the dishes set a little while. I have a very wonderful man, by the way!!! Denise

  12. Sounds like you need to move out here to Amherst Co.! Sometimes, after the guests leave and I look around at the aftermath, I kick myself for being such a lingerer! :) We're all in it together out here, sitting for hours around the table. Sometimes I'll hop up after the meal and say, "Just stay sitting--I just want to put away the ice cream--I'll be right back." Usually works. And I definitely think the hostess should be the one to make the first move. If she "forgets", the guest could say, "Would you like some help cleaning up?" And then obey her! -PC in VA