and above all… love.
Always a sucker for characterization, I would like to propose a literary parallel. Earlier this summer our book club gobbled up a fairly modern classic, Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. If you’re interested, I wrote more on that book here, Trading Wrath for Gratitude and here, the full book review.
One of the main characters in Grapes is of course Ma Joad. She is the matriarch of her growing and suffering family, and she leads them with great dignity and resourcefulness as they migrate westward and endure one devastation after another.
Ma Joad cooks whatever food stuffs she can collect, and she does so with aching love. She feeds strangers with astonishing generosity. She washes her family’s dust-packed clothes in brutal circumstances. She keeps her adult children motivated and soothes her husband’s frayed nerves and bolsters his wilting ego. She honors her aging and sometimes difficult parents. (Actually, I think they are her in-laws.) She keeps house in every sense of the word, both physically and spiritually.
One of the rituals Ma Joad maintains no matter where they camp, no matter who is with them or what is happening that day, seems to be cleaning the floors. Despite the Dust Bowl conditions of extreme dryness and wind-blown dirt that would permeate every crevice, she persists. She places high priority on refreshing her family’s state of mind by refreshing their physical surroundings.
My husband’s grandparents lived in western Oklahoma during the infamous Dust Bowl. They farmed and raised their families and survived the incredible heat and drought. When I finished The Grapes of Wrath, no doubt still in that afterglow of having read something so excellent, I asked my wonderful father-in-law a few questions about his childhood memories and the stories he’d heard about his parents and grandparents. Among other stuff, I wanted to know more about “swept and sprinkled.” He nodded and smiled knowingly.
Since the floors were all dirt, Harvey explained, any amount of foot traffic would stir up messy paths all day long. He said that people had a habit of sweeping the thresholds of their homes with a broom then sprinkling the smoothed earth with a little water to settle the dust. He said that this would beautify the home and also minimize the tracking in of dirt.
And yet, would anyone now really blame Ma Joad had she ignored this task? I mean, the dust was blowing all day, every day. Relentless.
Sweeping and sprinkling had to be done on a regular, perhaps almost constant basis because of their conditions.
But she kept doing it. In addition to cooking and washing (by hand, not with a machine) and doctoring and tending, this not young woman made sure her family had a smooth, settled entry to their home. So simple. I find this absolutely beautiful and fascinating.
I am so full of wondering about this… Every family is different, every woman is different, and every home is different… But the drive to nest and nurture stretches across cultures and eras and personalities. I’d love some fresh input. Please join me!
- What simple things can you think of that the modern woman might do just to improve her family’s state of mind, or their basic physical surroundings?
- What regular little rituals do you keep for these reasons?
- Is there something you do every day that makes you feel like your home is “ready” for your people? What makes you super comfy and might make you say, “We are swept and sprinkled and ready.”
- How do you feel when you do this stuff? Are you radiating love, or obligation?
- What tasks do we avoid, just because they are painfully monotonous or repetitive?
- What excuses do we offer ourselves for shirking duties?
- Does not doing something accumulate anything adverse, either spiritual or physical? What are the consequences of this?