It’s one of those gray chilly days in October when not even the piles of golden leaves light up the outside while inside the furnace, set at its usual temperature for winter, does little to chase away the chill which has crept into my bones. All I want to do is crawl back under the covers. It’s the perfect time for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Trouble is, I have a horror of being thought lazy.
Lazy was how my Dad characterized laying around reading, as if reading were nothing more than an excuse to get out of chores. Reading was much more than that, but we all know it was also a great excuse to get out of chores. Although excuse isn’t the right word for it, since it was never really an excuse — meaning that when my parents found me hiding with a book they never said, “Oh, look. Of course she hasn’t done dishes. She’s reading. We should leave her alone.” I was never excused for it.
So I didn’t read in order to get out of cleaning my brothers’ room or raking leaves. I read because there were things to be read, and doing chores cut into the time I had to just lay around and read. Plus doing chores put me down squarely in the here and now, where I can’t remember ever wanting to be. Reading took me somewhere else altogether, and once I was back in the reading world, I never wanted to return.
In my imagination, of course, I was far from lazy. It was modern life that I found dreary. I didn’t want to wash dishes in a sink with running water or vacuum the living room with a machine designed in the depths of hell. I would gladly, I thought, have learned to churn butter or fetch water from a well. Even scrub a hearth like an imprisoned princess. I would have been happy to be a useful citizen in a by-gone world, but I was pretty useless in this one.
And yet the term “lazy” followed me like a ghost. My parents could think what they liked, but on leaving home I discovered that I did not want others to think of me as lazy. Lazy was something that useless people were. My parents might misunderstand me, but if others saw the same thing, it might prove that they were right. And so I did my best to become as useful as possible in the eyes of the outside world. I could not let my dirty dishes pile up or dust bunnies prowl the floor. And so eventually I managed to become a citizen of the real world, with real world concerns. I bought dish washing liquid and cans of Pledge. I even hoped that new friends would eventually remark to my parents what a good worker I was. I still lay around and read when I had time, but that time became more and more precious. There was, however, one skill that I have never mastered and that has embarrassed me in front of family and friends for years. One skill that keeps me locked forever in the lazy camp.
I have never learned how to pitch in.
Whenever the family gathers, even today, my sister and sisters-in-law can always be found pitching in somehow, as if they know just what to do. I am always hovering on the outside, assuring them that if someone will just give me a task I will be happy to perform it, but I always sound lame. Even to myself. Because in order to do that task, someone will have to stop what they are doing, think of some way that I can help, and then probably explain to me what the task is and where the implements for performing it can be found. And if there is any sin worse than laziness in my family, it is putting someone out. Making someone go out of their way. For me. Because I don’t have a clue. Volumes of Nancy Drew never explained pitching in to me.
The same can be said for the kitchens of friends. There is an annual get-together that has been going on for many years, and that may resume after the Covid break, to which I have been privileged to be invited. And yet, every year, as the women gather in the kitchen, I find myself in the same quandary. How can I pitch in? What can I do, in the face of all the busy-ness, the camaraderie, the dance of kitchen witchery, in which everyone seems to take part, but the steps of which I have never learned. Still, these folks are kinder than my family in that some of them have begun to realize that there is a cripple in the room and will ask me, kindly, if I would mind rolling out the pie crust. Maybe even shepherding a stir fry for a few minutes. They will never know, unless they read this, how very grateful they have made me, making me a part of their rituals the rudiments of which still remain a mystery. For not assuming that the reason I am doing nothing is not because I don’t want to do anything.
How do folks bustle into someone’s kitchen with a plan to make something and set right about making it, knowing somehow where and how to go about it? How do newly arrived folks take off their jackets and just pitch in, stirring this, slicing that, as if instructions were printed on some invisible screen? While the best I can do is try to stay out of the way?
I don’t know. I never will.
Which brings me back to this lazy Sunday afternoon. In which, at the ripe old age of 79, I am still questioning my own judgment as to whether or not it’s okay to just be lazy. There’s nobody here to question me on my choices. My son is engrossed in his own Sunday afternoon. And if he wants to take a nap, he will do so. And so will I.
The dishes aren’t done. I don’t want to go down the basement to iron that shirt. I can finish writing this piece tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m going back to bed and pulling the covers over my head. Mom and Dad can tsk at me from the afterlife all they want. I’m a grownup now.
I’m gonna have myself a lazy day!