By LENNOX FARRELL
I do not wish to appear patronizing, but I must confess that I cannot believe that house work is this hard.
Let me begin at the beginning. My spouse, Joan and our daughter Tisa ups and gone to Senegal. Just so. One day they here; next thing they calling me from Paris en route to Dakar, to Bamako, Africa
“O.K.”, I say to Joan, “if while you’re there some African man see yuh an’ propose, don’t let yuh luck pass yuh by. All I demand is cattle: long horns. With land. With trees, water, toute monde, toute baggai!”
She has in her a taciturn streak. “O.K.,” she says.
Now to go back almost five decades, when I met her, courted her, and married her. I remind her that Pupa had promised me cattle on a thousand hills. He is now dead and gone. Muma is dead and gone. My mom, Philippa and my dad, Medford, also dead and gone. And still, no cattle!
Joan’s sister, Edris, one of many, and my favourite sister-in-law (whichever of them I am with, is at the time my favourite above all favourites) tells me that “the children Joan give me, done suffice”.
I replied, “the children is lagniappe, extras. Moreover, I expect my cattle, and with all their calves”.
So far, nothing doing.
Now, back to Africa.
Tisa decides to return to visit friends, places she hadn’t seen. She was there earlier this year, on a special birthday to Goree Island on behalf of the family; especially my mother after whom she is named. As the old people would say, ‘Tisa foot hot’. So she must travel. And so, she and Joan in Africa!
Now back to this housework thing.
Here I am, with our seven grandchildren. Aged four to 14. JK to grade 10. I realize now that they eat at least 21 meals each day. Weekends worse! These include breakfast, lunch at school, snacks, supper. In between, their voracious appetites consume whatever their eyes fall on. And their eyes fall everywhere. Juices and other liquids disappear like mists in the Sahara. I, too, could disappear.
I also realize that in spite of having lived with Black women for more than seven decades: from grand-mothers, to mother, to aunties, sisters, wife (one so far), daughter, nieces, sisters-in-law, grand-daughters, I still know very little about the lives of these good souls. And especially re: housework.
Don’t get me wrong. I do do housework. Some just kills me; others I do without being reminded.
In fact, and talking about reminders, a cute trick of Joan’s is being on the phone with a ‘girlfriend’, pretending she does not know I can hear her, and boasting how good I am doing things she knows I do not like to do. The worst of these is ‘doing dishes'; especially after Christmas. It takes me a whole week just arranging spoons, forks, knives, cups, glasses … I might reach pots and pans by New Year’s!
For me, ‘doing dishes’ is an unruly military undertaking. Like George Bush caught between Iraq and a hard place. I swear. Joan, on the other hand, takes a half-hour, meanwhile preparing victuals galore.
But, after she and ‘girlfriend’ talk, I know what I have to do. In fact, any man with any sense would get on the ball, pronto! How could I make her look bad when she knows I am the best man she ever lay eyes on.
My definition of a wise wife is one who knows how to praise her man into doing things he is not even doing yet. Things he definitely does not like doing but which, to her, must be done. It is not fighting fair. But the thing works. Making you move faster that a dose of senna pods baptized in prune juice!
But there are things I do, without having to be ‘encouraged’. For example, while ‘doing dishes’ is the killingest thing of all, I actually like washing, sorting, ironing and stacking clothes. Doing the wash I see as a creative task. Like Michelangelo sculpting David. It is something I can make decisions on, like Trudeau walking in the snow. My advice for any man with similar challenges satisfying his wife – housework included – is check where his creative skills lie and connect pronto with lovey-dovey.
Cooking is another matter. Literally, a mixed bag. Baking I like, especially experimenting. For example, there was this potato bread; one so historic, it remained for years in the freezer. Downstairs.
Overall, what I find to be the worst thing about housework is not the doing it. It is the anticipating what next to do. That is a source of immense despair; as terrifying as Jack Palance in Shane.
It is this way. O.K., I have stacked clothes for the smaller children for school, night time, in-house. O.K., snow suits in place. Boots. Matching stockings, socks – two girls and one boy, all darlings who like calling me ‘Lennox Victor’. Their outfits I sometimes get right. They advise me, glancing discreetly at each other, about what belongs to whom. Did you know that buttons on the front of girls’ clothes usually go on the left, while boys’ buttons are on the right? Or is it the other way? O.K., progress, but no one ever told me that before.
But I have other skills. I cheat. I bribe them. At their ages, bribery works. So, I announce, ‘everyone who has socks in shoes; underwear in pants pockets; scarves and mittens in place, etc., deserves one caramel’. One can’t be generous with bribes. Otherwise you lose traction. In other words, when in doubt, bribery works and works best when accompanied by frugality. Stinginess increases desirability!
Now, for their hair. Thank God, Shahla, our first grand-daughter is not only organized, she’d also ask, “Gran’pa, is there anything else?”
Oh, the immense sense of relief. Like a surfer losing only his prosthetic leg to great-whites patrolling.
What’s for supper this evening? I now understand why fast foods and pizza are so popular. They take the thinking and planning out of daily meals. The nutrition, too. However, Joan, even away, is having none of that. Were a McDonald’s or KFC to enter our home, the alarm will go off. She has prepared frozen packs of vegi-stuff, carrot-sticks; soups …
This is annoying. If she knew she wouldn’t be here for almost a month, off in Africa, enjoying herself for a change, why did she get all this? Stuff she knows how to cook? It’s not fair. I only know how to eat it!
‘Joan, girl! Forget any African man. And the cattle could wait. Come back to yuh doux-doux-lah! Yuh sweet Trini man, quick, quick! I miss yuh too bad … dishes piling up!’