“Art is always and everywhere the secret confession, and at the same time the immortal movement of its time.” ~ Karl Marx.
I was taught how to be a Jamaican housewife by my Jamaican husband. It was a bone of contention for quite a while. For some reason it seemed implausible to him that I could have grown up in Jamaica (white, to English parents) and not automatically know the basic expectations that are placed on Jamaican women from the time they are able to push a broom or wield a duster. In my mind I already knew what I needed to know! But the standards were much higher than I aspired to. A real Jamaican housewife cannot go to her bed and leave dishes in the sink. A Jamaican housewife would never go out and leave her house untidy. A Jamaican housewife cannot get up and leave her bed unmade. A Jamaican housewife’s linen closet always looks freshly folded and organized. Whenever you visit the home of your Jamaican friend it looks as if she has just spent the day spring cleaning (even when you drop in unannounced!). Oh yes, and a Jamaican woman is always the best cook/baker/juice maker (select all that apply).
I could not compete. When I complained that if I vacuumed the carpet in the morning, the kids would only mess it up again by evening, I was told I would just have to vacuum twice daily. I learned that I had to take meat out the night before, season it and let it marinate overnight. I thought I could cook – apparently not! Mind you years later, when we realized that I did a better job as bread winner than bread maker, I saw him take meat out of the freezer, throw it in the pot and add seasoning as it thawed out. I was shocked and aghast! Apparently the traditional rules of Jamaican cooking did not apply to him!
In my childhood home, my mother had made it clear that she found housework to be dull and tedious. She didn’t particularly enjoy cooking, but she loved to bake, sew, create posters for church, in other words anything of an artistic nature. Housework is repetitive and boring. I once (later on, after I was a working mother with four kids) told her I held her responsible for my poor housewifely qualities. She was staying in my daughter’s room at the time. The next morning she appeared, asking for a garbage bag. She had (perhaps in response to my poorly hidden insult) decided to ‘tidy up’ my daughter’s room, throwing out what she thought was ‘rubbish’. It was in fact my daughter’s collection of mementoes, all manner of treasures she had been saving for years! Thankfully we were able to retrieve said treasures while calming her down. Granny meant well!
To confess: I have never been able to live up to that impossibly high standard of housework. I have any number of excuses, should you care to listen. But although I love to see the difference when you go through the house and restore cleanliness and order, like my mother I find the daily maintenance to be dull and tedious. When my kids were little, if they saw me cleaning like crazy they would ask: who is coming to visit? Those who visit my home now may disapprove (if they are used to the Jamaican standards of house pride), but I have had to find my balance; the sweet spot that allows me to be comfortable but not obsessed.
Too often our actions are determined by what the opinions of others. We put on a display for a host of critics, rather than satisfying our own desires. It has been two years since I moved into my new house, and those who are on social media will have seen hundreds of views taken from my bathroom window of the sunrise, slightly different every day. My garden is untidy too, with hidden gems and surprises. Most of my furniture and artwork is recycled, found in thrift stores and yard sales. Some of my best finds were once someone else’s beloved treasure.
During this season of giving, it is easy to get dragged into the consumer driven need to spend large amounts of cash on people who already own too much. We forget the value of time, the significance of a home-made gift rather than some display basket that is more packaging than item. We don’t understand that there of those in our circle who would rather get a visit than a gift-card; an evening out with friends rather than a new scarf. We think that the fact that we spent our hard-earned cash should show we care. We shop in profit-hungry department stores rather than a small-business that is struggling to compete.
This week we lost another giant, this time from the world of fiction. Jamaican author Hazel Campbell was a prolific author of many genres. In the last couple of years she continued to hone her craft by trying her hand at ‘flash fiction’, those extra short short stories that packed a punch. She could tell a ghost story or a love story; she could write a child’s adventure or the angst of a teenage girl. She leaves behind a body of work to be re-appreciated and savored, having generously shared her love with the world. Walk good Miss Hazel!
On this Friday morning may you allow yourself to follow your own dreams, and not the expectations of others; may you find pleasure in small things, and not feel you need to spend large amounts of money to be happy; may you look forward to the joys of reconnecting at Christmas time without the stress of trying to make everything perfect. And to all of those Jamaican housewives who bring home the bacon, fry it up, and still have a spanking clean home: nuff respect! I know what discipline and delayed gratification it takes to maintain those standards. Good habits engrained by your Granny, to last a lifetime!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!