Traditionby Andrea Simantov May 28, 2018
My husband and I are comfortably old-fashioned. He shops and takes out the garbage and I cook and clean. Equally invested in our marriage, we don’t analyze. For us, it works.
I went alone to visit my children and grandchildren for a month and knew that my house would be dirty, dirty, dirty when I returned. To say that my husband is not domestically inclined is generous, but I wouldn’t want him to be the butt of antiquated jokes. Still, how can I not share that this spousal-relic of the Baby Boomer generation could not figure out the controls of a no-frills dishwasher? Brown streaks covering the front of a once-white machine remind me of NYC subway tunnels circa 1978 that connect the 34th street Local to the Grand Central shuttle. He confessed that the dishwasher was a challenge and, after pressing all of the buttons all of the time, he gave up.
The mop and pail were exactly where I’d left them thirty days earlier and any novice recruit to a governmental CSI division could have easily identified the contents of midnight repasts, which dotted the motley-floor of my never-immaculate kitchen. Seven shriveled French fries hid beneath the microwave oven.
The laundry room was apparently his bailiwick. Piles and piles of freshly laundered linen and gym clothing overflowed the plastic baskets. He likes laundry and my hero even separates lights and darks. But because he’d never watched a YouTube instruction video on how to fold a fitted sheet, he didn’t. Having grown up in a poor South African home with a doting mother and requisite day-maid, neither had informed him that clothing does not magically appear on shelves. I’d washed seven white shirts for him, all on hangers, in preparation for the Sabbathes I’d be gone. There hadn’t been time to iron them so I set up the board and plugged in the iron and he merrily assured me that he ‘could do that.’ When I returned, I observed the same creased shirts on the same hangers on the same doorknobs where I’d left them. He’d bought new shirts, wearing them fresh from the package. They were smoother.
Still, there were some impressive culinary moments. Weary of takeout meals for nutritional sustenance, he finally accessed his inner Betty Crocker and cooked for himself. One evening we ate ‘together’ via a video chat. I was in my daughter’s Johannesburg kitchen and my husband magically appeared on screen, sitting at our Jerusalem table. Before him was a lovely blue ceramic plate. Steam rose from beautifully grilled vegetables and skinless, boneless chicken breasts.
“I made dinner,” he boasted. I was a little stunned – and excited – thinking that he might prove to be an adequate sous chef in time.
“But the oven is self-cleaning, Ronney. I took it apart before I left and washed all of the racks and shelves in the dishwasher before piling them on the floor of the oven. Did you put it back together?”
“Uh, I thought it looked a little odd. But it worked.”
Pressing my lips together, I understood. “Are you telling me that you cooked on top of the pile? In what pan?”
He proudly responded, “I found a disposable pan, put the food in it, poured on some barbecue sauce and put it in.”
“At what temperature?”
“I turned the dial until it stopped. When the oven felt hot, I put the food in. When it looked done, I took it out.”
Neither cave dwellings, Bedouin tents or Abe Lincoln’s mother had turbo-settings or meat thermometers; they managed without the Barefoot Contessa and Jamie Oliver. Seeing my husband beaming over a satellite-generated screen made me laugh.
There is something very 1950’s about this story and younger readers might feel baffled by an undertone of sexism. Perhaps. But traditional roles are only roles and even actors change costumes. In my respectively assigned roles of daughter, wife, mother and business owner, I’ve learned that choosing one’s battles is always wise. And I will not try to reprogram a relatively well-functioning human being who can conduct a friendly conversation, maintains good hygiene and holds a job.