Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sharing a Slice of Life: Chores

Bear with me – I will get to chores – but first let’s talk about yards and gardens.

I grew up in the 1960s in a New York City suburb. Yards were landscaped with swingsets, grass, rocks and trees to play in. Some had flowers. But I don’t remember a single vegetable growing in any of our yards. Hens & chicks were succulent plants growing in the rock gardens. Once a year you had to water or prune them. All pretty low maintenance until you were old enough to mow the lawn (chore!) or for the few weekends in the fall when we raked leaves (chore!).

Compare this with my grandmother’s working backyard in Binghamton, NY.  Baba had clotheslines running from the house, a garden of tomatoes, peppers, flowers, all planted in neat rows. Empty coops that used to hold birds (maybe even rabbits?) marked the fenceline. It was exotic to me, as were the peas I shucked (treat, not chore). I thought peas came from cans. (Be kind to my mother’s memory and recall that these were the days of instant potato flakes and Velveeta; days when we truly ate locally – no out of season veggies flown in from California, Texas or Chile.)

One summer we took the trip of a lifetime and went to Europe. We spent a few days in Belgium visiting friends. The first evening Monsieur D. took us out to the yard to show us the doves in the dovecote and asked us which ones we liked. I didn’t make the connection that I was picking the evening’s entrée, but once I understood I was fascinated. The dove was yummy and delicate, different from anything I’d eaten. I didn’t give a thought to the journey from cote to table.

Fast forward to 1974 when my father was transferred to Paris. I abandoned all thoughts of college in the United States and tagged along. Mother, having undue faith in my high school French, sent me to the market to get a chicken for dinner (another chore!). I said my piece to the butcher who asked me if I wanted the chicken préparé. Knowing Mother would cook the bird, I declined, grabbed the bird wrapped in butcher’s paper, dropped it in the kitchen and headed off to school.

My father greeted me when I got home with the news that Mother had a headache, was resting and that I would be wise to avoid her. He also suggested the next chicken I brought home should be plucked, cleaned and missing its feet. In other words, préparé. Oops.

We were suburban Americans who got our neatly wrapped, canned or processed food from the A & P. Mother had not a clue what to do with a bird on the counter missing only its head and some feathers; a bird that had probably been squawking that morning. Fortunately, my father, raised in the shadows of those coops in Baba’s yard knew exactly what to do. I don’t believe he has cleaned a bird since, but on that day, the lessons of his childhood chores paid dividends!

An aside – thinking of chores brought to mind a few that were specific to a moment in time. I had to occasionally rotate the canned goods in our bomb shelter and sweep out the cobwebs. Not so strange when you consider there were missile silos next door to my high school. My husband had to keep the gas tank filled in his mother’s car – which meant waiting in lines at the station in the 1970s. I wonder which of today’s chores will be anachronistic in a few years?

Postscript - Where was this guy when I needed him.  Maybe I should take one of his workshops...


  1. Great post, interesting the way you took us on this travel of your memories. Enjoyed it!

  2. My memory is sketchy at best, but I thought we got pizza that night from that place by parly2

  3. NOOOO! Don't say my memory is faulty. I could swear Daddy saved the day.

  4. Funny, I don't remember how it was resolved, I just remember the drama and how funny I thought it was to buy a chicken with FEATHERS and FEET

  5. These are great memories! I find it fascinating how quickly things change! =D

  6. Loved the post. You are so right most young teens today wouldn't relate to any of your chores. Did you learn to pluck the chicken from your dad?

  7. This is what I call a charming post. Thank you and the word "gardens" really caught my eye. Enjoyed a few minutes of chuckle.


Comments related to the information shared here are most appreciated. All comments are moderated, and since I am not actively researching right now it many take a day or two for your comment to post. Please know that it will post, and that I much appreciate the feedback.