Today was a busy day on the old homestead. As any day is busy here, what with all the books to read and coffee to drink, today was especially important because we were playing host to some visitors. I should say that my parents were hosting some visitors and I was here. I was in no way a host, ad nor did anyone come especially to see me. In the same way that Igor assisted with the creation of Frankenstein's monster, did I attempt to help my parents house.
I am not what you call a particularly "handy" person. I am not "crafty" nor "game for anything." I'm never the one to "give it a go" and I have never really, hit anything with "my best shot." I'm a non-starter, and uncoordinated. All in all I am probably the worst person to help out in a situation. I can sit and make colour commentary while others do thingsI can prattle on, and if the task is uncomplicated and I am given stick instructions and constant supervision I can usually complete something fit for a pre-schooler. So today, I wasn't a great help to my parents. Not in the least.
In my family, as I am sure I have said before, all of us are given specific tasks to perform. Careers, and duties, but most specifically with tasks my parents assigned to one kid, ages ago, while busy raising the other five. Somehow whatever you were assigned way back in the day, you are obligated to continue to do. Maybe you have a skill that helped you acquire these tasks, my brother even signed himself up for a few, but they are long terms, inflexible, and impossible to give away.
My middle sister is required to phone people, order food, and print things neatly. She has good phone etiquette, she is polite, she is a diligent note taker, and is friendly. All perfect for her role of ordering any number of food items, and for calling people on the telephone. She has very nice printing so she is a natural selection for writing cards, making signs, and taking down information. These skills are called upon often, and often does she point out the fatc that anyone could perform these tasks themselves. But it is no use. Those are her "things" and so she does them. I remember times when she wasn't living at home, only visiting for coffee, before going back to her own home, and we forced her into ordering the rest of us a bucket of chicken. I'm sorry but, those are the rules.
My brother, as I pointed out today at supper, is responsible for anything electrical (because of his profession) and for anything physical (because I don't want to be) This involves complicated tasks (ie. rewiring outlets, and fixtures, and lifting deep-freezes) to the more uncomplicated (changing light-bulbs, moving furniture.) They are important tasks, and they are his tasks.
I don't seem to have tasks. Nor do I have skills that lend themselves to gaining important and respectable ones. I am not a lawyer so I can't help there. I am not an accountant, so I can't help at tax time. I don't speak another language, so translator is out. I have maybe one task, picture hanger. It isn't very helpful (but often used in my mother's house, whose walls have approximately one square inch left unadorned.)
But today I there wasn't any urgent picture hanging to be done before company arrived, so I was pretty much useless all morning. But that doesn't mean I didn't try to help.
Lunch was almost ready, I think, and at whatever time the potatoes were supposed to be getting ready my mom said: "I'd better do those potatoes" and then she went outside to pick cucumbers. On her way out she said to my sister, "I'm going to pick cucumbers, could you get the potatoes ready?" and my sister agreed. Then my sister went outside to talk to someone who had popped by to see her. Then my mom, who hadn't gotten off the deck yet, poked her head in and said: "I've got to get those potatoes ready." and then took a long pause and looked at me, sitting at the table, doodling on her list of groceries she would buy, and I would consume.
"Oh," I said shocked, "I could do them, I guess."
It was the offer that was important. It was the offer she was looking for. I knew it, but I was hoping that if I sounded unconfident, and unsure enough, she might not trust me with the task. But she didn't.
"Good." She said before she took her head out of the door jamb, and skipped off to the garden.
I sat at the table for a bit longer. The potatoes were in a muddy bucket beside the sink, and I half prayed to god that my older sister would come in and start preparing them. Not because I was lazy. Not because I didn't want to be helpful. It was just because I was stupid. I had never, not in my entire life had I had anything to do with the preparation of any sort of tuber. I had gotten them from the garden. I had washed them. In winter time I fetched them from the cold-room in the basement. Once I mashed them, under intense scrutiny by my brother-in-law. But I had never had to cook them. I prayed that my sister would come back in the house and do it because I was afraid I would screw up, and I would have to admit to her that I had never cooked a potato. She cooks them all the time. She would know what to do, and she wouldn't ruin lunch, and this time I would watch her.
My other sister (as I am calling her forever-more) is in charge of potatoes. At Christmas, at Thanksgiving, and at any supper she is present for and potatoes are being served. She is in charge of them. It was a task assigned to her years ago, probably because she likes potatoes, and I am bound to those rules. Except she wasn't home yet. My older sister was still talking outside on the deck and my mother was still in the garden poking her head down like a ostrich in the sand, and pulling up cucumbers, and loading them into the pouch she created with the bottom of her hugely oversized t-shirt.
"I am a university educated person" I said to myself, "I have lived on my own for five years, and have cooked at least 3 meals myself. I can do this."
But it was so daunting. Where to start? Do I fill the sink with water? Do I scrub them? Do I use soap? Doesn't my mom have a little brush around her shaped like a potato? Do I use it? How do I peel them? Is a carrot peeler a potato peeler? Do I use a knife? Am I allowed? How does my mother do it? Think!
I remembered once picking peelings out of the bottom of the sink, so I was fairly sure that was the location of the peeling. I was certain it was chosen because of the easy access to water, in which to clean them, and I was fairly sure I washed before I peeled. I had the logistics. I am not a complete idiot. I understand the concepts of food preparation, I just don't actively participate.
So I filled the sink with water and then dumped the potatoes in. This made the water really really muddy. It also made it hard to see the potatoes, and if they were getting clean. Also, because of the shear number of potatoes it made the sink very very full of water. So full that if I put my hands in the water it spilled over the edge. This was not how you did it. So I drained that water and filled the other side half full of water. Then I took some potatoes, and moved them to the other sink. I ran more water into the original sink. I was really getting places for now I had two sinks full of muddy water covering more potatoes than needed to feed an army.
This is where I took a minute to reflect on how long it was going to take for me to complete this task, and if I could somehow wait it out a bit so company would arrive, and I would have to go and greet them. My mother would have to come in from the garden, and using her intelligent motherly instincts, take over my task, and get lunch on the table at the right time. But company wasn't there yet. It would look to suspicious if I was to take any longer, and not have a single clean, never mind peeled, potato to show for it. I labored on.
I took all the potatoes in one half of the sink and I put them back into the dirt filled bucket (which created, believe it or not, mud) and then moved all the potatoes left in the sink to the empty side. I drained that side, filled it once more with water, and then one at a time piled the potatoes back into the clean water. And because they still weren't clean (despite the constant changing of the dark brown water) I took them each out of their nice bath on one side, and rinsed them under a constant flow of cold water over the empty side. All in all I think I moved all the potatoes five times between buckets and sinks, and used probably more water than is consumed by small tropical villages. All to get only slightly muddy potatoes, which I deemed clean enough to peel, and only so lightly covered with dirt to give it that real "home grown" flavor.
Peeling is fun. That's right, I'll say it. Using that little sharp, knife like instrument that could take all the skin off your finger if the wet potato happened to slip, is really appealing to me. I like how is cuts off the purple of the potato skin (and all the dirt I tried to valiantly to clean off, only to see it stripped so easily with a stroke of my peeler wielding wrist) revealing the pure whiteness of the inside. I was mesmerized by how accomplished I was with peeling potatoes. How hardly left any skin on them, how quick I was, and how masterful. Sure I left big hunks of potato in the sink. Sure, sacrifices, totaling six healthy potatoes, were probably whittled off in my efforts, but by god, I was a doing my duty.
But as I suspected, and as I now remember, my potato preparing prose, doesn't have an ending. Company arrived. I greeted them, and my mother took over the duties of somehow (how does she do it?!) getting everything (5 dishes!) on the table at the same time.
That I guess, (and about a million far more important, difficult, ugly, and wonderful others) are her tasks.