I have had this piece in the back of my mind for some time, and have even run the title and general gist of it past a few people, all of whose eyes sparkled like the transporter beam of the Enterprise-A upon hearing it. I am pleased to publish it here, as my first, of hopefully many columns (depending on the litigation and settlement deal this piece generates) for The Remnant.
Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I lived in a large, shared house built in the 1920s with a male friend. I had the master bedroom suite, and thus my own private bathroom, and everything was completely on the up-and-up. Fear not, gentle readers. I shall not be scandalizing you with tales of ribaldry – no “accompanying body-to-body” going on, to use one of FrancisChurch’s creepier turns of phrase. It was an excellent use of the property, and very frugal and affordable. And, yes, I certainly preferred to live with males, from both the security as well as a domestic tranquility standpoint.
In this particular case, I did, in fact, greatly admire and count as a treasured friend the male housemate, and no matter what great adventure I had been on in those heady days of my youth, when my learning curve was near-vertical, and every day seemed an adventure, it was always a pleasure to simply go home.I have always been a bit of a “foodie”, and would often eat out, arriving home after the “rush hour” in the relatively large and well-equipped house kitchen was over for the evening. In fact, four out of five dentists surveyed would have guessed that my shelf in the refrigerator, packed with condiments, pickles, recycled glass jars of bacon drippings, and as many bottles of Corona Extra as would fit in the remaining void, was the “man shelf”. And they would have been wrong. But I digress.
My evening ritual before turning in for the night was, in order, to go into the kitchen, wash and dry any and all dishes and cookware used that day, including the coffee pot, lift the grates off of the gas stovetop and thoroughly clean and polish the stainless steel stovetop, clean the countertops, kitchen table, and stainless steel double basin sink, and finally replace the stove grates and then set upon the perfectly clean stove the small saucepan for my friend to heat his milk for the next morning’s coffee.
Bear in mind, rarely were any of the dishes dirtied by me, as I ate out more often than not. Further, I was almost never the first in the kitchen in the morning, and was not a ritual morning coffee drinker. I cleaned the kitchen and set out the next morning’s accouterment not for myself, but for my friend and housemate. I wanted him to start his day off not with a dirty kitchen, dishes stacked in the sink, and a grease-covered stove, the thought in the back of his mind, “Oh, I’m going to have to clean this kitchen after I get home from work today….”
No. I wanted to give him the smallest of gifts – a little help around the house. And God forgive me, that twenty minutes of quiet, nightly kitchen clean-up, in particular the polishing of the stove and setting out of the saucepan, was the best part of my day. If I were dishonest I would say that something liturgical or some formal prayer was the best part of my day, but it wasn’t. The silent, spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving that flowed out of my soul as I recalled that day’s events, and how happy I was to be where I was, surrounded by friends, recalling past adventures and making plans for future adventures, and praying for my friend and housemate and his intentions, as I scrubbed grease splatter off of the stove with Ajax grease cutting spray and paper towels – that was the best part of my day.
To this day, if asked to pinpoint my zenith of personal happiness, it has nothing to do with my personal accomplishments in business – my first cattle marketing school, the opening of my brokerage firm, or even my first six-figure month. Nor does it have to do with my reception into the Church, which was more a feeling of relief than anything else. If you ask me when I felt happy – truly, truly happy – it was when I was cleaning up for a man. So roll that up real tight in your Virginia Slim and smoke it, Betty Friedan. It’s almost as if there is some sort of hard-wiring given to us by God – factory-loaded software if you will – nudging us toward our gender-specific vocations that will make us truly happy.
One evening as I was doing the evening tidy-up, my friend and housemate, having eaten his dinner in his room, brought his dishes into the kitchen after I had started cleaning up. I happily reached out to take his dishes to wash, as I was already standing at the sink washing dishes. He said, “No, I’ll do it.” And I happily replied, “No, I’m happy to do it.” Which, as we just covered above, was the understatement of the evening. At this, he angrily handed me the dishes, growled contemptuously, “You’re SO annoying,” and walked out.
Being human, I was certainly wounded at the revelation that the best part of my day, this small yet concrete act of charity, was a source of annoyance for my friend. But, I also remembered a book I had read about the life of St. Joseph by the mystic Maria Cecilia Baij.
Baij claimed that the events of the life of St. Joseph were told to her by Our Lord Himself, and I found the book to be most informative and credible. In it, the Blessed Virgin is described as a meticulous housekeeper, not out of the slightest hint of personal pride, obviously, but out of pure love for Our Lord and St. Joseph.