Wednesday, June 13, 2012

50's Dream House

Yesterday, I walked through my house and realized that all the machines were going. The washer and dryer were washing and drying my clothes. The dish washer was washing my dishes. The crock pot was cooking my dinner. I thought to myself "this is the home of the future". Ads from the 1950's promised "more time for better living" through the use of appliances like cooking ranges, refrigerators and vacuum cleaners. When I spoke with my grandma about using cloth diapers I asked her whether she had hung her diapers to dry. She told me that when she was newly married, she had accepted a research job in order to make a bit of money. She used that money to buy herself an electric dryer. Later, in a letter, she said she is sure that the prospect of washing diapers specifically led her to spend that money on the dryer. "Wasn't I lucky?" she wrote. And yes, I think she was.

While we were talking, I mentioned that some ladies these days like to hang their diapers (and even their clothes) on the line to dry even though they do have dryers. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I, and others like me, like to do things like hang our clothes on the line and hand knead our bread because we have appliances to do the rest. We can take joy in the manual aspect of certain tasks because it isn't mandatory. What a meditation it would be to take joy in a task we have to do the hard way, day in and day out! And not just that one task! But every task, done by hand, and with joy.

I've always felt that tasks done by hand, or objects made by hand, seem to have more meaning to them. They are more precious, one of a kind. We've put some of ourselves into them. They are more our size in a way. We have measured them with our own hands, and with our own time. I think it is healthy to see things done on this human sized scale. Things made by hand connect us to the one who made them. We can see their finger prints in the clay, their chisel mark in the wood, and their tension or relaxation in the way they pulled the yarn.

Similarly, there is an element of community in doing chores by hand the way they have always been done. Our work can connect us to those who came before. Those people who sometimes made a point of making chores part of the community. I am thinking of the old quilting bees, barn raising, and corn shuckings. Sometimes these old timey work gatherings can seem quaint, but to the ones who organized them, they were absolutely necessary. Because along with the human hand print left on anything hand made, there is a whole lot of time and effort invested. And for someone who needs a barn, or house(!), before the snow falls, it is vital that they have community around them to help. There is a trade off. Hand work of any kind is beautiful and can be very fulfilling and meaningful. But it takes a whole lot of our time. Mechanized production feels disconnected and superficial, but it allows us to feel more secure about having the bare necessities.

I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to have both. I enjoy doing chores by hand because I feel like I am actively caring for my family. I enjoy making things by hand because they mean more to me, and hopefully to the ones who receive and make use of them. I enjoy throwing my clothes in the washer because I have more time to play, and bake, and sew. I enjoy using vehicles to visit friends who live far away. I am grateful to be able to spend my time slowly creating something by hand because I have machines of the future to do the rest.

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