In every house, there emerge myths – those stories, legends and parable that reflect the identity of a family, that give depth and meaning to its members and that may or may not be true.
Some families tell tales of Cherokee Indian princesses in their lineage or the rattlesnake in the fire pit that Great-Grandpa John killed with his bare hands.
In our house, there is the myth of the kitchen.
Each member of our family believes they are the keeper of it.
Each believes A) they never mess it up; B) everybody else always does; and C) they are the only one who ever cleans it properly.
“That’s actually true, in my case,” said my husband when I read this to him.
The way my husband tells it, he always washes all the pots and pans and never leaves a trail of coffee grains on the floor.
Likewise, our daughter, who always puts away the dishwasher dishes and never leaves rice-cake crumbs on the counter.
Same as our two sons when they’re home; they always put their chocolate-milk glasses in the dishwasher and never leave a boiled-over mess on the stove when they cook mac and cheese.
Like mold in the veggie drawer, these stories have been growing in our family for years for everybody to witness but nobody to do anything about.
A paint consultant once came in our house and walked straight to the kitchen. “This is the center of your home,” she said, looking around at the barn-dirty floor, the cluttered countertops and the sink stacked with dishes.
“People live in this room. Everything happens here,” she said.
Which is why I’m stunned that my family can’t see the real truth.
It is I, Gaia, Mother Earth.
I am goddess of kitchen detail.
As they get older – and in their father’s case, wiser – it is true that my family has learned to contribute more in the kitchen.
But I am still the spit-shine where they are the gloss-over.
I’m the one who puts the celery on the right and the kale on the left so everybody knows where to find it in the fridge.
I’m the only one who can locate the gingerbread-man cookie cutter on demand, who remembers to sweep the floor and scrub the silverware drawer, who cares about the expiration date on the yogurt.
If I didn’t take note of the ketchup dripping down the back of the refrigerator wall, we would have died a hundred deaths from eating food contaminated by rotting ketchup fumes.
They take the jar of peanut butter that is clearly labeled “Refrigerate after opening” out of the refrigerator. I put it back.
These are the invisible, sometimes lifesaving minutiae I quietly, continuously and continually perform, a point of fact I boldly announce at the dinner table one night when a discussion over who-does-what in the kitchen turns into a shouting match.
“Yeah, but what about all those expired cartons of yogurt you just toss in the sink and expect everybody else to deal with?” someone is shouting at me. “And how about how you always sweep everything into a pile and just leave it there? And what about how the kitchen counter is your office, and we have to be careful not to let anything drip on your papers even though this is a – hello? – kitchen?”
Joseph Campbell wrote extensively about the power of myth, which he said, among other things, teaches humankind how to live under any circumstances. The power of our kitchen myth is that it keeps everybody coming back for more.
Which serves me well.
Humans like to be right. Everybody in our house needs to prove they are the best keepers of the kitchen because they said it was so.
Which keeps my little chariots-that-could trying harder and harder.
Which means, before you know it, someone else will be Gaia and I will take my rightful place as Vacuna, goddess of rest after the harvest.
Debra-Lynn B. Hook has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at email@example.com