I was washing dishes tonight and was struck by a memory that I had not considered for some time. I admit, I have not been thinking about my grandparents very much this month. Perhaps it is my Virgo need to avoid painful emotions, or that I have been insanely busy with the efforts of life. Either way, intentionally and unintentionally, my Grands haven’t crossed my mind in days.
Having the pleasure and gift of spending another weekend at our family cabin, I found myself standing in front of the kitchen window washing dishes. It was a cool day in the North Carolina mountains and it had just rained. The hillside outside the window could not be greener and the air could not have smelled more clean and sweet than it did in that moment. The breeze was cool and as usual, I felt swoony in the majesty of this wonderful place.
Taking some full, satisfying breaths, I filled the green dish bucket in the sink and proceeded to clean up our dinner mess. Finally, I scrubbed the last dish and then grabbed the bucket to hoist it outside and toss it over the balcony when I had a vision of my grandmother.
All her life, she washed the dishes (well, Pawpaw washed the dishes) in a bucket in the sink and she would reserve the dirty water for her house plants. As a kid, I have vivid memories of her rushing into the kitchen to stop the volunteer washer from dumping out her dirty water supply. She would carefully burden herself with the bucket and spend a few minutes pouring its contents into every plant around the house and if those had all been watered, then she would start outside. She would find the plants that needed the extra “umph” and make sure they got a big drink. I don’t know if dish soap is good for plants but I do know that no gardens were as spectacular as my grandmother’s in her prime.
She did not waste a thing in her whole life. I really admire this quality and I know it is one that she shared with many folks in her generation. The “greatest” generation knows how to make something last. They know where to find value in something as forgotten and unimportant as dirty dish water. Even that gray fluid can have a magnificent purpose in the world.
While this quality has haunted us in the past couple of years as we have had the task of cleaning out her home and sifting through 60 years of trash and treasures, it is still one that I want to lift up.
My grandmother had the gift of vision. She would use an object the way it was designed to be used until it could no longer do the task it was made for. Then, instead of getting rid of it, she would imagine a new purpose for it, a new identity.
She also did this with people. She did not hold people in a box. She was up for the surprise of witnessing their growth and transformation. This is probably why, to this day, she has former students who still visit her in the nursing home even though she has no idea who they are now.
My grandmother was never set her in ways about young people, either. While she could teach me worlds of truth and did, she was always up to learn something from me. She never thought she knew it all and lived with a door wide open to new wonders available from the world around her. She called her curiosity being a “life-long learner”, but I would venture to say that it was her own brand of magic. She wasn’t just learning all the time, she was reinventing the world as she experienced it. She could find meaning in anything, the chirp of a bird, the tinkle of a bell. The whole of creation wasn’t just what it was. Nothing was “just” something. Everything could be more, was more.
Standing over this gray water, I want to say, “Thank you, B.J.” Thank you for giving me the ability to imagine that there is more to this world than what meets the eye. Thank you for showing me that nothing and no one is lost, not even this dirty dish water. I am so grateful for your life and the direction you have given mine.
Now, to water the plants…