What is the most ridiculous, apparently trivial and yet now somehow essential thing for which you are most genuinely grateful?
Mine’s easy to find: It’s right behind the folding doors in the downstairs bathroom. That I possess both a working washing machine and dryer is a daily source of joy. I am not kidding and I am not exaggerating.
And yes, I am still a dyed-in-the-wool feminist, but I am one who can now finally wash wool with the appropriate setting.
Never did I dare believe I wouldn’t have to schlep heavy bags of dirty clothes over my shoulder like a reverse Santa to a laundromat or wash my dainties in the sink.
I most certainly didn’t permit myself to imagine that one day I might be able to escape the task I dreaded most as a child: drying sheets and towels by hanging them on a rope in the basement and then folding them, stiff as cardboard when they were finally done, into rough, unyielding and unfriendly squares.
Let others speak of the fresh-scent of non-mechanically dried items. To me, sleeping on those sheets was like going to bed on an emery board.
So I today I want to invite us to applaud the ordinary. Right now I’m not focused on the basics — health, shelter, enough to eat and enough to keep the wolves from the door — but about the details that, like the basics, we all too often ignore.
I want to shout in appreciation of, for example, hot and cold running water. Ever live in a place where there wasn’t enough of either, or where the hot water wasn’t hot or the cold water came in a thin, rusty stream?
I did. I lived in England in the late 1970s. You had to put shillings in the meter in the shared bathroom to get hot water and there was a limited supply. The cold, white-tiled and barely-vented room filled with steam immediately but never became warm. London town’s famous fogs entered London’s bathrooms as well, and one was expected to sit shivering in a small pool of tepid water, splashing away, as if it were good for the soul.
When I returned to New York and moved into a small apartment on the Lower East Side in the early 1980s, I may have had rats outside my window and junkies panhandling on my corner, but there was always enough hot water for a real bath, with refills available.
Here are my Top 10 Everyday Things Not To Take for Granted:
1. Deodorant (both the deodorants of others and a deodorant of one’s own).
2. Coffee and coffee-makers.
3. Pencils: the ever-forgiving pencil, with its eraser already built-in.
4. Corrective lenses, whether in the form of cheap reading glasses, contact lenses or elegant accessories.
5. Suitcases on wheels. Why didn’t these always exist? Why didn’t we give medals to the people who figured out “Hey, let’s put four wheels on the bottoms of these things so that they can roll instead of destroying the shoulders of adults one delayed flight at a time?”
6. Toilets that flush first time, every time. If you’ve ever had a toilet that needed to have the heavy porcelain top removed on a regular basis so that you could jiggle the mechanism in order to persuade it to do its job, you know what I mean
7. Bookstores. My brother and I agree that the few remaining bookstores need to be cherished the way endangered species of all kinds are cherished; they should be held up for awards in the “don’t-know-what-you-got-’till-it’s-gone” category. By not buying books and other desirable objects from these rare retail establishments, we are putting them out of business. For more than a century, they’ve been havens and held treasures. We need to offer evidence — monetary evidence — of how much we value them.
8. Mammograms, CAT scans, MRIs, X-rays and other miraculous devices and tests that permit us to spy on our bodies and deal with internal insurgencies.
9. The voice on the GPS that says, “Recalculating,” when you make a wrong turn without getting sarcastic — and the GPS itself.
10. Newspapers. How else could people who don’t know each other have a conversation over coffee every day?
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant. She can be reached through her www.ginabarreca.com.
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