Last night I got home from kayaking to rediscover the fresh, home-made pesto sitting in my fridge and the bouquet of wildflowers on the kitchen table. The house was clean, and the despair that’s been encroaching on me for weeks as we have tried and failed to buy a house had disappeared. I marveled.
On a normal weekend, my favorite food is frozen pizza. I watch a lot of TV. I don’t buy flowers because they cost money and then they die and that’s impractical. We live in an apartment and I have no upper-arm strength, so kayaks have always been as distant a dream as buying a house or cleaning the one we live in. For some people, for clean-house people, pesto-making people, wildflower-picking, house-buying, kayaking-type people, these small joys are small. But not for me.
Where had the energy to keep things clean come from? How had I so suddenly escaped the banality of my comfort and practicality for kayaks and wildflowers?
It started with the pesto and for that, I give credit to Mary.
Mary is one of my current bosses, a seventy-eight-year-old woman with a fierce gardening habit that calls for some extra muscle. (That’s me.)
Mary was the first person to contact me about my doing yardwork for her, and it was not an auspicious beginning. Low rates for a house in one of the nicer parts of town: “Probably a cheap rich person who doesn’t want to pay a real company,” I informed my husband, whose cynicism does not run as deeply. Then a miscommunication led to me showing up two hours later than she expected me. Mary was not impressed. “Well, we’ll see what we can get done . . .” she said, obviously regretting my appointment.
We worked side-by-side for two hours, me snatching glances to see how a septuagenarian was keeping up with me and her admitting I was “quite a worker!” At the end of my time, she came out of the house with two popsicles. We ate them side by side in the June heat and talked about life. It was one of the most genuine, pleasant conversations I had had in months. Every week since, she’s sent me home with a treat, a thank-you, and the genuine feeling that I’ve found a kindred spirit.
This past week I got my ice cream snack and thank-you along with a Ziploc stuffed full of basil. “Do you like pesto? I’ll get you some basil and the recipe. And I’ll stick some parsley in there too. You can add that if you run out of basil.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m kind of a waste of space in a kitchen. Nor did I mention my occasional depression that is the rock to the scissors of follow-through and energy and the happiness that is the stuff of homemade pesto.
Instead I gave only part of the truth to a person who has always been one hundred percent authentic and loving to me. “I’ve always wanted to try making pesto,” I said, hoping it wasn’t obvious that I hadn’t realized basil was the key ingredient in pesto.
She pushed—she’s like that. “Do you have Parmesan cheese? Olive oil? It says to use pine nuts, but you can just substitute walnuts. They’re cheaper. Do you have something to mix it in?”
I silently thanked my husband for insisting on the food processor for our wedding registry. “Would a food processor work?” I asked.
Yes, it would, and the weirdest thing happened. As I scarfed down this week’s ice cream treat, I knew I would make pesto.
Mary wants to keep working in the garden as a seventy-eight year old. She moves plants around from flower bed to flower bed because it brings her joy, not because she needs to. She’s suspicious but admits when she got it wrong. She’s bossier than anyone I know, but just as eager to teach and explain.
She is so very free from that which binds me. And for one weekend, I found myself free enough to do likewise, to work for what brings me joy. Pesto. Wildflowers. A clean home. Kayaks. Small marvels.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).