How many potatoes does a wife peel over the course of her wifetime?
Last week while I was peeling potatoes in my kitchen I had a flashback. For a few moments, I was transported back in time to when I was 18 years old, a young wife and stay-at-home mom, sitting in the kitchen of the middle-aged woman who lived next door.
I loved this woman. She was a boisterous, thrice-married, functioning alcoholic with a wealth of experience, none of which she seemed to learn from, all of which she loved to share after a few glasses of wine.
Evenings spent with her were an adventure as she told tales of ex-husbands and lovers, of friends’ sorrows, and of being adopted. She would gossip about the doctors at the OB/GYN office where she worked, unconcerned that I was a patient there, knowing I had a mad crush on the youngest of them.
My cue to leave some nights were hints of what would later become knock-down, drag-out fights between her and the guitar-playing, passive-aggressive, alcoholic third husband. To say she led a dramatic life is an understatement.
Despite her crazy life, as a young woman, I learned from her. A lot of what I learned was what not to do. But I also learned that a tough life didn’t have to dampen one’s spirit. She was a loving, if inconsistent, mother and a fantastic cook.
Many of our conversations took place in her kitchen, me sitting at the table while she prepared meals. This often involved peeling potatoes. It was during these moments that tidbits of wisdom emerged.
One of her statements in particular stood out. She told me that when she married her first husband, at the age of 18, she vowed to “count every potato I peeled as a wife.”
Her statement struck me because of how loaded it was with meaning. It implied that marriage was a monotonous state in which a woman must perform never-ending duties for her family, many of which went unappreciated. By counting the potatoes, she was in her small way rebelling against the institution, and placing a value on her worth as a woman and wife.
Even at that tender age she had an inkling of what she was getting in to. Of course she lost count.
As I stood in my kitchen, peeler in hand, her words came back to me. There can be a lot of monotony, drudgery, and duty in women’s work. What we do for our families often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Yet we keep on peeling the potatoes, because that’s what women do.
From this woman next door, I learned that every scrape of the potato skin is an act of love, each chop on the cutting board is an offering.