Last week, the inexpensive little home theater system I had wheezed, coughed, and gasped its last; it had been sickly for a while but struggled on a few more months after a nice man at the local Sears outlet tinkered with it (and it's not a Sears machine--he just took pity on me because no one repairs electronic components these days). With little hope, I took it to Mr. Nice Sears again, but despite his valiant efforts, the thing was well and truly dead. Really, most sincerely dead, even. Ding dong.
However, a Sony system was on sale there at half its already discounted price. Kevin suggested we go in on it together as a family Christmas present, which seemed like a good idea. It's been sitting in the living room since then, until last night when I decided to start untangling speaker wire and going through the complicated "Quick Start" setup. Finally, I thought it was ready to play a DVD and popped in a disc from season 2 of Star Trek: Voyager. (Shut UP. It's good! And that Chakotay is mighty fine.) The system read the disc just fine--whooo! Before I could get cocky, though, I realized the picture was in black and white. Arrrghhhh. I read the manual, I consulted the Sony Web site, I messed around with cables, I lit candles to the Gods of Electronica . . . nothing. I muttered "Why does everything have to be so hard?"
And then I sat there with that question reverberating in my head. Hard? I'm bitching because a machine that lets me play movies IN MY HOME isn't easier to set up?? What the . . .? When did I get so spoiled?
My rather unattractive fit of petulance got me thinking about how much easier my life is than my grandmother's was. I often think about her when I'm feeling sorry for myself because if ever a person deserved to complain about a hard life, it was Inez. She raised five kids during the Depression, suffered three miscarriages or infant deaths along the way, and endured the uncertainty of her husband never being sure what his next source of income would be--a decent tobacco crop, a livestock sale, odd jobs he could pick up here and there. She kept a clean home and sewed most of her family's clothes without the luxuries of electricity or running water. I began comparing the differences in an typical day for us, based on her recollections and my dad's reminiscences of his childhood:
Inez wakes up in the chilly dawn. She yawns and sighs, then eases out of bed quietly so that she doesn't wake her baby, Joan, who's sleeping nearby in her cradle. She lights the oil lamp and gets dressed quickly, shivering. She carries the lamp into the kitchen, starts a fire in the woodstove, pumps water into the kettle, and puts it on to boil for coffee. While she's waiting for the water, she goes to the chicken coop and gathers eggs for breakfast. Her husband Jeff is up now and out in the barn milking the cows. Inez checks the stove, and then makes coffee and mixes a batch of biscuits. Before she can get them in the oven, though, she hears Joan crying. She runs back to the bedroom, changes Joan, and then carries her to the kitchen to nurse her.
I wake up, look at the clock, and decide I can snooze for 15 more minutes. I get up finally, carry Charlie downstairs, and let the dogs out, sipping my first cup of coffee that's already brewed before I get up. I check the clock and call upstairs to make sure Daniel's awake.
Inez's four boys stumble into the kitchen, sleepy-eyed, and go out to do their chores. She finishes making breakfast and feeds Jeff and her boys, managing a few bites herself, standing up, while bouncing Joan and fetching butter and jam. She gets her boys off to school finally and puts on water to heat for washing a load of diapers.
I take a frozen waffle out and stick it in the toaster oven for a couple of minutes. While I'm waiting, I check my blood sugar and take my medications. When the oven dings, I take the waffle with another cup of coffee to the living room, turn on the TV, and watch the news while I eat. I kiss Daniel good-bye as he leaves for school, and then walk into my office with another cup of coffee to surf news sites and journals online and check my e-mail.
Inez puts diapers in hot water and bleach to soak for a while, and then heats more water to wash the breakfast dishes. She gets some potatoes and onions out of the root cellar to use later for dinner. The water is finally hot enough, so she cleans up the kitchen, and then scrubs the diapers on her washboard while listening to the radio. She rolls the diapers through the wringer and hangs them outside to dry. Joan starts fussing, so Inez carries her back inside, nurses her again, and settles her down for a nap so that she can start washing another load of clothes and mend Jeff's overalls. She hopes she has a few minutes to sit down and write her cousin a letter; she hasn't heard from her in months. She'd love to see Ruby, but traveling 30 miles away is out of the question these days, even if they could afford the gas for the truck.
I yawn, stretch, and walk into the kitchen. I put breakfast dishes in the dishwasher and look to see whether I have enough to run a load. I don't, so I go downstairs to the basement, toss a load of towels in the washer, turn it on, and go back to my office. I check the weather online and then pull up the chapter I'm currently working on. A couple of hours later, I take a break to eat some yogurt. I hear the UPS man at the door, so I fetch the Christmas gifts I bought online. Then I change into my workout clothes so that I can drive to Curv3s because getting a little physical activity every day is important. Before I leave, I call my friend Lynn and chat for a few minutes. We decide to meet for lunch tomorrow at the Chinese restaurant.
And that's just the morning. I'm exhausted thinking about the rest of Inez's day. I wish I could call and ask her how she managed--and how she kept her faith and her sense of humor despite what life handed her. She's been gone five years. I still miss her, but remembering her gives me strength and the perspective I so often lack.