“You’re an old soap slinger from way back.” Eileen said that to me many years ago when I was washing dishes at Hunsaker Canyon. It must have been one of those old “before kids” visits, when the four of us would get together for a weekend at their place or ours and we would eat tasty food and drink robust wine. There was no dishwasher in that strange little house perched on top of a hill up a steep dirt driveway. I recall a pile of dishes from one of Candace’s repasts, something complicated and delectable that had resulted in a kitchen full of dishes. I had filled a basin with hot water and added soap from a squeeze bottle with a flourish. That theatrical move triggered Eileen’s statement.
And now, decades later, on the rare occasion when I wash dishes manually, I recall that testimonial and the view from the kitchen window through the oak trees that framed the hills that surrounded our little bungalow in the woods. The Way of the West, we called it: living in a home where the only central heating was a woodstove and there were horses in the back yard. It seems like a long-ago classic movie, still in color, still filled with the aroma of the lilacs outside the living room in the spring, the feeding of cats and dogs, and, eventually, children. When the dishes piled up, I would look out of the window and marvel at my personal view of California. It was an idyllic time in retrospect, though the place was cold in the winter and occasionally flooded downstairs in the strong storms that arrived in the January\’s before climate change.
Eileen’s husband, Jainen, also washed dishes manually in those days, and up until a couple of years ago he continued that daily chore. Once their kitchen upgrade was finished, years in planning, months in completion, they at last had an automatic dishwasher. But he still takes the same care and detail that he did when he stood in front of the sink each night finishing up the cleanup from whatever delicious concoction Eileen had made. I enjoy watching him work, not out of laziness, but because it reminds me of my own soulful days as a domestic partner.
Candace never got to see that contemporary kitchen, unfortunately. It still seems that as the years pass without her I wonder about what she would have thought about the things I see and experience that take place after she died. I suppose that is part of the process of letting go. Though the emotion is not as strong and captivating as it was before, it is still there. Memories always call it up.
The unbidden recall of memory is an enigmatic experience. As time passes, the remembrances, rather than fading get more intense, shining like treasure hidden away in a vault for protection and preservation. Simple things, moments of verbal humor, like being tagged with the moniker: “The Soap Slinger.”
Dishes. Cooking, Making the bed. Running a load of laundry. All these minute elements of the domestic life I had with her are in my mental safe deposit box. I must get them all out and share them before I pass away. I cannot contend with the possibility that all those recollections will fade like the twilight at the end of the day. Recording them is just as impermanent as the experience itself, but in doing so there is always the slender possibility that someone, somewhere, will read about them, and smile in recognition of their own experience.