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Around the Kitchen Table


The bio the Prairie Messenger includes with Joan Eyolfson Cadham’s columns reads: Eyolfson Cadham is an award-winning columnist and freelance journalist who moved from Montreal to Foam Lake in 1992. She is a member of Saskatchewan Writers Guild and is an oral storyteller who has professional status with Storytellers of Canada. Joan began storytelling with the Prairie Messenger in the mid-1980s. For nearly 30 years she shared her wisdom, her humour, her challenges, her pain and, through it all, the enduring sense of joy that was always at the very heart of her life. We are heartbroken to share the news with our Prairie Messenger family that Joan died on Oct. 28 at the age of 75. She had just published her new book, The Twelve Gifts of Christmas and Other Stories.
The following column, published in the Oct. 3, 1994, issue of the Prairie Messenger, won Column of the Year at the Canadian Church Press convention in 1995.



Ritual has a place — but not on the clothesline


By Joan Eyolfson Cadham

Every time I hang laundry out on the line on a mellow Saskatchewan afternoon I feel an almost overwhelming compulsion to run up and down the back alley with a megaphone, trumpeting to my neighbours, “It’s OK. I really do know how to do it properly.”

And then I resume my frantic rush to shake out and hang up our various bits of laundry so that one load will dry on my single line in time for me to get the second load out. Meanwhile, I sling a green towel up beside the brown one, and I find three more face-cloths after I hang up the socks, and the corners on the sheet aren’t a perfect match. Besides, it’s Friday afternoon, not Monday morning, so I’m in trouble anyway.

My mother had a six-line clothesline at the back of our property, running down toward the creek. There was a ritual to the hanging out of Mom’s wash.

The good whites went out first, hanging on the front, exposed lines. Good whites included the hand-embroidered white pillowcases in tidy little pairs, with the patterns proudly on view.

Next, starched to rigid obedience, came the white tablecloths followed by the new sheets, hung in pairs of course, folded perfectly in half on the short sides to save space and pegged with three evenly spaced pins.

The next space belonged to Dad’s shirts, the better towels, again in pairs, hung in a colour-coded sequence — blues, browns, greens — and general family clothes.

On the back lines, screened from casual view by trees, the creek and more trees, were the worn towels, still hung in matching colour sequences, and the worn sheets, the dark clothes, the work socks, the handkerchiefs, tea towels and dishcloths, scrub rags and dust cloths.

It was all taken in Tuesday morning (did it ever dare rain on washday in Saskatchewan?), dampened by hand, rolled, lined up in the laundry basket for some ritual number of minutes and seconds, and then ironed — every scrap of it, including the socks and the dishcloths.

Laundry wasn’t the only activity conducted as a set piece. There were rituals around the making of buns at Easter and fruit cake at Christmas. The garden was never planted before or after May 24.

The furniture and the wainscotting were given a coat of paste wax every Saturday morning without fail. Spring housecleaning, fall housecleaning — for everything there was a season.

I rapidly peg more socks on the line and realize the machine has shipped another white with red trim and Jack’s good blue sock into the black hole. I consider burying the two strays under the Jerusalem artichokes, but hang them up anyway.

At least I still follow unerringly the rule that new clothes pegs are used for whites and old ones for coloureds, and clothes pegs are never ever left on the line to weather.

But there’s not much time for ritual. And since I am at the computer until CBC Radio goes off air, I don’t do mornings, so it’s tough to get the laundry out on that line before mid-afternoon.

Besides, Mondays are for all sorts of activities. Laundry is for when we have a spare few hours.

But some days as I race down the length of clothes line, Jack holding the pegs while I scoop items at random from the laundry basket, I remember fondly the slower organized pace of life with the quiet Sundays devoted to visiting family and to long meals and very quiet play.

I’m not so nostalgic that I would try to live it. On the other hand, I’m glad I had it. It makes me realize the importance of ritual for little people — and sometimes, too, for us bigger ones.

It’s one of the reasons I like going to church — there’s a certain comfort in knowing that for exactly one hour a week there is unchanging form and pattern and ritual. It’s a great oasis from the rest of the week.

Of course, ritual without substance is like Christmas cake without the raisins, the candied peel and the nuts, and part of my church ritual includes being greeter or reader or just making sure to greet the youngster behind us with the sign of peace. For ritual to work for me, I need to be personally involved.

That, of course, is my problem with the laundry. In spite of Mom’s solid training and example, I never really cared whether the red T-shirt hung beside the blue towel.

On the other hand, I understand and care about the entire sequence of events we call “going to mass.” At some deep level I know that the ritual handshake is a profoundly important moment of sharing with my faith community, that it is urgently important for us all and for the continuing presence of a church in my town that I take the moment to smile and reach out to the toddler behind me.

Once upon a time, I would never have entered a church door unless I was wearing my smart little white hat with the matching gloves and the leather clutch purse. Now that ritual has as much meaning as which sheet gets hung first. The important issue is that the sheets do get hung — and that, welcomed by God, I want to share that welcome in some honest ritual way with people around me.


Small miracles give birth to big ones

The following column, by Joan Eyolfson Cadham, was published April 10, 1995 — the Prairie Messenger’s Easter edition. Joan always believed in the power of everyday miracles, and, for many years, she has been a miracle in the lives of those she has touched. “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Mt 25:23).

“There was a problem in my church,” my writer-buddy, United Church minister Dennis Dwyer, explains this time of year. “We floated directly from Palm Sunday — hosannah, hosannah — to Easter Sunday — alleluia, alleluia — without ever experiencing the crucifixion. There’s no meaning to resurrection without death.”

At our church, as part of our lenten journey, we are following a brief Scripture study with different forms of the way of the cross, traditional and non-traditional. Last Monday we tried the new form that begins with the Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane and concludes with the resurrection. There’s no meaning to crucifixion without resurrection.

Jack is scrambling around getting things ready for his stained-glass workers’ class which is meeting in his workshop tonight.
A year ago, Jack was a 119-pound bundle of constant pain. From my personal Garden I watched cancer defeat the medical profession and conventional anti-cancer treatments.

“It was the prayer of friends that led us to the Essiac,” Jack insists. Son Joe found the modern version of an old Ojibway herbal combination after our doctor offered morphine.

The day Jack’s blood tests came back normal, I finally wept, in relief and joy. A year later, we greet each new day as a friend, each moment together as a special blessing, each opportunity to give something back to the community that loved us well as a gift.

There is no meaning to the resurrection unless there is awareness, and, maybe, change.

My close friends tease me about my unfailing belief that St. Anthony, patron saint of lost objects, will bail me out when some important paper vanishes. On the other hand, even the most devout skeptic realizes that St. Anthony never lets me down.
But what does St. Anthony have to do with resurrections? It all has to do with faith.

I had to crawl out of my personal Garden of Gethsemane and add action to prayer. For weeks I had to cook healthy meals and to badger a disinterested man into eating. I had to be positive enough for two. I had to have energy for two, with a little left over for work.

Little, everyday common garden variety miracles sure make the big ones more plausible.

The last lines of the new stations of the cross read: “Jesus, you love us. You have returned from the dead to be with us. Be our promise, our hope that all evil will be overcome. Bless us with full life for all humankind, under your convenant. Alleluia.”

And as Jack clambers over the snowbank and climbs into the truck to get milk for his students’ coffee, and I think about our new full life, there is only one response: Alleluia!