What’s behind gratitude?

I can remember when I moved out of my mother’s house. It was right after I left college to get a job at the post office. First I moved in with a friend then a couple weeks later, found my own place. I didn’t have furniture so my mother let me take my bed with me. I was renting a studio apartment—the bed doubled as a sofa. Eventually, I was able to buy a very small kitchen table that had two chairs. It fit in the corner-most part of the kitchenette. There was a small stove with an oven, a small refrigerator with a freezer at the top and a small sink. I worked most of the day so the dishes were never left unclean.

There was a coin-operated washer and dryer in the basement of the apartment. Instead of regular coins, tenants needed to purchase tokens from the rental office in order to use the washer and dryer. Instead of going through the trouble of trying to catch the rental office during business hours to purchase the tokens, I asked my mother if it would be alright to come over and do my laundry a couple of times per month—she agreed. I was very thankful and decided to clean her entire kitchen each time I came over. This was usually on Thursday’s, just in case my boyfriend and I wanted to go out on Friday nights.

My mother’s kitchen wasn’t terribly huge. Whenever I went over my mother’s to wash my 2-loads, the kitchen was cluttered. It seemed as if every plate, glass, cup, spoon, knife, fork and cooking dish in her cabinets was sitting out. Most often there was food left in them—several days old from the looks of it. My brother and sister (both older than me) were living in her house, during those days. My sister had two children and no one thought they should clean the kitchen. My clothes didn’t take long to wash and dry. I started cleaning the kitchen as soon as I put the first load in the washer. I was a dish-washing-wizard.

When my mother taught my sister and me how to wash dishes, I really liked how clean the kitchen was after we finished. It wasn’t long until we each had our very own day to wash dishes—mine was Thursday. As we got better at cleaning, our day turned into a week. By the time my sister was in middle school and I was in my final year of elementary, we were assigned house chores that lasted for a full month! I remember thinking how unfair it was because all my friends only washed dishes for 1-week at a time then their older brothers and/or sisters took over. I didn’t realize how grateful I would be later in life because of this.

By the time my clothes were finished I had the entire kitchen spotless! My sister hadn’t come anywhere near the kitchen while I cleaned and neither did my brother. In fact, I believe they both left the house and didn’t return until I was about to leave. That’s when my sister came in the kitchen and said, “Oh, wow! thanks.” Then she started putting dishes in a box. I asked her why she was packing momma’s dishes and she told me those were her dishes. At that moment, all I could think about was the fact that she let me clean her dirty dishes without even offering to help. My agreement was with my mother—to clean for HER.

really

When my sister said thank you, it didn’t feel genuine. An authentic show of gratitude would not have been cloaked in deceit. She wasn’t thankful that I cleaned our mother’s kitchen (because for some reason she hadn’t). Her gracious attitude wasn’t even due to the fact that I cleaned-up behind her, my brother and my niece and nephew. She was glad that I (blindly) washed all her dishes and she didn’t have to help—so she said thanks. How do you thank someone for doing something you let them believe was for another reason? Her deception didn’t end there.

As I gathered my clean clothes to put in the trunk of my car my sister walked out with me. She asked if I could give her a ride to the other side of town. I was low on gas but agreed that I would. As I got in the car she stood at the driver’s side.  With a wad of cash in her hand she said, “Never mind I’ll just get a cab. I don’t want to use the little bit of gas you have. Thanks anyway.” I thought to myself I wish she would thank me with a few of those dollars.

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