One of my favorite scenes in my novel River Farm is a very simple one. James, at the door of the kitchen, pauses to watch Catherine as she makes biscuits. At first he is is transfixed by how beautiful she looks, standing in the sunlight-filled room, moving gracefully and singing softly to herself. He watched her lean forward at the waist, her hands kneading the dough with skill and patience, her entire body caught up in the rhythmic motion of her work. But then he becomes aware of something more. Something deeper and infinitely more important. He sees the self-assurance with which she goes about her task, how skillfully she does her work, and how easy she makes it seem. His wondering admiration of her shows that, quite simply and frankly, he is impressed with her ability to do this job. He is quietly amazed by how confident she seems, how she knows exactly what she is doing.
James Craig is a wealthy man with an upper-class upbringing. It is highly likely that this skilled doctor who can deliver babies, treat illnesses and injuries, and save lives, would not have the first idea of how to successfully make a batch of biscuits. He admires Catherine for possessing a skill that he does not, and instead of taking Catherine’s ability for granted he is impressed, and even grateful. When I first wrote this scene I didn’t intend for James to stop and watch Catherine at her work, or for him to be so impressed by this simple thing she was doing. I can’t even remember now why I sent James to the kitchen, or if I meant for him to find Catherine there. Writing is a funny thing. It can surprise us sometimes. And I was certainly surprised when I realized what was going to happen. More than simply admiring Catherine for her appearance or her gracefulness or her sweet singing voice, he appreciates her for what she does, for who she is.
I find myself absolutely loving James for the way he is impressed with Catherine making biscuits. This very simple scene makes a powerful statement. It appeals to a deep and basic human need to be appreciated.
Don’t we all want to be admired and respected for the skills we possess, for the tasks we perform? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we were regularly praised for the most mundane things we do?
When my husband acknowledges that the kitchen looks neat and clean after I’ve toiled over the dishes for a half-hour, or I tell him how nice our yard looks after he mows the grass, we are doing more than just expressing our gratitude. We are tacitly saying, “You did something that I didn’t want to do, or something that I can’t do, and that makes my life better.” As a wife and mother I have sometimes lamented that no one knows or understands how hard I work, how much I juggle, even what I do all day. That just finding time to take a shower or change out of pajamas can happen hours into the day, and sometimes not at all. That the triumph of somehow finding time to do a load of laundry is diminished when all anyone else sees are the toys all over the floor. That sometimes the only measure of success is getting to work on time.
Gratitude and acknowledgment, especially when they come without judgment, are wonderful gifts we can give each other. Perhaps we should strive to be more like James, standing quietly on the threshold. Finding all the things we love about another person, from the most noble character traits, to the smallest and simplest skills, and letting them be everything, letting them be enough.