I cleaned my oven yesterday. Even though my kitchen is one of those places where you could probably perform major, invasive surgery on nearly any surface without fear of infection, I’ve always questioned the need to clean an oven. I mean the food never actually touches the oven surfaces and the food that does splatter gets so desiccated and sanitized from the oven heat that it’s unlikely to crawl off the oven walls and kill anyone. But even I had to admit the oven was overdue to be cleaned.

Even with my self-cleaning oven, the racks should be scrubbed by hand, which was what I was doing. It has been some time since I tackled this chore and I use my oven a lot, so there was a lot of scrubbing to be done.

As I stood bent over the sink and worked the steel wool pad with the oozing blue soap ruining what was left of my manicure, I could hear the voice of my step-mother in my head.

My step-mother worked as a school teacher so when school was out, there was a huge list of chores that we accomplished during the summer. (These were mainly tackled by my step-sister and myself. Somehow the two boys in the family seemed to be absent when the time came …) Kitchen cabinets needed to be emptied and scrubbed. Windows were washed inside and out. Ruffled curtains from the bedrooms, baths, and kitchen were taken down, washed, hand starched, ironed and rehung. Carpets were shampooed. Bushels of produce from the garden were picked, cleaned, and pickled or canned. And, of course, the oven got cleaned.

The oven generally needed to be cleaned in warm weather because those were the days before self-cleaning ovens and the horrible lye oven cleaners would smell up the entire house. So the chore had to be done when it was warm enough for the doors and windows to be opened for ventilation. But again, like today, the racks needed to be done by hand — a chore that I probably misremember but that seemed to wind up with my name on it.

I remember spending what seemed like hours scrubbing the racks clean of burned-on grease and food. Nearly all of our meals were home-cooked — biscuits in the morning before school, Swiss steaks slow-cooked in the oven, birthday cakes and cookies, and holiday feasts — all leaving their trace on the oven. And then my step-mother stopping by to check on my progress, saying, “The racks aren’t clean until the bottoms are done, too.”

My step-mother was a kind, wonderful person and not really a task master. But she was a school teacher and she knew when a job was done well and when it wasn’t. And she knew that I knew it as well and expected no less.

So as I scrubbed on the racks yesterday, I heard her voice in my head reminding me that I needed to scrub the bottoms as well.

Then I heard another voice. The conversation went something like this:

RA: You know your fingers hurt.

Me: Yes, I know, but I’m almost finished. I just have the bottom of the second rack to scrub, then I’m done.

RA: I’m sticking sharp sticks in your elbow and I’m going to swell up your wrist.

Me: Quit it! It’s not done until the bottom of the rack is clean as well.

RA: You know your shoulder where you’ve had not one, but two rotator cuff surgeries? And that place in your back where you’re still recovering from spinal fusion surgery? Guess what? Here come some shooting pains just for you. Ha!

Me: I give! I give! Enough is just going to have to be good enough this time.

So to my step-mother (may she continue to rest in peace), I’m sorry, but you were outvoted. And to myself, I have to remember that sometimes with RA you have to accept that what you can do is all you can do. (And nobody sees the bottom of the oven rack anyway …)

I hope whatever voice(s) you have in your head bring you good news. Thanks for checking in.