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Soaking helps ease life's frustrations

"You forgot to say that the beans have to be soaked overnight," said my neighbor. How could I have forgotten? Not only do the dry beans soften for cooking while they soak but all the bad beans (with the little bean weevils inside) come to the top of the water and are easily thrown out. Soaking the beans is essential! I've been thinking this week about things we used to soak. Remember those wonderful meals of boiled potatoes and creamed codfish? That was one of my father's favorites. My mother would take strips of the heavily salted dried fish from the wooden box in which it was packed and soak it the night before it was cooked. In the morning the fish was cooked in fresh water and then added to a cream sauce. It was an inexpensive meal in those days and one that almost all the families on our street ate frequently.

We used those wooden codfish boxes for hundreds of different purposes. They were handy containers for nuts, bolts, nails and screws and other small items in the tool shed or barn. Our neighbor kept dried squash and other vegetable seeds from his garden in them _ ready for the next year's planting. My bachelor uncle kept individual moths for his collection in the boxes. The moths were still in the chrysalis state. I remember wandering through his little work shop and marveling at how the larvae could spin those little cocoons.

During World War II, when all the members of our family were working, my mother (a firm believer in the biblical injunction to tithe) designated a codfish box as a receptacle for God's money. When we were paid we each tossed our 10 percent into the box and from that box we all drew out money for church or charity as it was needed. I remember the slightly fishy smell of the money I dropped into the collection plate at church. I wonder if anyone else ever noticed.

Some clever people succeeded in getting the fish smell out of those boxes and stained and lacquered them, sometimes lining them with velvet to make lovely little jewelry cases or sewing boxes. Our son created several small, portable worship centers from the boxes. Each one had a tiny altar with cross and candles with different altar hangings for the various church seasons.

Another thing that we used to soak was tapioca _ before the days of the instant kind. Overnight the little white kernels became large translucent balls. Tapioca pudding was a frequent dessert in the college dining room when I was a freshman. I remember some fastidious upper classmen who declared that the tapioca looked like fish eyes and refused to eat it. I was perpetually hungry in those days and gladly accepted the offer of an extra dessert whatever it looked like.

Today most of us still soak "stuck-on" dishes. Why spend 15 minutes on a roasting pan when, after soaking, two minutes will do the job? If you still do dishes by hand, as I do, you probably let them soak in the hot soapy water before you start to wash them.

Remember that line from the old song, Leave the dishes in the sink, Ma? My friend, a budding feminist, declares that when a man says, "Just leave the dishes to soak and come watch TV," he is just easing his conscience. He knows he should be out in the kitchen helping. But she is newly married and just learning about domestic labor sharing. She complains to me that her husband leaves his dirty underwear or socks soaking in the bathroom sink to "help out." "Some help!" she cries. "Those things need to be washed not soaked and you know who has to wash them!" I remind her gently that soaking often removes stains that scrubbing won't budge.

Last week I bought four banana plants at a yard sale. "Water them for about a week," said the man who sold them to me. "Just let them soak up the water before you plant them." So I've soaked them and planted them and one of these days I expect to be eating my own home-grown bananas.

Yes, dried beans and peas, salted codfish, tapioca, dirty roasting pans, stained laundry and banana plants all need to be soaked and so do a lot of other things!

Try to imagine a big tub filled with sparkling water into which could be tossed at the end of a day all the day's happenings including the little nagging worries, the small irritations and tensions of family living, and the real or imagined hurts and slights we've received at work. Imagine pulling the plug in the morning and letting all that old negative stuff go down the drain. Imagine starting each day with a clean slate.

Often, before taking drastic action, it's a good idea to put some things to soak.

Miriam Snow Priebe is a resident of Gulfport and a former teacher.