Washing Dishes By Hand

Even the mundane task of washing dishes by hand is an example of the small tasks and personal activities that once filled people’s daily lives with a sense of achievement.
~B.F. Skinner, behavioral psychologist

She rarely made us do it—we’d clear the table instead—
so my sister and I teased that some day
we’d train our children right and not end up like her,
after every meal stuck with red knuckles,
a bleached rag to wipe and wring.
The one chore she spared us:
gummy plates in water greasy
and swirling with sloughed peas,
globs of egg and gravy.                               
Or did she guard her place at the window?
Not wanting to give up the gloss of the magnolia,
the school traffic humming.
Sunset, finches at the feeder.
First sightings
of the mail truck at the curb, just after noon,
delivering a note, a card, the least bit of news.
~Susan Meyers “Mother, Washing Dishes”

My thoughts went round and round and it occurred to me that if I ever wrote a novel it would be of the ‘stream of consciousness’ type and deal with an hour in the life of a woman at the sink.

….I had to admit that nobody had compelled me to wash these dishes or to tidy this kitchen. It was the fussy spinster in me, the Martha who could not comfortably sit and make conversation when she knew that yesterday’s unwashed dishes were still in the sink.
~Barbara Pym from Excellent Women

I trace the faltering American family to the invention of the automatic dishwasher.

What ever has happened to the human dishwasher with two hands full of wash cloth and scrubber, alongside a dish dryer armed with a towel?

Where is the list on the refrigerator of whose turn is next, and the accountability if a family member somehow shirks their washing/drying responsibility and leaves the dishes to the next day?

No longer do family members have to cooperate to scrub clean glasses, dishes and utensils, put them in the dish rack, dry them one by one and place them in the cupboard where they belong. If the washer isn’t doing a proper job, the dryer immediately takes note and recycles the dirty dish right back to the sink. Instant accountability. I always preferred to be the dryer. If I washed, and my sister dried, we’d never get done. She would keep recycling the dishes back for another going-over. My messy nature exposed.

The family conversations started over a meal often continue over the clean-up process while concentrating on whether a smudge is permanent or not. I learned some important facts of life while washing and drying dishes that I might not have learned otherwise. Sensitive topics tend to be easier to discuss when elbow deep in soap suds. Spelling and vocabulary and math fact drills are more effective when the penalty for a missed word is a snap on the butt with a dish towel.

Modern society is missing the best opportunity for three times a day family-together time. Forget family “game” night, or parental “date” night, or even vacations. Dish washing and drying at the sink takes care of all those times when families need to be communicating and cooperating.

It is time to treat the automatic dishwasher as simply another storage cupboard and instead pull out the scrubbing sponges, the white cotton dishtowels and the plastic dishrack.

Let’s start tonight.

And I think it is your turn first…

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4 thoughts on “Washing Dishes By Hand

  1. Beautiful memories evoked by this post Emily. Thank you. I can see my Mom’s hands as well as both of my Grandmother’s submerged in water under the window. Feel the dish towel made from a flour sack and see the Crepe Myrtle blooming magenta out the window. Hear the gentle conversation over the smell of Ivory dish soap.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My husband washes the morning and noon dishes, and I was supper dishes. Every night, without fail, he asks, “You need help in there” and I say, “Nope. I got it.” Every single night. I love it. We have two dishwashers: me and him.❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, the memories. As the oldest, I started as soon as I could stand on a chair. There was always the one sibling who would say he had to use the bathroom at that time, and we’d all say, “Oh, yeah, right.” Towel snaps. I can’t say that our conversations were deep and meaningful, but we definitely bonded. And I’ll never forget the time when, for some reason I was doing them alone (probably cleaning up after baking something), and I decided to spray one of my brothers through the kitchen window with the sprayer. Got the window closed just in time before he retaliated with the hose! We have a dishwasher now, but still have to wash some dished by hand every night.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes I remember if I washed and my older sister dried, if she didn’t do it right away then usually we would wet the dishes in the drying rack so she would have a job to do….

    Liked by 1 person

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