I’m the last person to decry dishwashers. Maybe the old ones weren’t so great, but the new models are wondrous things — quiet, energy-efficient, and they save us a heck of a lot of time (especially in the case of big holiday meals).
Still, I sometimes miss washing dishes the old-fashioned way. In fact — truth be told — I sometimes opt to wash by hand in order to recapture what’s been lost. Am I nuts? Maybe.
The quintessential dishwashing picture is the 50’s housewife slaving over a sink full of sudsy dishes while hubby smokes a pipe and relaxes in his easy chair.
Growing up in the late 50’s/early 60’s, that’s precisely how it was in our household. I can’t remember ever seeing my dad wash a dish . . . or dry one, for that matter. That was women’s work. (Although, to his credit, at the age of 93 he’s gotten pretty good about washing dishes). It was Mom’s job to wash and rinse, mine to dry and put away. I still remember the crispness of the dish towels when I pulled one from the drawer beside the sink, the sharp creases (yeah, she ironed her dish towels, what can I say?), and the faint smell of bleach as I unfolded the cloth.
When my niece Michelle visited, she and I took over the chore together. It wasn’t an occasion for griping. Dishes needed to be washed. We knew that. It was part of the routine, one of the ways that we, as family members, contributed to the household. There was no complaining or grousing, we just got down to it. And what fun we had! There wasn’t much splashing going on (that would have put Dad into an uproar), but we laughed like crazy and talked about everything and shared our dreams. Sometimes we even talked about really serious stuff, our heads bent together so our voices wouldn’t carry to the adults in the living room. It was a time for us to be close, to cement the relationship that’s lasted all these years.
And at holiday times? There was so much conversation and laughter (and, let’s face it, squabbling — we are, after all, a family), that you hardly noticed you were doing dishes. And there were so many willing hands bent to the task, that it was over before you knew it. (And just in time to serve dessert!)
What I miss is that closeness. We live in such a crazy world. It’s all about the rush to get somewhere or away from somewhere or on to the next thing. When I wash dishes by hand, wrist-deep in the hot soapy water, the scent of detergent in my nose, I relive those quieter, slower times.
I like it best when my husband joins me. Not because I think he ought to “get his ass out here and help,” but because it reminds us to make a tiny oasis in the day. When we use the dishwasher, we’re off and running to the next task or –more often — slouched on the couch staring mindlessly at the television, rousing for an occasional Neanderthal grunt but not much more. When we wash by hand, the kitchen is quiet but for the clink and rattle of dishes, and perhaps some music faint in the background. With our voices pitched low, we talk over our respective days, compare notes, think about the future, make plans, remember the good times, and laugh out loud. All that — even the manky dishwater — is the building blocks of our life together. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded of that from time to time.