Doing the dishes is a lost art

By Alice Liles

Alice’s note: This story first appeared in my blog The Bright Lights of Muleshoe on January 6, 2011. We had just begun some remodeling on our house and everything in the kitchen cabinets along with the contents of some other rooms had been packed away for the task. We were about to celebrate the coming of the New Year with our traditional meal of black-eyed peas, cornbread, sausage and sauerkraut when I realized the dishes I needed for the meal were packed away, and which also made me remember washing and drying dishes with my mother, way back last century. Now Bill and I do the dishes in much the same way Mother and I did them, and even my kids helped me with this chore way back last century, too.
If you read last week (in an earlier story in the blog on the Internet), you know we are having some remodeling done to our house. I packed all the wrong things, like a pie pan I use to make cornbread to go with the black-eyed peas we Southerners traditionally eat for good luck on New Year’s Day. So I will just borrow one. I also packed the cornbread recipe, but I think I can remember it. I packed all but a very few dishes, glasses and silverware for us to use while the work is going on. If all the dishes are packed, there will never be enough for a full dishwashing load before we would need those same plates again, so I decided the easy thing to do would be just wash and dry them as we go. And there won’t be many to wash because cooking will be limited.
As I was doing a batch tonight, I was reminded of all the dishes my mother and I did back in the day. The TV was in our kitchen, which was built to serve as a family room. So when there was a show on we wanted to watch, we would sit down and enjoy the show until the ads came on. Then we would jump up and she would wash, I would dry until the ads were over, and then we would slide back into our chairs and watch till the next bunch of ads came on when we would jump up and repeat the process.
It’s amazing how much can get done during an ad break, then or now-especially now with longer ad breaks.  It was a good system; it was a relatively painless way to get the dishes out of the way and not miss our shows, all at the same time. But the beauty of the system was really the time we spent together and the conversations we had.
Many times supper was later in the evening because Daddy would be home late from work. By the time we would be ready to do the dishes, he would be showering and going to bed, and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson would be coming on. Mother and I were both afflicted with late-night circadian rhythms, and we both liked Johnny Carson, so in the summertime we would many times be doing dishes while watching The Tonight Show. Yes, Virginia, there was a Tonight Show long before Jay Leno hit the tube, even long before Johnny Carson had the show. (Of course, now even Jay is gone.) And we always enjoyed the show.
Daddy, on the other hand, did not. And of course, he had to get up and go to work the next morning. I can still see him standing at the bedroom door in his boxer shorts and undershirt, grumpy frown on his face, grumbling something about it being time to turn off the TV and go to sleep. Mother would assure him she would be there in just a minute, and then we would finish the show anyway.
Hmm. I seem to have digressed. I was going to talk about how simple, really, it is to do the dishes and the fact that if you have children you have built-in helpers if you will just get them indoctrinated at an early age and preferably before an automatic dishwasher lodges itself in your kitchen cabinet. I, alas, did not. I too was a victim of the seductiveness of having a dishwasher and thought it was a wonderful time saver, when in reality it wasn’t. Be honest-don’t you basically wash them yourself before loading them? I mean, come on, what’s the point in putting them in the dishwasher? They’re already clean! Yes, I know the theory that it’s better because the heat and hot water sterilizes them. But do you honestly think you were sicker back in the days when we hand-washed them? If anything we were probably healthier then because our systems were in a position to develop antibodies to stuff that makes us sick now. We have become such a nation of germophobes. But it helps sell dishwashers, so appliance dealers are happy.
I promise, with a little practice and orderly stacking in the dish drainer, the use by the person washing of a pair of modern, miraculously effective devices called rubber gloves- which also, by the way, keep your hands from smelling yucky when you scrub the sink with Comet or bleach, not to mention keeping your skin from drying out and away from the gunky food mess that collects in the bottom of the sink- a nice large dish towel, and a TV to watch during the ads, you, too, can have scintillating conversation with your children-and teach them a trade for a summer job all at the same time! Ha.
And you just might get to know them better and have a productive and good time doing it.
Please, though, don’t let the water run willy-nilly the whole time you are washing. That would be waste of water, which would undo the good things about doing the dishes.

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