June 26, 2011

Washing Dishes

from ebay.com
My dishwasher is broken, and I just spent 30 minutes washing breakfast and yesterday’s dishes.  Everything is sparkling clean except for the saucepan Herman heated baked beans in for lunch Saturday, and didn’t rinse.  It’s soaking in hot water for later.

The last time I regularly washed dishes the old-fashioned way was in 1980 when I lived in Spring Harbor apartments.  The apartments were so awful that I nicknamed them “Sewer Harbor.”

Things I remember about the utilitarian Sewer Harbor – other than washing dishes – include:

·        Choosing the apartment long-distance from a real estate book for its washer and dryer, only to discover upon moving in that the appliances came from an old Laundromat and had non-functioning coin slots.

·        Keeping beer on ice in the bathtub for what turned out to be a truly regrettable New Year’s Eve party.

·        Falling asleep buck naked – face down – after a shower one Friday evening and waking in the morning to noise outside my second story window. The racket was two very interested painters working on the trim.  No, it was not the morning after the awful party; I am not that kind of girl. (Try to imagine how to get yourself out of this situation when you are lying on top of the bedspread.  Requires extreme dexterity, and a kind of a Navajo roll maneuver from the bed to the floor.)

·        Hanging multi-colored love beads between the tiny kitchen and living room to convince myself it was two rooms.

·        Gladly moving one year later with a childhood girlfriend to a townhouse dubbed the “Disco Condo.”  While the front door didn’t lock and the gold shag carpet in the living room had holes in it, the neighbors didn’t get drunk and beat each other up.  It was an improvement, and we set a wicker chair over the carpet holes.  And no dishes to wash.  Ah, to be 23 again.

We’re remodeling our kitchen later this summer, so when the dishwasher died about three weeks ago we decided not to replace it.  A serviceman confirmed that it was beyond repair.

With just two of us, doing dishes is not a big deal.  But I do tend to stack them up until I have enough to make it worth my while.  I am not in contention for Hoosier Homemaker of the Year.

My mother has always enjoyed washing dishes, and I could never understand why.  Only in the last few weeks has she been unable to wash the few cups and plates she and my father use for breakfast at their retirement home. 

She is unable to do almost everything for herself, yet she knew the routine well.  Stop up the left-hand side of the sink.  Add the liquid detergent.  Add hot water, hot enough until your skin nearly comes off.  Wash.  Rinse.  Dry.

Her physical decline with worsening dementia escalates – now she can no longer wash dishes, talk on the phone, or write her name. She sleeps most of the time, and now uses a wheelchair.  My father encourages her to walk to the dining room twice a day, to keep her legs from atrophy.

While my family of origin owned a dishwasher from 1966, I remember her in the kitchen of our first house, a 1000-square foot yellow ranch on a slab.  Like the famed Levittown houses, this was a familiar model from Jim Walter in the Midwest during the 1950s. 

Three bedrooms, one bathroom, and a one-vehicle carport off to the side.  Both the bath and kitchen had black and white checkered tile on the floor, often marred with black marks from the heels of two pairs of children's Keds Red Ball jets. 

Mom washed dishes three times a day at the double sink, looking out into the back where a wooden sandbox overflowed in to the yard and a K-Mart swing set offered my brother and me great fun.  She could also see Mr. Lee’s garden, in summer brimming with fresh vegetables and punctuated with soaring golden sunflowers. She often sang O Sole Mio while she washed the light blue pottery dishes and bowls that were wedding gifts in 1955.  A few of the blue dishes -- Iroquois Casual China by Russel White -- are still in their cabinet, faded but unbroken.

On special occasions, she particularly enjoyed using special pieces , a silver server, red crystal glasses, a white enamel platter. 

While it seemed to take forever to wash and dry, she enjoyed washing and drying these pieces almost more than using them. My job was to put each serving piece carefully away in the green velvet-lined wooden box that my parents hid in their bedroom closet.

Now most of these pieces belong to me, and I use them on special occasions. With no dining room,  we set up my grandmother’s cherry Duncan Fyffe table with all her special things, past treasures that are only treasures to those who shared the memories. 

When Mom is here, she helps me wash the dishes. Unfortunately, she is no longer able to travel the 200 miles to my home.  The last time she came, she fell down the stairs. My two-level house offers her only confusion.

When I wash my dishes this summer, I  see  my  backyard.  The neighbor kids, Max and Sutton, are often outside with Mom or Dad, playing on the present-day version of a swing set, a large wooden fort.

I  hear them laughing, and see them on the fort above the fence between our houses.    A ground hog or maybe an opossum?  The yard is filled with birds, mean blue jays, friendly cardinals, brown and white finches, and sparrows.

Washing dishes is a peaceful respite when I can travel back in time or just ponder the birds. Later this summer we’ll get the new stainless steel dishwasher and I’m even getting a new, deeper, more modern sink.  Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ll want to use the dishwasher after all. © By the Author, from the forthcoming book Losing Molly.