Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Figuring It Out

I am standing at the sink washing the breakfast dishes, idly wondering how many times I've run a soapy sponge across a plate or scrubbed the residue of cooked food from the bottom of a pot. It’s like wondering how many meals I’ve cooked over the last fifty-odd years. The numbers are shocking, but pointless.

I like doing the dishes, though. I almost always have.When we were kids, my sisters and I would sing rounds as my mother washed and we dried. The poor farmer’s wife was chased unmercifully by three blind mice, or we’d row, row, row our boats until my father would be forced to rattle his newspaper and harrumph from his chair in the next room. Oftentimes my mother would teach us songs from her own childhood. We learned Aloutte in French, and a naughty ditty about angels ascending on high (all the little angels ascend up, ass-end up). I still hum those tunes when my hands are occupied with warm sudsy water and stacks of dirty dishes.

Holiday cleanups were more fun than everyday dish chores. There would always be an extra aunt or two in the kitchen, and the cousins to help. There was also great deal of laughter and interesting conversation and the sort of bonding that comes from work shared. I would volunteer to put away, rather than dry, the dishes. I liked being trusted with the best china. I would carefully stack the dinner plates, the saucers, the dessert plates, and carry them into the dining room. I liked the cedar-y smell of the hutch and the cunning way everything fit just so on the crowded shelves. One misplaced cup and one would have to empty the entire cupboard and start over.

Now, washing dishes gives me time to think without making me look indolent. I like to watch the day wake up outside the kitchen window while I scrub the bits of breakfast egg from a plate or rinse the suds from my teacup. If I’m home at noon, the completion of lunch dishes is like being offered carte blanche for the afternoon. Supper dishes signal the end of the day’s work. Who can say a word then if I fling myself in a chair with a book or sit idly flipping through a catalog?

Figuring it all out, if I’ve done dishes on the average of two times a day (bypassing lunch which is most often eaten on the job) for the last 59 years that’s a little over 43,000 times I’ve stood at the kitchen sink to wash up after a meal. Toss in a few extra hours for those days I do eat lunch at home, add in extra sink duty for every holiday, and the number is staggering. I’ve enjoyed that many sunrises and sunsets though, had countless interesting thoughts, and used some of that time to teach my own children about rowing boats and ascending angels.

Inspired by Judith's question, "Why Do You wash the Dishes?"

Thanks, Hilary !


Marion said...

"Supper dishes signal the end of the day’s work."...this is exactly right. It isn't the same with a dishwasher. I recall hanging up the dish towel with a sense of accomplishment after washing dishes in the sink. And...in the Spring, after a day spent gardening...well, the dirt gets cleaned out really well from under my nails!

Washing dishes is simply meditative, relaxing and soothing!

Reya Mellicker said...

Well, no wonder you are so wise. All those dishes!

I love doing dishes, too. Glad I'm not the only one! Like you, my sisters and I always sang songs while washing dishes. It was so much fun.

Sometimes I still sing while I'm cleaning the kitchen. Great post!

Barb said...

I'm reading your memories of dishes and family just after sunrise in CO. I'm also remembering those times when we would actually talk over the menial chores rather than hurry to stuff the dishwasher and go on to the next thing. It was a time of bonding and sharing our plans or rehashing our day. At the end of your post, your accent on all the positives that have come through the years (along with the chores) made me smile. Sometimes, in the mundane, we tend to forget all those glorious moments which surely weren't "wasted."

Judith said...

You took the ball and ran with it for a touchdown!

It all started with Stef's (Smile, Kiddo) blog: so a triple play. Fun!

Brian Miller said...

wow. thats a lot of dishes! you know i kinda like washing them to...it gives you something productive to do and allow your mind to wander....

Pauline said...

ah Marion - I forgot that! how true - one more reason to keep washing those dishes by hand!

Reya - I still sing when I work :)

barb - yes, often working together fostered great conversation

lol Judith - I did!

Brian - when you get to be an old man, your numbers will be impressive, too ;)

Hilary said...

I've never owned a dishwasher and I really don't mind doing dishes. I know folks who let their pile up for a few days and then tackle them all at once. It works fine for them, but I like to see the kitchen clear. It makes it so much more inviting for the next meal. And I like the feel of the warm, sudsy water. Very nice post, Pauline. I love how you think and write.

Helen said...

I have a dishwasher, but save it for large family dinner messes. I love the feeling of washing dishes by hand. I grew up in the 40s/50s ~ need I say more?

JeannetteLS said...

I feel lost and alone. I do not like doing dishes. It always hurt to stand for so long as a child, even... but then, the damage was there and we did not know. I simply thought I was a wimp. Jean Ellen and I resented it. The boys got to run off and do their things. Mom and Dad plopped, which was okay. But we were stuck there washing dishes for six, wishing we were anywhere else.

I don't mind doing them if I must, but I like the dishwasher. I LOVE your entry, though, and I can see very clearly the beloved ritual as you describe it.

But I love the dishwasher. When I raised my kids we were in an apartment where there was not room for more than one in the kitchen comfortably.

For us, dinner's end signaled MY time with the kids though. Curled up on the foldout couch reading a book together, or helping them with their homework.

Sigh... I envy all of you the associations. We found other things to slow us down.

Gary said...

My grandmother had a window over her kitchen sink but we didn't have one in our house growing up where I washed many a dish. I thought that when I had my own house I would have a window over the sink so I could watch what was happening outside while washing the dishes. I happily have a window over the sink now! A little thing that makes a difference. I can see the birds, squirrels and children next door playing with their puppy. I have no idea how many dishes I have washed in my 47 years but feel confident that there will be many, many more in my future.

I love the kitchen pic!

Star said...

I enjoyed your post and the peek into your pretty kitchen.
I like to play games when I'm washing up. I like to dry up the largest item first, then the next largest and so on, right down to the smallest spoon. It's more fun that way.

steven said...

pauline your singing voice - inside and out - must be scupulously clean and beautiful! steven

Pauline said...

Thanks, Hilary - I do the dishes at the end of every meal. My kitchen is so tiny that if I didn't, I'd soon be out of dishes!

I did, too, Helen :)

Jeannette - I hate to dust! We all have some chore we dislike, I bet.

Thanks, Gary - that's my own little cottage kitchen. I've always had a window to look out of while doing the dishes - it makes the chore more pleasurable.

Star - I may try that :)

Steven - My singing isn't pretty but it's fun ;)

Gaston Studio said...

Loved this story; one reason I like to wash dishes, clean, etc., is that it offers me time alone with my brain and the memories stored there.

Congrats on POTW!

Out on the prairie said...

We used to argue who got to wash rather than dry as kids.I live by myself and tend to use the same utensils all day.When I visit my daughter, I start at her sink to give a hand to a busy house.

San said...

A vivid description of how everyday tasks can open us to wonder. I feel the same way about putting things away in the kitchen--how it all "cunningly" fits in. The actual dishwashing hasn't quite revealed its magic yet, but now I can see it through your eyes.

CherylK said...

I've never minded doing dishes, either. This post was such a pleasure to read. It brought back lots of memories. Good memories. It's clear why Hilary chose this as a POTW. Congrats!