Tuesday, February 21, 2012

“Doing Dishes”

         When we first moved to San Antonio in the 1960s, the biggest draw of excitement for the new house came from the dishwasher. The luxury of simply rinsing the dishes, pots and pans and then placing them into a machine that washed them seemed decadent to us. I don’t remember anyone complaining about doing the dishes during those first years that we had a machine.
         This little dishwasher toiled away for ten years before its motor burned out. My father’s comment when he realized the expense for replacement? “I have three dishwashers in this house. We don’t need another.”
Resentfully, the women in the household took over the machine’s duties. My sister usually cleared the table, putting any leftovers into neat Tupperware containers and stacking the dishes in a manageable pile. I manned the sink of hot sudsy water. As Paula brought dishes to me, I’d quickly submerge them, scour them clean, and dip them into the second sink filled with rinse water. I didn’t mind this chore, but I often wished the scenery I viewed wasn’t the dining room table. I swore that if I even owned a home, I’d have a kitchen sink with a window that overlooked the yard. No one listened to my grumbles as I scrubbed. My mother just calmly dried each plate and restacked them neatly so my sister could put them away. I may have complained a little more when it came to doing the pots and pans, but with my SOS Brillo pad in hand no job proved insurmountable.
Me and my window!
When I left home for college and my first apartment, I thrilled in having a dishwasher again. Only I barely used it at first because I lived alone. If I didn’t want ants or roaches invading my place, I couldn’t leave dirty dishes in the sink. If I had to rinse the dishes enough to keep the insects away, then I figured I should just wash them by hand. I didn’t begin to rely upon a dishwasher until I roomed with three other women. We constructed a simple rule. If you cooked, you didn’t clean. Three of us cooked on a rotation. One roommate never touched the stove, so she always did some kind of clean-up, but she never complained.
Eventually, my apartment living gave way to home ownership. When David and I bought our house, which was built in 1966, it had a portable dishwasher. The little butcher block model sat on one wall across from the sink. You had to roll it over to the sink and attach a hose to the faucet. Needless to say, it leaked. We rarely used it, but it didn’t matter.
The sink in this kitchen overlooks a huge back yard filled with trees. I could finally stand on the inside, hands submerged in heat and suds, and watch butterflies and hummingbirds. We lived in our current home seven years before we remodeled the kitchen and added a dishwasher. I didn’t shift back to automation as easily as you’d think. By this time, I had several sets of dishes and glasses that I didn’t want to run through a machine. I still preferred to clean pots and pans by hand. When this machine eventually died, we didn’t rush for a replacement. Eventually, the pace of our daily routine converted dishes into another dreaded chore, and my complaints lead my husband and son to search for a perfect replacement.
Every day, though, I still stand at the sink and gaze out into my gardens. I’ll load most of the dishes into the machine, but hand wash a set of plastic tumblers I bought at Target for under $2.00 a piece! These smoky goblets bore the instructions—hand wash to keep glass appearance. As they look so much like glass that you don’t believe they’re plastic unless you touch them, I figure I’ll spend a little time each day with hands submerged and eyes gazing into the backyard.  

Puppy Koi "helping" with the dishes

 Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman


  1. I haven't used a dishwasher in years. I'm not sure if it even works.
    I think hand washing gets dishes cleaner, plus there's something therapeutic about svrubbing dishes clean. I like to dust too.

    1. I'm finding that I'm not the only one seeking this therapy!