As appliances are known to do, my dishwasher quit working on a holiday. Maybe it decided that humans aren’t the only ones who need a few days off work. It ran its last load of dirty dishes on the last day of the year and rang in the New Year by leaking water all over the kitchen floor.
Our appliance repairman took New Year’s Day off, too. So for the past three days, I’ve been washing dishes by hand. I’m not complaining, mind you. As problems go, this one is minor, and I’ve got to admit there’s something almost therapeutic about washing dishes, once you surrender to the inevitability of it.
While your hands swish through the hot, soapy water, you have time to be still and think. And scrubbing spots and splatters off the pots and pans gives you a certain feeling of accomplishment. We might not be able to clean up life’s messiest situations, but we can conquer a sink full of dirty dishes and that’s a start.
Dishwashing is better, though, when it’s done as a team sport. After last Sunday’s lunch, my mom and I stood side by side at the sink – she washed while I rinsed – and she told me about how she washed dishes almost every Sunday when she was growing up in a little house in the country. Her parents would invite the extended family over for a meal, and the oldest kids were expected to do the dishes after everyone was done eating.
“My cousin Paul would always remind the rest of us not to stack the dirty plates when we cleared the table,” she said as she passed a soapy plate from her side of the sink to mine.
I ran the plate through a cascade of hot rinse water and asked, “Why didn’t he want the plates to be stacked?”
“Because he didn’t want to have to wash the bottom of the plates,” she said, laughing at the memory. “And I still think about his ‘no plate-stacking rule’ every time I wash the dishes.” (Having washed quite a few plates during these last few days, I can tell you that Paul was not wrong.)
After the dishes were rinsed, I stood there drying each piece, imagining my grandparents’ little country house full of aunts, uncles and cousins. They didn’t have a television back then so I wondered if that’s why big families got together more often – to have real-life drama and comedy right there in the living room, no cable required.
Mom said that when the oldest kids were done washing dishes, they were allowed to join in on a game of “silver dollars” that her dad and uncles liked to play outside after lunch. As she describes it, the game sounds like a combination of horse shoes and golf. The men would dig two small holes in the ground opposite each other and several feet apart. Each hole was made to be just a little larger than the size of a silver dollar.
Then each person would take a turn trying to pitch a silver dollar into the hole. The person who got their coin closest to the hole scored a point, and getting the coin to drop into the hole was cause for real celebration and bragging rights.
I asked my kids if they wanted to try playing a game of silver dollars, and they asked me two questions: “What’s a silver dollar?” and “Can we play that on the Wii?” I shook my head and decided we’re probably better off sticking to Monopoly. Or… maybe they’ll see the appeal of simple games if I make them hand-wash the dishes.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.