ginny: on doing dishes

The experience of washing the dishes isn’t the same from day to day.  So much depends on what is going on around me, as well as what is planned for the time afterwards. I can conjure up a perfectly peaceful dish washing session, completely present, totally in touch with the water and the warmth and the feel of the sponge going round and round, and say “this is washing the dishes”.  But that would ignore all the times that there have been heated discussions going on behind me, or within me, when my mind is racing and I am anywhere but in front of the sink.  It would ignore all of the speed washing sessions, as I am late, once again, getting out the door to work in the morning.

The fact is that most times when I am washing the dishes it is none of these things.  It is an automated activity that I neither relish nor despise.  I don’t like dishes left in the sink, although I have made peace with the various wine glasses and tea cups that clutter the counter top next to the sink in the hours after dinner.  I don’t mind dishes left in the drainer, and actually prefer to leave them there rather than dry them. 

On days like today, when there are a couple of things being made, dishes are being washed constantly.  I hate for wet dishes to be stacked on top of almost dry dishes, and so I must dry the first load of dishes before I begin washing the new ones.  Two of my least favorite activities banded together – drying the dishes and then putting them away.  Although my house is generally tidy, the thing I hate to do is put things away.  This includes dishes, as well as groceries and laundry.  I don’t mind doing the grocery shopping.  Throwing in loads of laundry does not bother me in the least.  Putting these things away is an entirely different matter. 

But back to dishes, and more specifically today’s dishes, I do get a sense of satisfaction out of making a mess and then cleaning it up.  Today I made my mother’s potato salad for the first time this summer.  In order to make potato salad I must boil the potatoes, chop celery, cook bacon, and create a dressing with mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, and celery seed. The potatoes must be boiled, whole and with their skins on.  Once they are done, while they are still hot, they get peeled, which involves a plastic bag to put the skins in and a cutting board to chop them and then the bowl that holds them once they are in nice little cubes. The celery doesn’t add much to the general mess going on, but there is another cutting board and knife involved. Cooking bacon is the star of the show, with the grease filled pan and the plate with the paper towels for draining and the little cup to hold the bacon grease after each batch is made.  The mayonnaise spoon and the bowl and the whisk all end up with dressing all over them, and some on the counter top for good measure.

This is a dish I have made often.  Each time I have made a huge mess.  But here’s the part I like about doing the dishes.  I like taking that huge mess and making everything clean again.  I like seeing the counter top filled with bowls and spoons and splatters of bacon grease and mayonnaise, and setting everything right again.  The sight of the dishes in the drainer, all clean after being so messy, makes me happy.

I have to admit that sometimes in the evening I will walk into the kitchen, see the dishes in the drainer in the glow from the light over the sink, and think that life is good.  I love the colors of my plates and glasses, and I love how shiny and bright they are under the spotlight.  I love that the kitchen looks lived in and it looks tidy.  

julie: on doing dishes

I’m sure that it appeared to many people that came and went, and even to those who came and spent some time before they went, that there was very little organization in the various homes that I grew up in. That wasn’t true. There was organization, there was a schedule and there were assigned chores and all of that. It was just the implementation that was a little, well, little.

The moment my mother was sure I could hold a wet dish without breaking it, it became my job to do the dishes. And I actually liked it. For many years, being in my mother’s kitchen was sort of like being in the middle of a storm, I was always moving to hear or see something just a little better, going from one conversation to another. I moved in an out and tried to stay out of the way because although fairly rare, there were times when suddenly someone would seem to realize I was there and decide that maybe I shouldn’t hear what was going on, so I would either be told to leave or they would all start to whisper. The idea that I might miss anything was unacceptable.

On those occasions I would do the dishes. I would grab a chair and stand at the sink and very slowly wash whatever there was to wash. If I ran out of dishes and I wasn’t ready to leave, I would climb down and take the broiler out and wash that, even if it was clean. For some reason, once I was at the sink, even though it was literally just a few steps away and often closer than the spot I had been sent away from, everyone seemed to think I was gone.

Years later when my mother’s kitchen was quiet on the week nights, it was still my job to do the dishes. And I still didn’t mind. The problem was I was always in a hurry to get out the house, and my little sister, whose job it was to clear the table, would do her best to make sure that she didn’t clear the table until it was too late for me to leave. So it became a nightly struggle.

My son’s father did the dishes quite often.

I could probably do a sort of “history of my life as told through dish washing.” But the truth is that for all the non dislike I have of washing dishes, there are always dishes in my sink, which has led many people to the false belief that I do not like to do the dishes. Not true at all. I like to do the dishes. It’s calming. I just stand and think and hum to myself. We had a radio in my mother’s kitchen and I have always had one in mine, so sometimes I turn that on and sort of sing along. Sometimes I kind of forget that I am doing the dishes and just stand there and let the water run over my hands, I really like the sound of running water, humming.

What I don’t like to do is put dishes away. It just makes no sense to me. Unless you do something like bake a cake or cook Thanksgiving dinner, for the most part, there are the same dishes in the sink and then in the strainer all the time. So I have a system that makes sense to me but apparently translates to others as “Julie does not like to do the dishes.”

If you have a certain amount of things that get used daily, if you wash them all and they completely fill up the strainer and the drying cloth on the side, that’s perfect. The problem for me is that it’s usually more like two or three days of stuff that fills it all up and I don’t see any reason to wash things before at least half are dirty. So half are in and half are out. That avoids any stacking that might cause breakage or pooling of water in the bottom of bowls or between glasses or having so much in the silverware slots that things are spilling out when you get a spoon ( that leads to getting something from the drawer and that messes up the system with overflow.)

I lived for years with a clean freak. Really, he thought that you should have nothing in the sink when you were done. Which I get, my mother was the same way, she wanted me to clean the sink and the little strainer in the drain every night. Which I did. But someone would always put something into the sink at some point soon after I did all that, so most of the time I would clean it all out but leave a few pieces of silverware or a glass or cup because that way I didn’t feel like I had done it all and then someone would just mess it up. You know, I did it and left it that way so it wasn’t like someone else was messing it up.

Anyway. Every now and then he would do the dishes and dry it all and put everything away and then come get me and show me the whole thing. Very clean. Very nice indeed. But then if I put something in he would get annoyed. (See, that’s why you leave something there yourself!) But he would explain it to me, show me how this system worked, how to have a clean sink most of the time. The key is to wash everything from one day, dry it, and put it away. That way each day you only have that day’s dishes and nothing is ever full and it is all wiped and neat and shiny.

I understand that. I get how that system works. And now he has his own kitchen and he can do just that. I happen to like my system.