Sunday, November 15, 2009

In Praise of the Ordinary

I woke up this morning thinking about dishwashing.
The old-fashioned kind, by hand, in a sink.
So I'm going to confess that I've always rather liked
this chore (ahem, in moderation). The hot water
feels good, and if there is a window framing a garden,
I find it meditative. There's a reassuring routine to it
(and I can hear my mother's instructions here):
put the silverware in first, to soak, then begin
with the glassware, proceed to plates & small bowls,
then larger bowls, and then pots & pans. Sharp knives
are never set to soak -- too much risk of picking one up
unknowingly in soapy sudsy water. Finally, the
silverware, now easy after having soaked.

Believe it or not, back in my Two Tartes days, I had to
instruct new employees on the Art of Washing Dishes.
And I mean, from before step one:
-3) Clean out sink.
-2) Run hot water, add soap.
-1) Scrape chunks off dishes.
I was under the impression that, raised in the presence
of automatic dishwashing appliances, these kids had never
seen a pile of dirty dishes and a sinkful of suds. They would
approach the task with the speed of a sloth, and most
everything came out greasy or still chunk-studded.
So it was back to square, er, sink one.

When I became frustrated with their lack of progress
and the dirty dishes began to teeter and the clean
dishes were no more, I'd gently push the trainee
to the side and go into Power Wash. Generally,
everyone got out of my way when this happened.
Jaws dropped. I went into a reverie, the endorphins
began to flow in abundance, and in a matter of minutes
we were back in business.

It was a weird kind of high for me. (I've rarely had
any use for recreational drugs -- just set me in front
of a sink of dirty dishes, set the timer -- and wheeeee!)

(When my sons accuse me of weirdness, I thank them.)

In my childhood years of enforced house-chores, there
was always a pair of us sisters at the sink in the
post-dinner hour. And there was generally song, from us:
spirituals, anthems, all the songs from The Sound of Music
or Oliver or Camelot. When younger sister Kath and I
hit high school and were both in choir, and it was often
the precise notes of Handel that would rise along
with Joy or Ivory Liquid bubbles:

Or Vivaldi:

Alas, our voices were not quite as sweet
as those here, but I think that one of my mother's
greatest joys was sitting in the living room
with the evening Times, the lilt of her daughters'
voices filling our little red house.


  1. Your singing with your sister while washing the dishes reminds me of Garrison Keillor talking about washing the dishes with his sisters while singing "Tell Me Why":

    "Tell me why the stars do shine;
    Tell me why the ivy climbs;
    Tell me why the sky's so blue;
    And I will tell you why I love you."

    All in four part harmony, of course, which he used to get the audience to join in on during the earlier A Prairie Home Companion shows.

    I love the Vivaldi Gloria! I've been singing in choirs enough in my life to cringe at the mention of Händel's name, but I can never get tired of Vivaldi.

  2. Roy, I know what you mean about Handel....I heard some on TV last night during an ad for something or other. But still. Singing The Messiah at age 17 out in the semi-rural boondocks-burbs of Renton WA was a particular thrill, and I tend to keep those memories in a safe little incorruptible box!

  3. There was always an argument in our Mother's kitchen every night as to whose 'turn' it was. We all hated it; I still do but it's one of those things that you just have to do if you want a tidy kitchen.

    I loved those clips. I also sang in the Christmas choir at the Music Bowl in Melbourne two or three times. We were all volunteers but had weeks of rehearsals. It was fun. Love singing.

    We're off to New York tomorrow!!!!

  4. I felt that way about doing the dishes until I got a dishwasher and have never looked back. Nice post and memories with your sisters.

  5. One of my first paying jobs was as a dishwasher in a hospital kitchen. It was no big deal but when there was slack time before breakfast I had to make toast - scores of slices - andI really hated that. Consequently, because of the toast smell, it was years before I would eat toast again.

    BTW, there was no singing in the kitchen,

  6. I was once punished for insubordination at a restaurant I worked in, in Santa Fe in '76 and forced to hand wash all dishes in a three-sink method, one with soap and bleach and two with scalding hot rinsing water......oh, my achin' hands!
    I was just divorced from my banker husband, and wanting to "experience the world", hence the waitress er, dishwashing job.
    I "experienced" that I never wanted to do that again!

  7. as a parent now, I can truly appreciate how your mom must have felt listening to her singing dishwashers. Harmony in the home! Ah....

  8. Beautiful post... so very well done.

    I must confess I hate washing dishes. Without a dishwasher, I'd be eating out of cans and cardboard...

    But I do like hanging out laundry!!

    Sing on!

  9. Okay. I admit to having a dishwasher. Maybe it's the singing I miss more than anything....lost my singing voice about 15 years ago. All I can manage now is about a five-note tenor range, which doesn't work for most harmonies.

  10. not true, you sing beautifully! And I would know.

  11. Yes to all of the above, and T/Melinda I'm really enjoying your new headers. I see bare twigs hung with berries everywhere now.