Small Talk: Washing up brings clean view of life

While my kitchen is no stranger to puddles of various sizes and stickiness, this puddle sounded a warning bell. This puddle was directly beneath the dishwasher and its appearance was accompanied by a funereal orchestration of moans, shrieks and grinding from the dishwasher itself.

The signals were clear. No second opinion was required. The appliance that had arrived in our house just before we did, 10 years ago, was in its death throes, threatening to bleed soapy water all over the kitchen if we turned its crusty knobs one more time.

It sounds callous, but I did a quiet little dance of glee, since this dishwasher had been bottom-of-the-line to begin with. It had never held enough, never cleaned well, left spots despite guaranteed additives and matched the decibel level of a junior high band on parade when in action.

Swiftly, I rationalized that it is as easy to go into debt for a good one as it is to go into debt for a cheap one when you are putting it on your credit card. Almost before the puddle dried, I was the ecstatic owner of an all-black (no fingerprints), quiet, shiny new dishwasher that promised to let me toss those crusty dishes in with semi-wild abandon.

This left only the weeklong lapse between the death of the old and the arrival of the new. This has turned, surprisingly, into a time of introspection and reverie. As I stood with soapy steam rising up my nose, I was catapulted back to my childhood in Air Force quarters, when my brother and I were the automatic dishwashers.

The sudden, towering pile of dishes and pans gave me a couple of days’ worth of panic attacks, but slowly I fell back into my early kitchen training and skills left dormant for decades. There is a science to dishwashing, or so I was taught. Everything is first scraped, then washed in an appropriate order. Once you are in the zone, it offers a strange sense of serenity.

The water must be as hot as possible, with the soap put in last to avoid excess suds. That would cause an unforgiveable sullying of the rinse water. Gloved and gowned in a water-repellent apron, I begin with the plastics, then the ceramics, then the soaked silverware and finally the greasy pans. When I’m finished, all is in proper draining position on the counter.

This is where my diligent parents failed. They tried so hard to persuade me to dry and put away, but I, the slacker, prefer to let the air do the work and delay putting things away as long as possible.

I think I like to see the fruits of my labors spread out before me for a few hours.

“See,” I told my children pompously. “When I was your age, I had to do this many dishes every night, and still do my homework, mop the floor, wash the windows, muck out the barn, clean the oven and change the sheets, uphill both ways in the snow!”

Nothing sent them scurrying to find their schoolbooks faster than the sight of a pair of rubber gloves just their size.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer looking for rubber gloves in designer colors. Contact her at jgillette@coastnewsgroup.com

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