Doing Dishes

We recently bought a cabin along Lake Delhi, just 28 minutes from our driveway.

While the cabin comes with many wonderful amenities, it does not have a dishwasher in the kitchen.  Kitchen chores after our first few cabin meals were divvied up between Emma and Aedan, one doing supper and the other doing breakfast, but I find myself now shooing the kids out of the kitchen and volunteering to hand-wash the dishes.

Sinking my hands into the suds provokes memories of oven fried chicken, homemade bread, fireflies in mason jars and marathon card games.  While I don’t have a dishpan, the process is still the same.  The most-soiled dishes are last, drinking vessels are first, and scalding hot water with suds up to my elbows guarantees their cleanliness.

Extended family dinners on the Marshall side, usually at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, had a tacit delineation of dish-duty.  After pie (yes, there was always pie), the aunts gathered the dirty dishes from their spouses and started for the kitchen.  The men then shuffled to the living room to ride out their food comas with John Wayne or some other cowboy. 

Grandma was allowed to help package leftovers (likely in Cool Whip or Country Crock tubs), but then quickly shooed out of the kitchen with a chorus of gratitude and appreciation.  The aunts then commenced the assembly line of scraping, washing, drying and stowing. 

In our early days, the cousins would have snuck downstairs to play dress-up in Grandma’s fabric stash or outside for a game of kickball.  We were rarely allowed in the living room, as Grandpa’s nap required a level of peace and quiet that we could not accommodate.

As we got older, the cousins began taking turns at the sink as well.  We started as dirty dish carriers, graduated to put-away-ers, and later progressed to dryers.  The softest flour sack towels were pressed into service (they shared a drawer with the recycled bread bags), and without argument we rushed to collect, wash, dry and store each dish from Grandma’s feast.  Our days of playing dress-up and kickball were fading, and our preferred post-meal activity required a clean table and the hands of many.

Zinacheck, Hand and Foot, double solitaire, Up and Down the River, Phase 10: we played anything we could.  The youngest cousin tucked under Grandma’s wing to learn how to throw elbows, how to sort by suit and how to shake out hand cramps after laying down the last hand.

Tonight I felt around for the last fork before I introduced the dirtiest dishes into the water, and remembered running my hand around Grandma’s dish pan in the same manner; sure that one utensil was in there hiding, but dreading the food that I knew I would encounter.

I called Emma to the kitchen, to instruct her on the art of releasing water from the strainer without losing the collected food.  I kept her only briefly and carried the strainer to the trash can to thump it against the inside as I had learned in my youth.  Something exciting awaited her after the dishes; some nights it might be fireflies or cards or star-gazing, but tonight it was fishing.