In the early 1960s, when we moved out of the little house into the big house, it was decided that we needed a dishwasher. It seemed that the upwardly mobile families had a dishwasher so that no one would be stuck in the kitchen after a meal. The theory was that, with a dishwasher, the family would have more time together.
My folks built the big house and didn’t think about the dishwasher until after the house was built – so they bought a portable dishwasher that was parked at the end of the kitchen counter next to the back door. Supposedly, at the end of the day, we were to roll the dishwasher over to the kitchen sink, hook it up to the faucet and turn it on. By the next day, all our dishes would be clean, and we could start all over.
In reality, however, the dishwasher was seldom rolled out of its place by the back door. There were complaints that it leaked and didn’t really get the dishes clean. Not only that but there weren’t that many dishes anyway. Mom tended to wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher and what was the point of washing them twice?
I remember a conversation with Mom about the dishwasher. She said that she really liked getting her hands in warm soapy water to wash dishes. She could feel the dishes as she was washing them and could tell if there were spots that needed extra attention. Not only that but, when it was time to wash dishes, she could call someone into the kitchen for drying detail. We spent some good quality time over those dishes!
I read one time about a sociological study done on the women in India. It was decided that village culture was created at the river when the women took their laundry to be washed. While the women were smacking their clothing into the river and scrubbing them clean, they would talk about their families.
As they talked about their children and their husbands, their parents and their siblings, they determined which behaviors were acceptable and which behaviors were shameful. A new mother could talk about her child with the other women and those who were grandmothers could tell her that it’s normal for children to be curious about the world but, if the child had not started walking by five years of age, a specialist (or witch doctor) should be seen.
Married women would hear that it’s normal to argue with your husband sometimes but, if violence were introduced into the argument, measures needed to be taken. Women who were unable to change the behaviors of their family members learned to stay quiet – which also brought them to the attention of the other women.
These types of discussions used to take place in the kitchen when preparing a meal or cleaning up after one – or sometimes while changing sheets and making beds. Those are times when the hands are busy, but the mind is free to listen, or the soul is free to share. With all the advances in household maintenance, these times are becoming rare.
If you watch people after a community meal or a funeral dinner or a potluck, some will take their dishes to the kitchen, pick up the dish they brought, thank everyone, and leave. There will, however, be a solid group of people who will start to gather in the kitchen.
Their movements look like they have been choreographed. Someone will be at the sink, running water or washing dishes and someone will be standing by to dry them. Someone will be putting the dishes away. Someone will be checking refrigerators or ovens to make sure they are either filled or emptied. Someone will be washing off tables.
Through all this movement, there will be a low murmur of conversations, “Did you hear about Loretta? Bless her heart, she’s having a tough time with her folks!” “Samuel’s going to have to do something about his bum leg! It’s hurting him worse now than it did when he had the accident!” “Poor Apollonia! She has another black eye! Something needs to be done with her new husband!” “Seymore is getting thinner every day! Does his wife ever feed him?”
These are the places where our community develops – where we decide how we should behave or react.
Where do women go today when they want to gather with other generations of women? We have our women’s clubs where we sit in chairs or on couches and discuss books, art, politics, and education; but where do we go to gab about life?
Men have their coffee groups or their bars or taverns. They gather at the gyms, golf courses, or basketball courts and talk about “man stuff”. They can gather around their cars and, while tinkering with the alternator or battery, talk about what’s going on in the world and how it could be fixed.
I’m not suggesting that we should junk all our dishwashers. If there are ten kids in the house, a dishwasher is almost mandatory! But I think it would be nice if, after washing the dishes, we could sit at a table, every once in a while, sharing a piece of lemon meringue pie and gabbing about our lives with our kids, our parents, or our best friends.