Since moving to Panama, I find myself washing by hand my dirty dishes. I really don’t have a lot to wash, but the few I have gives me the occasion to ruminate on dishwashing in my life. It’s amazing what goes through one’s mind when you’re engaged in a simple, yet necessary duty.
While growing up and when old enough, I started washing dishes in a sink. We had a dishwasher but some things needed to be washed by hand, chopping boards, certain pots and pans, etc. My time to wash dishes was a shared responsibility with my brothers while on opposite nights its was my sisters’ turn. Clearing the table, filling the dishwasher, scrubbing down the dinner table and countertops, washing and drying dishes and finally starting the dishwasher were all part of a daily family routine. It is important to note that the process always started when my dad would invite my mother to the ‘veranda’ (his word for a porch) or to their chairs in the living room for coffee.
Growing up, I think we grew into our jobs…literally. We kept a stool under the kitchen sink to help us rise to the occasion. Some things were fun and easy to wash while other things required elbow grease. One of my favorite things to do was to clean the copper bottom of pots and pans. It was so nice to see the transformation!
One night, my grandmother was supervising (I must have been pretty young yet) and the inevitable happened. I sliced my finger on a large knife. Grandma got me out of harm’s way, no doubt told me to be careful and, after wrapping my finger with a band-aide, she took over at the sink. Two things went through my mind: 1.) Isn’t she nice to take my place!; 2.) If I were to cut my finger more often, I would be released from the chore more often. Not being inclined to self-injury, I lived with thought number one.
For periods of my life, I didn’t have to wash dishes. In college and in the monastery, dishes were washed my employees. However, on three different occasions in Israel, I washed dishes. The first was when I was a seminarian living in Ein Kerem. Classmates all formed cooking and cleaning teams. If you cooked, you also cleaned, but with several groups these two chores came up only once a week. There, we had industrial kitchens with stainless steel counters and huge sinks. Later, at another school I attended in Jerusalem, we students also did the dishes, but there we had a big auto-wash unit. We sprayed the food off the plates and then put them in racks which went though a hot water soap and rince cycle. When the tray came out, the dishes were scalding hot and ready to be dried.
The third place in Jerusalem is still a place I visit often enough…or at least until covid-19 came. I stay there with friends in their apartment and between the six of us, we make for lots of dirty dishes. It seemed my friend would wash the same cup or glass at least ten times a day. I also washed dishes and learned the Jewish orthodox method of dividing meat, dairy and parve dishes. A red sponge was used for anything that had touched meat while blue one, if I remember correctly, was used for anything that touched a dairy product and a yellow sponge was used for anything parve, that is neither meat or dairy.
It’s a stretch to think of being impressed by sinks, but people spend a lot of time and money on sinks when designing their perfect kitchen. I had this opportunity only once when our parish was renovating the rectory. As I recall, I opted for double stainless-steel sinks. The most impressive sinks I have ever seen are at the historic Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, Minnesota. I don’t recall where the family found its money, but they had enough of it to install a beautiful, huge and deep sink especially made for washing crystal. The highlight of this sink was a padded surface so that delicate crystal would not hit a hard surface. Now that is class!
But for now, a single basin stainless steel sink suffices. The chore of washing dishes gives me time to ponder and no matter where my mind wanders, I always wind up with clean dishes!