Saturday, September 13, 2008

Simple Pleasures

I like washing dishes and consider it equal to a good therapy session. Few women understand my enjoyment of what some consider to be the “dreaded domestic chore,” but that’s okay. I can’t help the way I am. I come from a long line of women who enjoyed it. My mother and both grandmothers all taught me the therapeutic value and simple joy of washing dishes by hand.

Mom even thought that whatever ailed her could be cured at the kitchen sink. A homebody, she hated going to town and would always get a “town headache” (as she called them) if she had to run errands away from the farm. Upon her arrival back home, she said she would feel better if she could just get her hands in some hot soapy water and wash some dishes. It always seemed to work. Some of my earliest memories of mom are those times I stood by her side, barely able to see over the sink, helping her wash dishes. There seemed to be something peaceful about the sloshing about of the water, the pleasant aroma of the dish washing liquid, and the clinking of silverware, plates, and glasses together that provided a sense of security to me as a small child.

Grandma Mitchell was passionate about her dish washing, enjoying it so much that she rarely allowed anyone to help her, which was probably a good thing since her dish water was so hot that the average person couldn’t even touch it. Apparently, Grandma's hands were immune to the steaming hot water. I once remarked that the water was too hot, to which she replied, “Ahh! Good heavens! You have to have your water hot enough or you won’t get the dishes clean!” I can assure you her dishes were sterilized. I treasured those times I stood by her side drying dishes, almost too hot to handle, and listening to her recount stories of her childhood days. She told me that having dirty dishes meant you had a lot to be thankful for, because it meant you had plenty of food to eat.

Grandma Leasure was known for giving young brides a bit of advice regarding dish washing. She would say, “Always do up all your dishes at night so you can start the day with a fresh and clean kitchen.” She told me that there was a great sense of accomplishment in washing dishes and seeing your kitchen neat and clean. I recall her giving me that advice when I was too young to fully understand what it meant. After I became a young wife and homemaker, I found her advice to be true! There is nothing like starting out each day with a fresh and tidy kitchen, and there really is a sense of accomplishment in seeing clean dishes stacked on the dish rack.

My friend, Darlene, who is from that same generation of older women, refuses to use the dishwasher in her new house. She grew up in a home with no running water. They had to carry water from outside and heat it on the old cook stove in order to wash dishes. When she got married, she had inside plumbing for the first time in her life and was surprised at how easy it was to wash dishes with running water inside. To this day she loves to wash dishes, considers it fun, and refuses to use her dishwasher.

I have fond memories of washing dishes with my mom, grandmothers, aunts, and cousins after family meals. The time spent cleaning up was a time when the women could connect with one another. Many jokes were shared and memories were made around the kitchen sink. Holiday meals created massive amounts of dirty dishes, which gave us several hours to catch up with one another. It was usually “women only” in our kitchen. The men often would head off to the living room to watch TV or fall asleep. We never thought that was odd; it was just the way it was. Nobody complained about the men not having to help. It was accepted that clean up and washing dishes was mostly “woman’s work.” We embraced our role and looked forward to our time together. There was a bonding that took place around a pan of hot, soapy water. I remember how special I felt when I was old enough to join the women in the kitchen. It seemed to be a rite of passage into womanhood for us younger girls. Great bursts of laughter and cackling was always heard coming from the kitchen. I was delighted when I finally got to join in with the fun.

Contentment is often found in the simplest things. I wonder if joy in the simple tasks of daily living is what’s missing among women today. Hundreds of dollars are spent on antidepressant drugs, and therapists often charge over a hundred dollars for an hour-long therapy session. The strange thing is that most women are still depressed even while taking drugs and going to therapy, always needing more and more drugs and therapy. I wonder if women would once again embrace the simple pleasures of domestic life if there would be less depression and discontentment in the world today.

There truly is something therapeutic about having your hands in hot, soapy water. As the dishes soak, I feel my cares being lifted away. Washing dishes allows me to pause from the busyness of the day. It is a time I can think and reflect upon life as I gaze out the window. It’s not uncommon to see deer walk through the backyard, see the squirrels chase each other up and down trees, or see a flock of wild turkeys or Canadian geese passing through; things I would miss if I wasn’t standing at the kitchen window washing dishes.

I am thankful for the blessing of dirty dishes and for the blessing of a long line of women who taught me the value of contentment in the simple things of life. My mom and grandmothers have since passed on, but they left behind a rich legacy of memories. Memories of lessons learned, laughter shared, and priceless time spent together around the kitchen sink.

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