From the book about Southwest and South Central Kansas

"Doing" the Dishes

Submitted by Doris Schroeder of Hutchinson, Kansas

Born 1933




     Once in a while, I have decided it is almost as fast to wash the dishes by hand and have Hubby dry them than it is to rinse and load the dishwasher. It only takes a few minutes and then the dishes only have to be taken up once. Besides, there is a lot of companionship in “doing” the dishes the old-fashioned way.

      In looking back, it is strange, but the best times of my life occurred when Mom and I were “doing” the dishes. When we lived on the farm, the REA had not yet come through our area, and we had no electricity. Therefore, suppertime was followed by heating a kettle of water on the kerosene stove, Mom getting out the dishpan and putting it on our little moveable cabinet. She got out another pan for rinsing, and began washing the dishes that I picked up from the large family table we had just eaten from.

      Of course, all this water had to have been impelled outside at the pump a few feet from the house. This we had tried to do before it got dark because the lantern gave very little light. Besides, on the farm there was always a possibility that a wild animal like a raccoon or a skunk could be lurking in the dark. This was another item to look out for when Mom threw the dishwater out into the night!

      Mom usually washed and I dried as we went over the events of the day. I would tell her what had happened at the one-room country school and she would tell me stories from her own childhood. The dim light of the kerosene lamp made shadows in our big family kitchen, and so some of her stories verged on being exciting.

      It was unthinkable to stack the dishes and do them the next day. There was no room, and besides, we would need them in the morning. The glow from the coal stove in the middle of the room lent a cozy feeling as the shadows on the wall danced around with the events of the stories. Dad would sit at the large family table, sometimes doing some figuring while we talked. My little sister would be playing paper dolls cut from the catalog in the corner. I remember thinking how good it was when we were all home together like that. It made me feel secure.

      When we went to both our grandmas’ houses on Thanksgiving and Christmas, the tables would be laden down with all kinds of wonderful food. Later, our mothers would congregate in the kitchens as they did the dishes and I could hear that they were having a good time visiting with each other. We children almost wished we could be in there, too, helping with the dishes.

      These times continued when we moved back to town, at least the first two years when we lived in a little house on Eighth Street, and again when my family moved to Ford Street. Still, I always looked forward to helping Mom “do” the dishes.

      A little later in life after John and I were married, Mom usually always invited us over for Sunday dinner along with someone else from church. It was always a treat. We women found that doing the dishes later was the best time to share our thoughts about different things. It is always easier to talk when you are shining a dish or putting something away. We talked about our children, what they did in school, and things like that. It was a time to “let our hair down,” which means we sometimes talked of somewhat personal things.

      Sometimes when we lived in the little house we built on 17th Street, I would invite our parents over for Sunday afternoon and they would play shuffleboard on our basement floor. Later, we had 4 o’clock lunch or “faspa” as we Germans call it. I usually had homemade zwiebach, lunchmeat, canned peaches or Jell-O, and my favorite—chocolate cake. No one left until we women would carry the dishes to the kitchen and “do” them. As was the custom of that day, the men usually sat in the living room during that time and the children would do their thing.

      Later, when we built our present house, I thought it was so wonderful to have central air, a dryer, and a dishwasher. It does, however, seem like we lost something when we no longer stand by the sink “doing” the dishes.

      There’s a reason that God made us “work by the sweat of our brow!” When you have to put effort into something, it always becomes more meaningful. Now, if I can just get John to talk more while we are doing dishes, I have made it!

      You, too, might try “doing” dishes sometime! You may enjoy it!

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