a sorority of suds
it is while the clanking wraps up at the table, while the last few stories are shared, the last of the forks scrapes the sugary goo off a pie plate. that’s when the forces start gathering out in the kitchen, circling the sink, picking up wind. rolling up sleeves.
that’s when, quite often, the very best part of the dinner begins. the washing the dishes. when the crowd is exclusively women. sorry, boys, but this here’s a sorority of suds. at least in tone, if not strictly according to X versus Y chromosomes.
i mean i’ve got a brother, the one out in maine, who’s spent enough years in a kitchen in clogs, that he can muscle his way through a sink in mere minutes. and he’s sweet as the pie that he’s scraping off plates.
but this is not about time. it’s about content.
and the content when women and water and syrupy soap–oh, and a tall stack of plates, a few pots, whatever else can’t go in the washer–coagulate in the sink-side equation, it makes your head swirl. like the suds down the drain.
oh, that’s when we get down to what’s really on tap. the backstories and tangents that, to my taste, are truly dessert. or maybe even the main course.
there is something about lining up, unassigned, in makeshift assembly, not unlike some dishwashing factory, just knowing one will take suds, one will take towel, all will have at it, that brings out the earthy rock bottom of women.
it’s a rhythm that’s ancient, i think. we could be there at the river’s edge, washing and rinsing, letting spill whatever’s pent-up, trying not to let it crust-over. or it might be a well in a village. or that most sacred of gatherings at a sink, a newborn’s first bath, when mother takes daughter takes baby and shows her just how it’s done. how the soft spot must be tenderly touched, and how to hold up that back without letting it slip down the drain, or onto the floor, where a new mama is fairly certain her newborn will slide if she’s not careful. dreadfully careful.
not so different with dishes, although the beauty of dishes, is there isn’t much thought. every plate in the world, far as i know, comes in one of three flavors: round, square or oval. okay, maybe even a triangle, somewhere in soho, i’d guess. but the surface is smooth, or smooth enough, and the technique is as old as the one employed at the river’s edge, long long ago. you dunk and you rub it in circles. then you rinse and you dry.
not much to it.
so while you go through the motions, you get down to business, serious business. you tell the part of the story you didn’t want the children to hear. or the husbands. or assorted grownups there at the table.
with your hands underwater, bracelets there on the counter, you bare all. you tell the part of the surgery that truly gave you the heebie-jeebies. you recount the words of the fight that nearly made you storm out the door. you tell, for the umpteenth time, how you were so sick and tired of being the only one in the house who seemed to notice the piles of laundry, the emptiness of milk cartons, the gunk at the pit of the bathtub.
you tell stories that do not belong in the dining room. they’re a tad impolite. but hysterically funny. or decidedly juicy. the only occupational hazard is dropping a plate, or one of the glasses you got for your wedding, because the words you just heard make you react in a way not conducive to holding slippery pieces of crystal and china.
the other night a flock of us flowed into the kitchen. no one assigned tasks, we just fell into place. two washed, one dried. one floated. a girl, not long ago too little to be at the sink, was wordlessly welcomed. she’s growing up now, time to learn the fine art of rolling up sleeves, joining the party. i stood beside her, watched the way she did such a fine job. i watched her listening, realized she might be learning a thing or three about being a woman. about how women hold back the good stuff, till they’re under the water.
then, with the soap and the towel right by their side, they dish. oh, baby, they dish.
disclaimer: oh boy, am i headed for hot water if i don’t add this exclusion to the rule. of course i’ve had many a night with fine conversation among men and women there at the sink. the suds seem to do that, bring out the frothier side of whoever is sudsing. but in general, it’s a woman’s privilege to be among the ones doing dishes. don’t you agree? feel free to protest, of course….
do you love to dish? would you plan a dinner for 20 just so you have scads and sinkfuls of dishes?
also, i realized the other night there are, of course, at least two schools of cleaning up after a dinner party. there are those, like me, who cannot go to bed till nearly every last napkin ring is tucked away, so deeply do i love waking up to a sparkling clean kitchen. but a very dear friend, a friend i adore, declared that she is of the other school, for a beautiful reason. it’s psychological, she said, she loves to wake up to the lingering reminder, sprawled all over the dining room table, and into the kitchen, that she had fine souls gathered for food and deep conversation. she waits till the next morning, purposely, so she can make the dinner last. which school are you? or is there yet another in which you’re enrolled?
finally, at long last the lazy susan awoke from its summertime laziness. i restocked top to bottom over the weekend. so take a spin. it’s autumnal over there. we are back off the oh-so-lazy summer schedule. thanks for patiently letting me kick back for a while there….
Aahh the suds. We were at a friends house for dinner the other night. They are in grad student housing. I was shocked to see a dishwasher in their apartment, because this is not a normal fixture in these turn of the century brownstones. I took a deep breath and reminded myself, that my friends just had their first baby abd dishwashers can be a very good thing when the minutes of the day are split between burping, feeding, changing, playin, sleeping in a constant cycle.
Whether or not it is men or women, who stand in the kitchen after a meal, I will share some thoughts that I gleaned from the Kentucky farmer, poet and agrarian prophet, Wendell Berry. A few years ago he wrote an article for Atlantic Monthly, which was entitled, “Ten Reasons I Won’t Buy a Computer.” I am sad that it is highly unlikely that Wendell Berry will not find his way to “Pull up a Chair,” but I do appreciate his philosophy in some of his other essays about dishwashing. He says that by turning to “time-saving” machines, such as dishwashers, to do our work, we have lost the necessity of relationship in daily work. Typically dishwashing needs a washer and a drier, which implies in an ideal circumstance, two people. In that time of sharing the labor, there is time to laugh, debate, reflect and nurture relationship. The dishwasher takes away the need for relationship. Perhaps it is true, that the dishwasher allows more time to be together in other ways, but Berry argues that we don’t take that time to build relationships with all of our free time, instead we turn towards more technological time-saving devices that keep us conencted to our work.
As much as there are days that I dream for a dishwasher (like right now, when there are dishes to be washed and no one to share the task with me today) I do cherish the time washing and drying with my love and it gives a little more time to rhumba in the kitchen.
Unfortunately, in my tiny studio, only two people could fit in the kitchen at the same time. I do cherish cleaning up in larger kitchens with friends and families too.
Monday, September 17, 2007 – 12:20 PM
One of my sweet sisters, who does not have dishwasher, thought that one of the reasons many pioneer women did not totally lose it, was because they had their hands in water much of the day….sort an early hydro-therapy. I do have dishwasher, but love the feeling of water, suds, drying….I also love the idea of having at least one job in my life finished…unlike so many other moments that never feel quite finished.
Monday, September 17, 2007 – 08:10 PM
ahhh dear slj, just wanted to say thank you kindly for brining wendell to the table. guess your bringing him might be the only way to get him here. but i’ll welcome him however he comes. the point is a beautiful one. one i spent some time pondering after i read your comment, but before i could get back to sit down and write back……you hit the nail on the proverbial head…..how many domestic tasks do we actually share, do in the company of folks we love? i’d say that to be doing dishes with someone there’s a high to very high chance you love the person on the other end of the dishrag. you wouldn’t invite just any ol’ stranger into the sink to do dishes. and i don’t know about you but i’ve not really shared doing the laundry with any sort of crowd. cleaning, too, is rather solitary. how else to get the dust bunnies out from under the bed. barely enough room for one, let alone two. so far as i can think it’s dishwashing that draws us most closely into communion there at the sink. and it is the work itself, the labor, that seems to draw out the depths of the conversation, the heart of the matter. yes, often, it is my mate–he who will not be blogged, not too much at least–who is there at the sink with me. i love that part of the night……cleaning, talking, who said what, filling in the part of whatever story we didn’t get to hear at our end of the table……as the faucet pours forth, so do the stories and the laughter and the drawing closer. wendell b’s got it right, all right. but on the other hand we are all here using the internet for our contrarian purposes—to make a gentle peaceful place on the planet, where, virtually, we can rinse our dishes and dry them off….sharing layer upon layer of story. lamcal, i like your sister’s hydrotherapy theory, my hands in winter are walking lobster claws, red, cracked, stinging. i know when the humidity drops because my hands start to crack. ouch. hurts to even think of it……gnight. sleep tight everyone…..
Monday, September 17, 2007 – 10:14 PM