a sorority of suds

by bam

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….