I have a small kitchen, no dishwasher. So I wash dishes by hand, sighing.
Running the hot water, squeezing a little soap onto the sponge, I reflect that it could be worse. Women used to scrub their pots with bunches of reeds or palm fibers tied together. The water might have come from a cistern suspended overhead that had to be refilled all the time. Or it the sink could have no drain, standing on a trestle outdoors.
Actually, I ruminate, some natural materials make fine scrubbers. The old-fashioned loofah sponge, which is just a big squash gone dry and the seeds shaken out, works fine. I’ve used those, when I lived in Brazil. Worked great in the shower, too – that is, a loofah reserved for the shower only. Long, scratchy yellow loofahs can still be seen for sale in my local shuk, standing in a bucket like so many fat baguettes.
But what, I ponder as I stack the plates and gather the silverware into one corner, did the ancients do?
When I visited the Crusader fortress in Acre, I saw ceramic plates that the knights had eaten off. Presumably, they got cleaned in water and some kind of soap. And presumably, when those knights would get up from their feasting, menials would come in to clean up. Menials, owtch. Does that describe me right now? No, I’m a writer. I happen to be washing dishes now, that’s all.
My husband washed dishes without complaint for years, until arthritis made it too painful. Well, I find it painful to break the focus on my creative work in order to wash the dishes. But needs must, so I turn to, and after a few minutes, my resentment fades. The work becomes mechanical and my mind settles into quiet. Songs run through my head. I start planning the next blog post, polish a few awkward phrases in my head, think out a shopping list. Think about why women are still washing dishes after all these centuries.
The water runs boiling hot, thanks to the solar heater on the building’s roof. The dish soap cleans grime efficiently and smells like lemons, sort of. My mind runs on. I know, from reading servant’s accounts of life in big English homes of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, that washing dishes was a never-ending chore for scullery maids.
Compared to women who had to scrub greasy dishes and pots with sand and wood ashes, which contain caustic soda, I have it infinitely easy. Their hands were permanently chapped and raw. I pull a pair of gloves on to wash my dishes, and when I pull them off again, I massage them with silky hand cream.
I give the empty sink a final scrub around. There. All the dishes are stacked up in the draining tray, and the sink is clean. It only takes a few minutes to wipe everything dry and put it away. Will I admit to a feeling of satisfaction at a job well done, or hang on to my previous, grumpy mood?
No, I’ll admit it. It’s a great feeling, hanging up my apron and walking away from a clean kitchen.
Just remind me, next time.