When a friend mentioned that she was overly particular about loading her dishwasher, I admitted that I, too, moved the plates and bowls around to their “proper” places after they’d been loaded “wrong” by well-meaning helpers.
Kitchen routines, especially dish related ones, are like that. Once you get into a pattern it’s hard to change. On the farm, the dishwashing rhythm, established who knows when, was unchanging. Someone – usually my grandmother – filled a pan in the white sink with hot soapy water. Soap was never wasted, so only one pan of washing water was used for the whole gamut of dirt.
Grandma Hall washed the glasses first, the silverware second, the cups, china, and tea things next. The greasy pots and pans came last, taking their bath in tepid grimy water. She put the soapy dishes onto the draining board where they waited to be “scalded” with boiling water from the silver-colored kettle simmering on the stovetop. When I was the dryer I complained about soapy traces left on the dishes and was told it was my job to wipe everything clean with the towel – a little soap never hurt anyone. Besides, Grandma Hall said, after the scalding, the dishes were perfectly sterile.
I remember a Sunday morning when I was in college. I decided at the last minute to drive home and surprise my family by joining them for Sunday dinner at the farm. I felt the need to be in the loving circle of parents and brother and grandparents for a little while. The noon meal was the big meal of the day on the farm, and the Sunday dinner was always special.
I don’t remember what we ate, but I do remember standing at the kitchen sink with my grandmother and mother while I dried the dishes. I wore a favorite 1960’s college girl outfit – black sweater, black and white pleated wool skirt, black stockings, black shoes, and probably a gold circle pin. It was comforting to be in the midst of the steamy haze and the patter of small talk and feel that I totally belonged. I was independent, but not quite. I drove back to school that afternoon wishing I could stay at the farm with my family and forget about getting on in the world.
These old-fashioned routines haunt me long after I’ve established my own more modern ones. And I’m trying to remember the kettle. I can only approximate the way it looked, but to this day I feel its heft and remember the hot thrill of pouring boiling water over precious and fragile glassware and china.
On Wednesday: Water on the Farm – The Spring