Monday, July 1, 2013

Women and the Appliances We Love

            My mother frequently sang the Washing Machine song, which she apparently composed, since I’ve never heard it anywhere else. As I remember it:
The washing machine, the washing machine is Mommy’s bestest friend.
If I didn’t have my washing machine, I’d come to no good end.
Oh, I’d wash & I’d wash, & I’d scrub & I’d scrub all the live long day,
‘Til by night I’d be so tired that I couldn’t go out to play.
            Many times her bestest friend was a fickle friend and had to be repaired. Somehow those were the times my siblings and I always chose to play bakery in the back yard outside our home in Iselin, New Jersey. Four kids making mud pies out back and one baby making his own version of mud pies in cloth diapers.
            No wonder my mom worshiped her washer.
            My appliance idolatry is focused elsewhere.
            Growing up, my sister Taffy or I occasionally mentioned to our dad the family needed a dishwasher. To which he always gave the same hilarious (to him, anyway) reply, “We have two dishwashers, you and your sister!” Cue laughter.
            And so the unjust child labor continued for years. David and Brett, my older brothers, had intermittent and seasonal chores. Take out the garbage a few times a week. Rake leaves in autumn. Shovel snow in winter. Taffy and I had the daily monotony of dishwashing.
            As the baby, Tim’s only job was to be cute, very easily accomplished with his uncut golden curls.
            Taffy and I found ways to endure the boredom as we took turns washing and drying. We created our own version of Tip-It. Whoever washed would precariously pile the pots, pans, and dishes in the drainer so that whoever dried had to carefully remove each item without knocking the whole business onto the counter and floor.
            (To watch the original TV commercial for Tip-It, go to Doesn’t it make you long for 1965?)
            I learned years later that my mom cringed whenever Taffy and I did the dishes, as she watched soapy water drip down her brand new kitchen cabinets in her new split-level house in Park Ridge, New Jersey. She would have rather done them herself, but my dad was strict. One summer evening we failed to do the dishes immediately after supper. Dad found us—gasp!—watching TV. Instead of sending us to the kitchen, he gave us each a licking and sent us to bed. My mom had to wash the dishes herself. In retrospect, I think we were all happy with the outcome.
            Another fun game was to neatly put the silverware away in the drawer…and then SLAM it shut. Raucous laughter erupted when we opened the drawer and saw its disheveled contents. We’d straighten the silverware again and SLAM. It amused every time.
            One summer my parents went to California to visit my mom’s brothers. My dad’s sister, Laurel, came to babysit us, bringing along our cousins, Jeffrey and Robin. When Aunt Laurel learned Taffy and I washed supper dishes, she decided we could wash them after breakfast and lunch, too. Of course Jeffrey and Robin didn’t have to do anything since they were guests.
            Little did we know, Aunt Laurel was sitting on the back patio after lunch, listening to an annoying series of sounds repeatedly wafting out the kitchen window:  SLAM. Clink Clash. Hahahaha. SLAM. Clink Clash. Hahahaha. Cousin Robin stood in the kitchen, wistfully watching our fun. We graciously offered her a turn.
            SLAM. Clink Clash. Hahahaha. Aunt Laurel burst into the kitchen. “Who is making that racket?! Robin?!!” It’s hard to say which I enjoyed more, the game or Robin’s punishment.
            As we matured, we stopped slamming the silverware drawer, and started the singing game. I would start singing and end abruptly in the middle of a line. Whatever word I last sang had to be the first word in the next song started by Taffy. We went back and forth using pop songs, choir anthems, and Broadway show tunes.
            Fast forward to my young adulthood:  Living in a church parsonage in Pennsylvania with my husband and our four sons. Preparing many meals and washing lots of dishes. I enlist my two oldest boys as dishwashers and dryers…and watch the soapy water dribble down the wooden cabinet door.
            I naively mention to a church board member how nice it would be to have a dishwasher installed in the parsonage kitchen. His answer and laughter echo Dad’s decades earlier. Somehow the conversation comes to the attention of an older church lady who says to me, “I have a portable dishwasher that I only use once a year when I houseclean my kitchen cupboards. Would you like to have it?”
            No church council was consulted to canonize Saint Irene of West Chillisquaque Township. I blessed her name and prayed for her health and happiness every time I connected that hefty appliance to the kitchen faucet. Since it drained into the sink, I would put greasy fry pans or grimy Corningware in the path of the draining hot soapy water. They’d be almost clean by the time I had to hand wash them.
            Now I own a home with a built-in dishwasher. I thank God for it every day. It makes me 99% delirious with happiness.
            That missing 1% would be achieved if I could interest other family members in my cult of dishwasher devotion. Don’t they understand idols need to be fed? It doesn’t require a high priestess; anyone can feed it plates and bowls.
            However, not everyone can load a dishwasher properly. To my logical female mind, it seems that a person who empties it—and doesn’t suffer short term memory loss—should be able to fill it. Just remember the arrangement of the clean dishes you removed and arrange the dirty dishes in the same pattern. I usually end up rearranging their random placement of dishes, but I’m happy when my sons interact with the appliance in any way.
            Whenever I go away for more than a day, I remind my sons the dishwasher will have to be run while I am gone. I cannot come home from southern New Jersey or western Pennsylvania or Jamaica to turn it on. They seem to grasp this, but they continue to find one aspect confusing: There are little transparent packets of measured detergent; the material dissolves, releasing the detergent. And there are little blocks of compressed detergent wrapped in crinkly plastic which doesn’t dissolve and which must be removed before placing in dishwasher. Which kind do I use? Whichever is on sale at the Surplus Outlet. Although the packaging of both brands gives clear usage instructions, my extremely intelligent and highly literate sons don’t read packages. So they have been surprised to open the dishwasher and see the little wrapped detergent block, its red eye staring up at them.
            Can I get any participation from my highly successful and overly educated husband? (He has an Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s degree, and two Master’s degrees.) Rather than put away clean dishes and load dirty ones, he will hand wash a kitchen full of plates and cookware and diabolically pile them in the drainer in a manner that makes the childhood sisters look like amateur Tip-It players. This treachery triples my workload: I have to put away drainer dishes and dishwasher dishes and then sweep up all the glasses that crashed on the floor.
            Nevertheless, 99% is a good grade in delirious happiness or anything else. I’m so happy I sing about the appliance I love.
God save my dishwasher,
Protect its jet-stream clean,
Built by Maytag.
May every fork and dish
Crusted with tuna fish
Be spotless. That’s my wish.
God save my dishwasher.
            The Maytag died right before I left for five days at St. Davids Christian Writers Conference. I posted a warning sign on her door:  Broken! Clean your own dishes. I bought large packages of paper plates and plastic cups for my menfolk, and then enjoyed not cooking and not washing dishes at Grove City College.
            A week ago, Dan the Appliance Man installed my new Frigidaire dishwasher. I’m singing on a new song.
Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you…


  1. Awesome! Love your writing style and your gift of humor. You must write a memoir!

  2. I never knew you had a cousin named, Robin.