Fremont County, Iowa

You Wash---I'II Dry
by Sherry Perkins
View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
January 26, 2015

Washing dishes has been regulated from a dreaded kitchen chore to a chore that technology made quick and easy with the coming of the dishwasher. Today one hears groans if a home doesn't have this modern convenience. Washing dishes before running water and water heaters was no small feat. Water would be carried in from the outside pump, heated in the trusty tea kettle and poured into the enamel dish pans ----one for washing dishes and one for rinsing them. Doing this several times a day was work whether during cold winters or sizzling hot summers.

Once upon a time little girls were given a dish towel as soon as they could hold a dish. Drying dishes in our household was for me and Mom until my sister was old enough to join our special forces and help out. I wasn't always Mom' reliable helper either. After supper on summer evenings, I would leave the table with these words, "When you are ready to do dishes Mom just holler". Right! Was I so naive as to think she didn't know my logic? Many times she never called me (or I didn't hear her? ) Shame on me for being undependable and working to get out of drying dishes!

But by and large, Mom, my sister and I were always on dish detail. Looking back I know those times of wet dishtowels and dripping dishes were really a special time of bonding. Oh sure sister and I bickered over who got to wash and who had to dry, but they were times of sharing our day with Mom. We (unbeknown to us) were being given life's lessons and didn't even mind the learning. We learned how to deal with our problems concerning school, friends, our brother, how the world worked, shared gossip and community news and discussed our hopes and dreams. At times our dad slipped in the kitchen with a dish towel and made jokes and teased up by flipping a wet towel at our backsides or grabbing us for a two step around the kitchen. I know now how lucky we were.

After big holiday dinners with aunts, uncles and cousins, and grandparents, the women and girls cleaned up. Some scraped plates (we would never have used paper back then), others began the washing and us young girls were handed dish towels. We protested good naturally but in truth we always enjoyed the time spent with Grandma, Mom, Aunt Lib and Aunt Dee and hearing the latest family news and knowing we were part of a special sisterhood.

I miss those times of doing the dishes with loved ones. It was then I learned that I was part of a family unit, that work was part of life, that each person must do their share and that Dad could dry dishes faster than either me or my sister. What do the dishwashers of today teach? Nothing! Would I want to give mine up? No way!

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