Back to washing dishes

Ronda Rich

It occurred to me the other day that we lost more than we can imagine when we got kitchen dishwashers.

Perhaps we throw some peace away when we toss the soiled dinner plates into the washer. And, most certainly, we’ve given up some praying time and this would also mean that “Amazing Grace” isn’t being sung nearly as much as it once was.

This I thought when I was at Mama’s house one day. I’d been there to write, outlining a new book. She never had a dishwasher. In the beginning, it was a luxury and no luxuries were ever bought in the house of my growing up. Later, when we children could have pitched in together and bought one, there was no place in the tiny house to put it or hook it up.

So, we continued to wash dishes by hand. Every Christmas when we gathered home, there were a lot of dishes, pots and pans to wash. We never used paper plates. Mama didn’t believe in the cost — when she had free pottery to use – plus she, like I, find it hard to use something once and throw it away. She would probably have tried to wash the paper plates so she could reuse them.

In his older years, Daddy took up dishwashing. On special occasions only. But when we had met for a big family meal – at Mama’s, my sister’s or my house – Daddy would rise from the table, saunter over to the kitchen sink (Daddy never drove fast or walked fast. He lingered in the moment) and start running hot water, pour in the soap and drop the dishes and silverware in to soak a couple of minutes. He’d even put an apron on to protect his dark dress pants.

“Daddy, we can put those in the dishwasher,” someone would offer.

“Yu’uns just leave me alone and let me wash dishes. I did this in Navy in World War II. I ain’t forgot how.”

He washed, without a word, until the kitchen was clean. And, then he removed his apron, so proud of himself. I remember watching one day as he dried his hands on a cotton dish towel. His hands were farmer hard and calloused with car grease tattooed under his nails. I think of those hands, of the briar bushes he pulled up, the calves he helped birth, the carburetors he took apart and reassembled and of the frail china dishes he gently washed, every time I recall a line Daddy used often in his humble prayers, “Oh Lord, please bless the workings of our hands.”

There in Mama’s kitchen I stood, looking out through the old-fashioned roll-out windows that provide a long, generous look into the yard, the pasture and down toward the creek. As I washed, I could see in my mind’s eye, Mama doing dishes, her lips moving silently as she worked. Many times, she was praying. Other times, just talking things out with herself. I do this, too. I love to talk aloud to myself when I’m working out a story or just figuring out the challenges of life.

One morning when I was in high school, I came into the kitchen to find Mama standing at the sink, looking out toward the pasture.

She turned to see me and smiled. “Come looky here.” She motioned me over. “We got us a brand new baby calf. The mama’s cleaning him up now.”

In silence, shoulder-to-shoulder, we stood and appreciated nature and how God replenishes the earth. It was a few minutes before Mama shook herself out of the moment and said, “I gotta get breakfast fixed.”

If she’d been loading a dishwasher instead of washing out a cast iron skillet, she probably never would have noticed that red and white mama and calf.

And, in that event, I would certainly be short a precious memory.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Visit to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]