Other Wind
06 / March06 / March06 / March

Rinse Water

Tonight I washed dishes Grandma Webb’s way.

As a child and on into my teen years, I helped my Grandma Webb with the dishes when we visited her. After eating, we’d carry the dishes from the table in the dining room to the counter by the sink. Grandma would fill a large metal bowl—it’s white paint almost worn off—with hot soapy water and place it in the right side of the sink. Then she’d put a plastic green tub in the left side and fill it with hot water too. That was my station—the green tub was my domain. Aunt Florine stood to my left. She was the dryer.

Grandma would wash a dish and hand it to me. I’d slosh it through the hot water in the tub—the rinse water—until I couldn’t see any more suds. At first, the water would be so hot it seemed to seep under my fingernails, but eventually it would cool as I thudded dishes against the bottom of the tub and slapped water against the sides enough times. My fingers felt like rubber by the time we were done.

After each dish had it’s bath, I’d place it on the plastic drying rack. The rack was beige. Glasses went around the outside, cupped over the fat, flat, pliable plastic spokes that formed the sides. The glasses had to go on the outside to make room for the bowls and plates.

Aunt Florine removed the dishes from the rack, dried them, and put them away. She knew where every one went. When the dishes were all washed and rinsed, I’d take a towel from the cupboard under the sink and help Florine while Grandma wiped the counters and the table. Many of the towels were leftover cloth calendars that used to hang on Grandma’s kitchen wall above the table. Most of them had birds—I remember cardinals in particular—perched over the months of the year. By the time we got to the big dishes—the pots and pans, the pressure cooker—the towels would be too wet to do much drying.

I liked putting dry dishes in the white metal cupboard. It had double doors and stood alone next to the kitchen table. It whined a little when I opened it. Inside was the smell of Grandma Webb’s house and all the glasses, plates, and bowls that only she had, that were mine every time we visited her and Florine in Powhatan.*

I don’t remember talking much while we worked, but we may have. I was pretty shy though, and Grandma wasn’t the kind to force shy people into conversation. She’d ask questions, tell news and stories, but she didn’t fuss over a quiet person. At least, she didn’t over me.

Back then, I never thought about how on earth Grandma and Aunt Florine did the dishes when I wasn’t visiting. Now I see that Grandma just dipped and sloshed each dish in the rinse water by herself and then reached it over onto the rack for Florine. She’d even try to do that without thinking every now and then when I was there, but I’d always grab the dish before she could finish with it and she’d apologize for forgetting me. I wasn’t really necessary, but I’m glad she made me feel like I was. At least she didn’t have to reach as far when I was at my station.

So tonight, after loading the dishwasher full of all but a few pots, I filled the right side of the sink with hot soapy water and the left with rinse water. I scrubbed each pot and then swirled it around until all the suds were off the pot and in the rinse.

I thought of Grandma and Florine and tickled out these memories.

*I liked the cream colored bowl with the red floral pattern on its inside the best. Grandma usually put the mashed potatoes in it. I also liked the glasses that had red, yellow, blue, and green flowers around blue and yellow birds. For some reason, I just realize now, I’ve always thought those birds were partridges. My parents gave me two of them after Grandma passed away. I’ve broken one since then, and now the other sits in an old pie safe that David’s Mam-maw gave us, for safe-keeping.

Your Dad told me the other day about your memory of washing and drying dishes at Grandma Webbs. I first read it this morning. Very nice. Just wanted to let you know your Mother is still using the same wash pan and the green rinsing bowl and doing it the same way.

Posted by: Mom on March 31, 2003 07:53 AM

I have wash dishes in the pans too. But your mother does the most of the dish
wasing when we go there. She
tdidn't always like to do
the dishes.

Posted by: Aunt Faye on April 18, 2003 10:55 PM