From Linda Lee Greene, Author/Artist
“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash the dishes.’ What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future—and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
Roma, whom her near and dear called “Ro” was my mother, and in all her 69 years of life, she never owned a dishwasher. Day in and day out, Ro cooked for her family and then washed the dirty dishes by hand as she always had done. The eldest female of her seven siblings, she was born at a time when small family farms were still ubiquitous in America. The responsibilities of an “eldest female” in such farm societies began very young and were numerous. Among the chores she assumed when little more than a toddler was washing the dirty dishes at the completion of every multi-course breakfast, dinner, and supper consumed by her large family, seven days a week, every week of every year and nary a day off in between. After each meal, her mother scooted a chair across the worn linoleum-clad floor of the Southern Ohio farmhouse kitchen and set it before the counter on which the chipped and dented metal dishpan of warm water sat next to the cistern pump, and then she lifted Ro onto the chair. The little girl then got busy washing the dishes and stacking them to air-dry on the counter.
When Mom and Dad built the house on Alkire Road in Grove City, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, in the late 1950’s, Mom could have made room for a newfangled dishwasher in the kitchen—but she saw no need for it. However, she did opt for a double stainless-steel sink mounted in a countertop of yellow-gold Formica and surrounded by tiles of turquoise plastic on the backsplash. And boy, did that compact workspace see hard duty over the years.
Reva “Re,” one of my mother’s two younger sisters and my favorite aunt, came to visit one September Sunday of 1979, arriving early enough to allow her and my mother ample time to “visit” before getting down to the serious business of preparing the evening meal. Their “visits” were jovial affairs comprised of jawing the latest gossip, hee-hawing, sometimes irreverently, and chewing anything in sight. The photograph of them (Re is on the left; Ro is on the right) illustrates the point better than any words I can bring to mind.
Among a family of wild cats, Re was the wildest of them all. Stories of her escapades abound in the annals of our family. One of my favorites took place in a ‘beer joint” in Columbus, a rowdy evening that Re, my father, and two of my uncles were hanging out and getting soused together. A fellow drunken patron, slurring epithets and challenges to my father to duke it out then and there didn’t know the peril he was inviting. Re jumped up from her bar stool, thrust her face right up to the big fella’s nose, and hands on hips and blue eyes flashing, she spat, “That’s Lee! He’s my brother-in-law, and anyone who makes trouble for him has to go through me first!” The guy just laughed and turned his back to her. Furious at the affront, Re jumped up on his back and riding him like a cowgirl on a bucking bronco, she pounded him on his skull with her balled fists. It took my father and both my uncles to pull her off the startled man.
With help now and then from their brothers and brothers-in-law, my father and mother built the house on Alkire Road with their own hands, essentially. It was an endeavor rife with successes and challenges, the challenges in large part emanating from my mother’s screwball exploits, all of which were constant bones of contention between my parents. One of them involved her hammering a roofing nail into her bare foot. In all its zany and glorious details, I wrote the story of the construction project in GUARDIANS AND OTHER ANGELS, my book in which the momentous historical events of the twentieth century, from World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and beyond form the backdrop and my family holds center stage.
My two sisters, my two children, and I also attended that gathering at the Alkire Road house that September Sunday of 1979. It was a giggle a minute, which was always the case when Re was around. The evening meal under our belts and the dining room table cleared, everyone but Ro and Re piled in the living room to watch TV. My mother and her sister wanted to extend their visit while washing the dishes. The yellow-gold Formica countertop heaped with all manner of greasy dinnerware, Ro plunged them one by one in the soapy water of the right-hand stainless-steel sink and scrubbed and scrubbed, and then Re swished and swished them in the clear water of the left-hand stainless-steel rinsing sink. Pretty soon Ro took to braying like a mule and Re to howling like a hyena. The TV show in the living room was no competition for the one underway in the kitchen, and the rest of us raced to investigate. And there, dripping in the dish drainer was a Leaning Tower of Pisa of dishes, topped off with an orange plastic bowl and a metal pan wedged in and teetering upright on its handle. “Get the camera!” my mother yelled.
Thich Nhat Hahn also said that washing dishes was like bathing the baby Buddha. I doubt that my mother and my aunt found that kind of reverence in the act, but they applied their considerable sister wisdom to it and made a delightful game of it to share together. So simple! So real! So full of moments of actual life! I am happy to report that I also love to wash dishes by hand and have no desire to invest in a dishwasher. I have a friend who in all the twenty plus years he has lived in his condo, has never turned on his built-in dishwasher. He stores his deceased mother’s fine china in it instead. To my mind, that is a brilliant use for a dishwasher!©
Re passed on in 1989 and Ro in 1992. Their lives, from birth to death, are featured prominently in Linda Lee Greene’s, GUARDIANS AND OTHER ANGELS, a book of historical fiction based on a true story. To purchase the book, please click the following URL: http://goo.gl/imUwKO.
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