Family rules for washing dishes
June 9, 2010
I have not had to hand wash dishes since the Christmas before my son was born. That means, until we became snow birds, I had not hand washed dishes for nigh on to 46 years. But now that I was again hand washing dishes I had time to think. For some reason I chose to think about how the dishes belonged to my cousin Bud and I.
Bud lived with us periodically. That was back in the day when children had chores. And our chore was to set the table before the meals and wash the dishes after the meals. Of course it wasn’t just the dishes it was also the milk separator.
What I particularly remember was that after our noon dinner Mom would pour hot water in each of the two dishpans and then she would take her current book and head off for the bedroom to nap with the baby.
I’m thinking Bud must have had access to some Buck Rogers science fiction comic books when he wasn’t living with us. It was his idea that as we washed and dried and put the dishes back in the cupboards the kitchen became, a spaceship.
My mom had a wooden knife holder on the wall, and by rising and lowering the knifes to different lengths we were able to use them as the controls for the spaceship. We would tie tea towels around our necks and magically I became Dyna and he was Mite. Get it? Dynamite! Pretty clever huh? Anyway, we would be soaring along in outer space in our spaceship. Driving it high and swooping it low while using a plate as a steering wheel. Silverware and other cutlery became weapons of mass destruction. While the egg beater might be an additional engine revved up to the top power.
I’m sure the dish water and the rinse water became cold before we finished and landed the spaceship back on earth with the slam of the cupboard door behind the last dish.
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The sooner the dishes were done the sooner we were free to go outside to play. We had also gotten a pretty good handle on washing the separator. At night we would move the cream and milk pails and put the spouts together and then run a couple pails of water through the separator into sloop pails. If we were fast enough the separator still had enough momentum to swish the water through. If not we would have to give the handle a few more turns.
After the calves were fed and the cream put in a jar or cream can in the water barrel we would haul the offending water out to the hogs or chickens. This way the separator only had to be washed in the morning.
Washing the separator was really an awful job. Later I would trade an hour of piano practice just not having to do that job. In the first place you had to heat water on the wood stove. This meant starting a fire and hauling water in from the water barrel to heat in a boiler. Our separator was in the wash house about a half block from the house. It also housed the washing machine. While the water heated you did some more barnyard chores and then took the separator apart.
First you removed the strainer and took it apart so the cheese cloth could be washed out of the bottom of it. Later we had strainer pads, but when I was six or seven we used chunks of cheese cloth cut to fit. After the strainer you put the tank on the table making sure the spigot on the bottom was tightly closed. Then came the top piece above the cream and milk spouts and then the spouts. After that you came to the heavy bowl that spun and separated the cream from the milk.
You had to lift that heavy piece up and securely place it on the top of the separator where the tank had sat. Once it was tightly in place you used a special wrench to loosen the nut on top of the bowl. I kept a hammer handy and while holding the wrench in place with one hand I banged away at the wrench handle until the nut loosened. Of course when Bud was there this became a two person job and was much easier.
Once the nut was loosened you removed the first and second section. Then came the scary part. The disks were now showing and they each had a hole in them that lined up clear to the bottom disk. I think there were around two dozen or so disks. There was a big safety pin looking holder that you put down through the hole and then tried to tip the bowl up and impale the disks on the holder while not dropping the whole thing and scattering disks everywhere. If they were numbered it was a piece of cake if not you could be in real trouble. For if they were not in the correct order the milk did not separate from the cream and sometimes milk went everywhere. Once all this was done you dipped hot water into the tank added soap and washed each piece and rinsed them in a clean milk pail of warm water and laid them out to dry.
Of course it had to be all reassembled before evening milking time.
Anyway we pretty much had the washing up chores down to a fare-thee-well, until my mom was rushed to the hospital and my grandmother came to stay. That’s when we learned the ‘washing up’ had rules. Who would have thought that dishes had rules? Not me. And certainly not Bud.
Who knew you had to wash anything that touched you lips first? And those dishes had to have their own dish rag and dish towel. Also the wash water had to be kept hot! That pretty much ended the trips to Mars.
After the silverware and plates were washed we did the center pieces like serving bowls and such. And each segment was placed in the dish pan and then my grandmother poured boiling water out of the teakettle over them. The silver, the glasses, the plates and the middle pieces all got a good scalding in their turn. And there was a different dish towel for each set. But I did like this part. As the dishes were dried, instead of putting them in the cupboard they were laid back on the table. But in order!
Silverware went from the left fork, knife and spoon. Altogether in the middle of a place. Then they were covered with the plate placed on them upside down and the plate was covered with a napkin. Where did those come from? Grandmother must have brought them. The glasses and cups were placed upside down in front of the plate.
Well I remember thinking that sure was better than putting them in and out of the cupboard each time. Last came the pots and pans. But first the washing water was dumped into a pail and the rinsing water was put in the washing dish pan. A different dish rag was used for the kettles and skillets than was used on the other dishes. Also the worst of the dish towels were used for the last of the job.
Then when all was washed and dried and either put in place on the table or in the cupboard the pans of water were dumped into the scrub pail and the floor was moped. Mop the floor?? And that wasn’t all! First you had to rinse the dish rags and then take them and all the dish towels out and hang them on the line in the sun where the sun would kill all the germs. Yikes!!
The last of the job was to spread the water on the few straggling flowers my mom was trying to raise. Then at long last we could go out to play. Or Grandmother would snag us for a Bible study or prayer session. Just in case she had this in mind we always had something important we had to do. At least until we got out of sight of the house.
Thank goodness Grandmother never investigated our separator washing routine.