Virtue & Mischief: Can you do that?


“Tim,” my wife greeted me one evening as I walked in the door. “I need to show you something.” Such a greeting rarely portends good news. I took off my coat and shoes, walked to the kitchen where she awaited, and braced myself. Just how bad was the news going to be?

Krista opened the kitchen cabinet door to the immediate left of our dishwasher, crouched down, and pointed to the interior section of the cabinet adjoining the aforementioned appliance. “Look,” she announced. “See? This wood is warped and it’s damp. We obviously have a leak in the dishwasher. Hard telling what exactly is going on or what we’re going to find when we take the dishwasher out, but it’s time. Most dishwashers only last a decade or so and this one’s at least 15 years old. If we try to squeeze more out of it things could get really ugly.”

She was right, of course. It was a good thing she’d somehow noticed the effect on the interior of the cabinet before we’d been hit by a domestic disaster. It’s not unheard of for us to start the dishwasher immediately before retiring for the evening, for example, or before heading out the door for one of the kids’ activities or church. Lord willing, that’s one colossal mess averted, at least for the time being. This was one instance (of many) where I was pleased I’d married someone with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. She notices EVERYTHING. Wise woman.

I nodded, shut the cabinet door, and stared at the dishwasher. A sign was affixed to it with scotch tape. “DO NOT USE” it announced in language so simple and stark that even the Amigos would surely understand and obey. (On the other hand, there was zero risk that they’d actually go to the trouble of filling its racks, supplying the proper depositories with liquid soap, and turning the machine on. Why on earth would they start now?!? No. That sign was meant for me. As I wrote above: Wise woman.) I glanced in the sink and spied the small pile of bowls, plates, and silverware taking up residence under the faucet.

After supper concluded we cleared the table and piled the dirty dishes on the counter next to the sink. As Krista folded laundry or attended to a half dozen other chores I filled the left-hand sink with soapy water and commenced washing and rinsing the dishes, placing each cleaned dish in the basin on the right side. Daniel sat a few feet away from me reading a book.

“What are you doing?” he quizzed me.

“Washing dishes the way I used to when I was growing up. We didn’t have a dishwasher in those days so my sisters and I took turns. Somebody set the table, somebody cleared the table, somebody washed the dishes, and somebody rinsed and dried them. Because there were five of us, that meant one of us had the night off each evening. Then we’d start the rotation all over again.”

He rose from his seat and walked over to me, clearly fascinated with this bizarre and arcane process. Hot water flowed from the faucet into the sink, causing the dish soap to froth and bubble and allowing me to rinse each utensil and bowl after scrubbing. Daniel watched intently for a half minute or so, dumbfounded.

“Can you do that?” he asked.

“What do you mean, ‘can I do that’?” I replied. “Of course I can do that. I’m doing that.”

“I mean, isn’t that kind of, you know, ‘old’ or something?” he said as he pointed to my hands as they scrubbed a plate.

“Do you mean is it old-fashioned or outdated to wash dishes this way?”

“Yeah. Like, you know, people don’t still do it that way, do they? It seems wrong. It’s not natural.”

“Not natural?!” I retorted, flabbergasted. I regained my composure and continued. “Daniel, I can appreciate that this seems unusual to you. I did a lot of things when I was young that you would probably find unnatural,” I continued. “I actually got out of my seat to change channels on the television set, for instance, usually for my father, and usually to switch from one football game to another. Can you imagine that?!”

“No. Not really.”

“And I had to get out of the car in lousy weather to lift or lower the garage door when my family went out. We didn’t have a garage door opener.”

“Wow. Seriously?”

“Yes. And guess what else,” I continued, going in for the amigo-mind-blowing-kill. “We didn’t have computers or hand-held devices or Playstation this-that-or-the-others. We had books and baseball cards and games, and we went outside in the winter and played sports with real balls and stuff like that.”

He was dumbstruck. He looked in my eyes, trying to gauge my level of sincerity. Detecting no sarcasm, he shook his head with sympathy and concluded, “Dad, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”

By Tim Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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