This is a short piece in response to The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge posted February 24th.
A dish seems such a simple object. Its essence remains intact even as it morphs in pattern, size, and color to fit the owner’s preferences or personality. It can be different materials too: glass or metal, plastic or composite. It can be transformed for different uses into a plate, a bowl, or a cup. Those are just a dish’s characteristics though.
It is a finicky object. While it is used for eating off of, or drinking out of, the dish must then be washed. It provides one with the means to sustain themselves, and then it becomes a nuisance. A smelly, festering nuisance, waiting in the sink for you to come by and lavish it with hot water and sticky soap that makes it shine like the day it was made. That’s just a dish’s use though.
What it represents is entirely separate from use and molecular composition. Dishes, or ‘doing the dishes’, represents a woman’s responsibilities, her tasks and workmanship in her family. Women’s Movement or not, doing the dishes is a moment of shouldering the burden of caring for one’s family. Doing the dishes after the holiday meal is as important as cooking the meal. Perhaps dishes represent a woman’s homemaking responsibilities, because we too, like a dish, provide a foundation for sustenance, a cornerstone for nourishment and happiness. Whether we also pose a nuisance to the men in our lives is an altogether different discussion.
On a visit to my grandma’s one night, I stayed to do them. I hadn’t been there to dirty them, but I couldn’t walk past the kitchen and out the door without doing them.
“No, honey, you don’t have to do those,” she said, coughing on the couch, her voice distant like a drip in a drain tunnel.
But I did. I would not have been able to leave until the burden of that nuisance was off my grandmother’s frail shoulders.
The rag smelled like mildew, the drainer stained with years of yellow age, yellow use. I used more soap, and I didn’t lay the mouth of the cups right on the drainer bed, but rather balanced them on a tilt over the edge of the drainer and a towel. This made me feel better.
After finishing, I dried my hands and felt more complete for the task. Less guilty, though there was no tangible cause for guilt. Maybe it was for the sunflower bowl she has in her cupboard now, the bowl we meant for our other stepfather’s mother, but retagged the gift for Grandma when we saw Janet already had the sunflower bowl set. Mom said not to say anything, but I still feel bad when I think about it. Or maybe the guilt is something more abstract, like the overhanging question of whether or not I visit enough.
I sat next to her and she asked me what I wanted for Christmas, irony lacing her tone. It’s her favorite time of year, but all she really wants to hear is a theme so she can run with it. I laugh, unsure. I never know on the spot until I later come across something I need.
She went into the hospital that night, and those Christmas things were just things, items on a check list that never got checked off. But I hope those dishes meant more. They mean more to me.