Originally published May 20, 2007 (time factor can be worked around)
We don't work as The Waltons.
And by we, I mean my family - four of us, two of whom are younger than age 3.
Our dishwasher caught fire a week ago Saturday. As I write this column, we've been without a dishwasher for seven days.
I'm not sure which looks worse, me or the dishes.
I have dark circles under my eyes, and most of our dishes are dirty and piled next to the sink. Neither is very appealing.
Let me explain. Along with the normal challenges of raising a toddler and a newborn, last week three of our family's four members were sick. My wife holds me responsible for bringing the plague into the home because I was the first to go down with the affliction. My symptoms were sore throat, head congestion and lethargy. Our oldest son added high fever when he took his turn with the crud, and my wife, the artist, colored her canvass with a new stroke, a sinus infection.
With all this infirmity, there hasn't been a lot of general maintenance going on around the house. It's been an atmosphere of fend-for-yourself laundry and enter the bathroom at your own risk.
Even at that, the kitchen is still my problem. My wife and I divvy up the household chores. I get the kitchen and the bathrooms duties, and she does laundry and everything else.
So if there's dereliction of duty in the kitchen, I'm the derelict. And having my best helper, the dishwasher, go belly up sufficiently decreased my capacity to not be a derelict.
I've leaned on a dishwasher for at least the past nine years, but I'm old enough to remember when dishwashers were rare.
My mother felt guilty about getting our first dishwasher. It was a luxury she didn't think she deserved. Yet when we remodeled the kitchen in the 1970s (lots of avocado), we added a dishwasher. Mom got used to it, as did many moms and wives of the era.
In "The Fifties," a book written by the late David Halberstam, women had to work past guilt to allow themselves kitchen and laundry appliances as technology made them available. Halberstam pointed out how an early McDonald's advertising slogan was "You deserve a break today, so get up and get away, to McDonald's." The ad campaign sought to draw families in by letting women off the home cooking hook. It worked pretty well.
Now we deserve nearly everything. We deserve to be able to heat our leftovers in a minute or two instead of a half an hour. And we deserved better than to drag those rotary phone dials counterclockwise for each number, so we got push-button.
We're spoiled. One need not look further than orange juice for evidence. Consider the evolution. First people had to squeeze oranges into a pitcher and add water. Too much work. Then came frozen concentrate, where we had only to add water and stir. Still too much work. Then orange juice was provided, ready to drink, in a carton. No other steps required. Still, opening the carton was too much work. Now we have little screw-top lids to avoid the toil of the carton. Soon, they'll pour it down our throats.
But I digress, and precisely in the middle of a good whine. The dishwasher left me in the middle of our plague.
We immediately went out and bought paper plates and cups. My wife and I try to avoid paper plates because it seems wasteful when we have dishes that can be reused. And while we feel good about making this environmental stand, we could not hold out in the face of a dishwasher on the blink. Paper it was; our resolve melted away like a bread sack next to the oven.
Imagine our forefathers, or more likely foremothers, who had to hike off to the creek or the well and haul water back in buckets and then wash dishes. They certainly deserved a break. But since those pioneers are not around, I guess we should accept the break on their behalf.
Our new dishwasher was delivered Saturday. And, deserving a break, I left the dirty dishes in a pile until it was hooked up. No one's gonna' call me John Boy.
Tom Martin is editor of The Register-Mail. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.