The dishes

by Madeleine Brown

The dishes and I go way back.

That said my parents never made me wash them as a kid. Nope. Not even load the dishwasher. My earliest memory of the dishes is the sound of my mother unloading the dishes each morning from the dishwasher and putting them back into their respective cupboard. Some mornings I hated that sound and would dramatically turn over onto my opposite side and throw a pillow over my head; some mornings it gently woke me and beckoned me downstairs for breakfast.

I knowingly did the dishes for the first time on a three-, four- or maybe five-day school trip to a local camp in grade five. Each meal a set number of students were assigned the duty. Whatever (unfortunate) adult was required to monitor this task taught me how. I suppose it wasn’t that momentous an occasion for me because I don’t remember who that particular person was. It’s probably the most useful thing anyone’s ever taught me though.

Continuing along my dish memory bank, I remember the period of time in grade seven when we didn’t have a dishwasher. My family had returned from a year abroad and moved into the house my parents had previously rented out to university students for the entirety of my life up until that point. It was a rocky period: my mother insisted upon doing and redoing all our dirty dishes. Oh, sure my father tried, but it usually ended with my mother secretly giving them a second wash when he wasn’t looking. I think I’d started baking and cooking myself by then and was often (jokingly) guilted about the number of dirty dishes each of my culinary creations produced. I too attempted to be helpful and do the dishes, but my mother just redid those ones too. The dishes sparked many arguments. Thankfully, we eventually got a dishwasher and the number of arguments reduced. (Although the renovated kitchen didn’t come for another nine years.)

For my first and second year of university while living in residence, I did the few dishes I had—I was on a mealplan then—in my bathroom sink. Still consuming numerous tins of tuna and salmon I had to vigorously wash the cutlery, dishware and Tupperware that held their contents, so my roommate wouldn’t detect the embarrassing fishy smell. She never commented on my canned fish habit, so I guess I was successful.

When I moved off-campus in third year, I really got to know the dishes. I became a woman possessed. I hated the sight of dirty dishes cluttering the counterspace beside the sink. So, for all of third year I washed every single dirty dish. Yes, even my roommates’. I honestly never once minded. I made the bulk of them anyways and I just couldn’t justify not washing the odd plate or cup one of my roommates had left to wash later when I was doing my own. Eventually, my roommates had to plead with me to not wash their dishes. One in particular began washing hers right after she made them, so I wouldn’t. Then after a summer away on a French farm, where I continued to wash other people’s dishes, I returned and realized I’d lost the desire to wash anyone’s dishes other than my own.

The dishes (2)
Oh, all the soap suds I’ve made

I continue to live with roommates, whose dishes I adamantly do not wash—unless I need a particular pan or pot. I wash dishes numerous times each day though. I can only imagine the combined total amount of time I’ve spent over that sink. I’ve had important and silly conversations, sang my heart out to whatever’s playing on my iTunes and experienced a variety of emotional states while doing them. Just like my mother, I too unload our dish rack first thing every morning. (We’re not grown up enough yet to own a dishwasher.) Whether it comforts or annoys my roommates, I’ve yet to ask. It’s a routine I just can’t break.