Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dishwashing on November 10

Yeah, it's still cold. Overcast. "Intermittent rain showers. All day." The woman on the radio sounds really sad about the weather. I think she needs one of those sunlight lamps at her desk. Or, she needs a birdfeeder! Nothing will lift her spirits like watching little birds jockeying for position at the feeder. They are lined up in the berry bushes like little airplanes waiting for clearance to land.

Sunrise was at 7:08, sunset is 4:38. I love this sunrise/sunset calculator. It shows how many minutes and seconds of daylight we lose each day (I assume it goes the other way when we get to the other side), when the solar noon is, and what the altitude of the sun is. It's very cool and it's site is if you would like to follow along.

When you finally have to drink your evening glass of wine out of a jelly jar, it is time to do the dishes. Every glass in the house was upstairs. How on earth does that happen?

I actually really like doing the dishes (and, no, we don't have a dish washer except for the human ones) because it is the only time I can see something started and then finished. It feels like I am actually organized. I like to wash each set of things like big dishes, then the little dishes, then the glasses...and then I end with the "silver"ware. Which I really dislike doing. There is always one more fork under all those suds - the utensils just go on forever - but then I am happy when, while trying to find the next last one, I realize that last one really was the last one!

Many years ago, back when I was in high school, I reread the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, by local author Betty MacDonald. I remember reading a story about a girl who hated washing the silverware and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle came up with a cure that encouraged her to think of this chore as a game, rescuing the princess spoons and making them safe and then saving the knight knives. I don't remember all the details but I still dry the utensils the way I did after I read the story: I dry all the big utensils and put them away, then the all the knives, then the forks and then the spoons (big ones, then small). I carry the memory of that story with me everywhere I go. I wash the silverware the same way wherever I wash dishes no matter whose sink it is.

And that memory reminds me of one of the nicest passages about dishwashing I have ever read. It comes from (I hope this is right) T. R. Pearson's amazing book, A Short History of a Small Place, in which he describes the sound of dishes against each other. The character is walking at dinner time and the windows of the houses are open and he is listening to the sounds of evening coming.

The description is so beautiful and true that when I read it, I imagined the house where I grew up, with the kids across the street still playing baseball in the lot under the window just as it gets too dark to see the ball unless it's against the sky, and just before the street light came on. This particular memory is attached to one of the only evenings in Port Orford where it was warm enough to have the windows open and calm enough that the wind didn't slew the ball throw.

I imagine that little yellow square of light, the open window sucking in the sounds of log trucks, voices yelling each other to run, and barking dogs, and the sound of dishes clicking and chipping against each other slipping out, sounds that evoke home no matter where you live. This book is a southern novel but this piece of it is something everyone recognizes. I immediately replaced his descriptions of place with mine.

If this isn't the right book and author, I apologize. Whoever wrote the passage I remember is a master of scene setting. It still surprises me when something I read changes the way I see the world and my place in it. I will see if I can find the book and double check it. I worry, though, that it won't be the same the next time I read it! This is T. R. Pearson's first book and is absolutely wonderful. Please check it out the next time you are in your bookstore, your local, independent bookstore, of course.

There must be 30 birds out in the bushes under the feeder. They explode into the air like a sneeze, abruptly and with great dispersion, every time I stand up. It is so cool.

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