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Who Needs a Dishwasher When You Have 8 of Them?

My mom had a three-foot measuring stick and if you exceeded that length, you qualified for frequent dishwashing. Essentially, if you could reach the bottom of the sink, even with one finger, you were drafted into dishwashing regardless of your want. It reminded me of an amusement park ride but in this scenario, it wasn't going to be an enjoyable ride. Regarding my height, I was tall for my age so technically I was put to work sooner than those less in stature.

I was number four in our family of eight to help clean the kitchen after meals. It’s probably not hard to imagine an adult doing dishes manually for ten people after a big meal, but at six or seven years of age?

A few years later, a fifth sibling qualified for doing dishes. At that point with so many helpers in the kitchen, I believe my dad and older sister devised a weekly point system, one point for clearing, washing, and drying. The goal of this new point system was to simplify things with kitchen chores which wasn't always the case. Anyway, as in any new system, adjustments were made when necessary.

The clearing of dishes was fairly straightforward but also included sweeping the floor. That meant moving many chairs around to ensure all crumbs and excess food were correctly captured with a broom and dustpan. I enjoyed getting my hands wet while washing dishes but your flow could be disrupted by a "lollygagging" clearer who you thought had ADHD where they weren’t always on task. Some siblings liked drying as they could wield their power of quality control and sent anything back to the washer that didn't meet their standards. I rarely took offense to wash a dish a second time as long as I wasn’t splashed in the process. Just to be clear, there was never a situation when the kitchen was not completely cleaned by bedtime.

During school days, dinner was the only meal where the point system was applied, and three meals were on Saturday and Sunday. During summer vacation, there were three meals each day times seven days which meant a total point value was sixty-three. This meant during the warm summer, breakfast, and lunch often just involved bowls, silverware, glasses, and paper plates (to be discarded).

These types of meals provided an astute sibling to grab those easier points of the week. Summer dinners were the exact opposite as my mother and older siblings helped whip up a sit-down dinner that included meat, potatoes, and vegetables along with whole milk. For evening meals, most of us were not brave enough to tackle such a chore but I must add that the individual with the least amount of points at that moment had to address the mess. It was a major mess to clean up and was also a major mess to one's playtime.

Some were better than others at finding easier meals to work

My youngest brother was adept at lobbying mom on the types of meals she was planning for Saturday and Sunday. Those were two days where the most involved meals could take place. (You could only “call” one day ahead of time.) For example, if he quietly learned from her that we’re having a roast on Saturday night, he’d call Saturday breakfast and/or lunch on Friday morning. That meant he’d earn plenty of required points with a minimal amount of effort.

It took me a while to see his approach but for whatever reason, even though I understood his strategy, I was unable to beat him at overall finding easier meals in which to work.

The week ended on Saturday so there were many situations where I was short three or more points on the last day of the week. If lucky, I'd grab three for breakfast but that wasn't always the case. Often, I'd get stuck doing lunch and/or dinner, and if not a grab meal (bread, cold cuts, chips, and milk), I was in a world of hurt. I vividly remember looking at the vacant kitchen after the other nine had gone on to more interesting things. There were typically four pots and pans to clean for sit-down dinners, several spatulas, cutting knives, and plates, glasses, and silverware for ten, if not more. Also, there may have been additional dishes in the sink from snacks consumed in the afternoon. My daydreaming helped me pass the time away, but in today's world, I'd strap on my noise-canceling headphones and listen to podcasts to help me accomplish this mundane task.

Controversy about chores among kids?

It’s not surprising that controversy sometimes ensued about who called what meal. Did they sign the call sheet? Was it legible? Was it called within the correct time frame? Did they include which tasks they were interested in? There were times my dad was in the living room reading the paper as some of us bickered and debated the correct legal fight. After this occurred for about 5 - 10 minutes, he’d charge into the kitchen and try to sort things out. If it was quite involved, his executive decision was that those involved in the controversy had to partner together and clean up the dinner mess. There were a few times when I was not blameless and created a little chaos so my cleaning partner did more than their fair share. My approach was that if I had to drown in a sea of dirty dishes, any chaos to reduce my workload was my advantage.

We recycled 50 years ago (I was tithed on recycling)

One more thing about doing dishes many years ago, we had to rinse and wash out the empty cans of corn, beans, and peas that were to be recycled. Imagine having an environmentally conscious dad who felt the need to recycle 50 years ago. Recycling was not the zeitgeist at the time so the majority of families never would have gone through the bother but one could also say no families would have gone through the bother of formalizing a dishwashing point system.

Call me a fool but today, over 50 years later, I still enjoy doing dishes. I've perfected the system so I feel it's the most efficient way of getting the dishes cleaned. We didn't have a window over our sink growing up but I now glance out the window while I scrub and clean the dishes. Years ago, my mom would review the temperature of the dishwater and say it had to be hotter to kill all the germs. So today, when I manually wash dishes, I give homage to my mom as I attempt to wash them in very hot water. I must say that I'm not completely against a dishwasher if you have a dinner party or a special event and need to quickly clean up the kitchen but if it's only a party of two eating at home, the manual method works well for me.

My kids can’t believe I didn’t have a dishwasher growing up with so many mouths to feed. First of all, our kitchen was about ninety square feet so no place for a dishwasher. With so many kids around, you had to keep them busy to avoid fighting and bickering. Over the years, my dad was sometimes asked why he didn’t have a dishwasher and he would always say, “What do you mean? I have eight of them.” I can’t imagine while doing dishes as a 1st grader that I would still be going through the same process today. Is it because years ago, I had plenty of siblings who were not shy at providing quality control? Or was it the point system that instilled hard work in me and today I still clearly remember having to clean up our eating area that sometimes looked like it was destroyed by a tornado? I don't have an answer but all I know is my immediate family today is grateful that I handle this task efficiently and effortlessly, even 50 years after the inception of our points system.

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