Monday, December 06, 2010

So much more than dishpan hands

Last night for some reason I started thinking about my grandmother's dishpan and wondering whatever happened to it. It was already old when I was a little girl, its cream-colored porcelain chipped in many places, but its size made it a useful item in our household. If you'll clasp your hands together, then raise your arms to form a circle parallel to the floor, you can see how big it was.

What I was remembering last night was the occasional joy of coming home from school to find that big dishpan sitting on the kitchen table, filled with Mammaw's freshly baked sugar cookies. She always sprinkled a little cinnamon on top along with the sugar, and the wonderful aroma of those cookies would greet me as soon as I opened the front door.

The dishpan was also our family's popcorn bowl. We popped corn the old-fashioned way, shaking the kernels in hot oil over a gas burner until they'd popped so high that the lid on the pot began to rise. Last night I remembered one time when I was the evening's corn popper. I'd put two whole potfuls of popped corn into the dishpan, sprinkled it all with salt, and poured an entire stick of melted butter over it. As I carried the dishpan into the living room where my family watched TV and waited, I caught my toe on the edge of a little throw rug and spilled the entire buttery mess right in the middle of Mammaw's good living-room rug. You might not think that would be a good memory, but it is. I remember that I didn't get scolded.

That old dishpan was still on my mind this morning, so I went looking for this photo:

I was drying that day, and my little sister (little enough that she had to stand on a stool) was washing. You can see the old dishpan in front of her. You can also see an Ivory Snow box behind the dishpan. I'm thinking this picture was taken in 1954 or '55, more than a decade before Madge the Manicurist convinced us all to switch to liquid detergent.

All my memories of Mammaw's dishpan are related to growing up in Missouri, but dishwashing wasn't a daily chore for us until we were older, after we'd moved to Texas.  By then I was in high school and my sister was in junior high.  We did the supper dishes every night in a divided sink that made the use of a dishpan unnecessary.

The thing I remember best about the nightly dishwashing ritual in Texas is that my sister and I, and our new stepsister when she was with us, sang in harmony as we washed and dried. Until this very day I think we sounded fantastic. What with the glorious sound of our blended voices, I'll never understand why my stepdad used to ask us to be quiet so he could hear the news. (I wonder if my sister will back me up on this.)

I have some of the songs we sang together in my current iTunes collection. I still love them today, though it's the associated memories I love now more than the music. Here are some representative samples from our nightly repertoire:


  1. We had my grandma's old dishpan, I can't remember right now if we still have it or if my sister-in-law took it. Sibling dishwashing is probably a good way to get the kids to work together, but I often fought with my sibs when we did dishes-it's a wonder more plates and glasses didn't get broken. I still remember the time my sister was washing, I was drying, and I flipped open a cabinet door that hit her in the head, and she chased me down the street. I ran faster than she did so she gave up.

    Dropping the pan full of popcorn must have been heartbreaking, not just because it was on the rug but because of all the anticipation for the popcorn suddenly disappointed.

    It's amazing what a memory of such a simple thing can bring back, isn't it? Today's kids probably won't have the same memories-only of the dishwasher breaking down and forcing them to do it by hand.

  2. Janet, my sister and I fought constantly, so I'm sure we must have argued about whose turn it was to wash or dry. The harmonizing may have been one of our first truly cooperative efforts.

  3. I absolutely agree 100% with you - especially the part about how fantastic we sounded. I don't remember you spilling the popcorn though I do remember what a treat it was to have it. Ahhhh.....what special times those were! Life was so pure and simple. Just the excitement of chasing fireflies, or listening for the ice cream truck in the evenings. I remember how much of a treat it was when the "Iceman" would chop us off a chunk of ice on a hot summer day and how we felt that was a treat. I wouldn't trade my childhood for anything - except maybe for my kids and grandkids to have the same opportunities and really appreciate them like we did. We were blessed!

  4. p.s. that photo on the right side of Butch sleeping while clutching a slipper is precious!

  5. Oh, these songs are wonderful.There was very little singing with my sister...we never had a good relationship. But my friends and I...we harmonized so well it's a wonder we weren't snapped up by some record company!! Hee hee.

    Do you know, I had a big old dishpan just like that. My first husband and I had a cabin on the ocean and when we were there, I would bathe my young children in it. It was the greatest bowl, but it must have been left in the cabin which my ex husband got when we split up. I miss it...they don't make dishpans like that anymore...they're all made of plastic.

    I just noticed your 25 favourite posts. Thanks for doing that...I love your blog and shall check out the list to see if there are some I've missed over the years.

  6. Holly, thanks!

    Judy M: Hey, Sis, glad to see you here. I don't know about you, but my singing voice has deteriorated drastically since those teen years. I remember giving Mother some cassettes of songs from the 1940s for Christmas (she had said she wanted some), then she offered them back to me later. She said she had thought it would be fun to sing along with them, but her voice wasn't any good anymore. I can SO relate to that. I figure I have two more years until I sound like Grandma B's songs on the Internet.

    I do remember the iceman being a big deal. Maybe it's because the ice in the house was so much trouble. Do you remember Mammaw's ice cube trays? There were only two of them, those old aluminum ones with the levers, and I got skinned knuckles every time I tried to get the ice cubes out of the trays.

    Janet, that photo of Butch is a really old one. He's clutching a Christmas stocking.

    Marion, where were all those record companies when we needed them? Oh, well, it's their loss. We moved on. :D

  7. Oh sure did trigger some memories for me as well. I have no siblings so I helped grandma (who lived with us) do the dishes unless I was smart enough to waste time and then she would have them all done. LOL We had a dishpan just like that...the last time I remember seeing it was sometime in the 80's. Since I don't have it and my daughter doesn't have it, it must have been thrown away. The songs are wonderful....back when music was really music. Thank you for this precious trip down memory lane.

  8. I love that box of Ivory Snow!!!

  9. Val, if you, Marion and I (three people who grew up in distant places) all had dishpans just like this, it must have been a fairly common household item. I'll bet there are still some of them around someplace.

  10. Alison, I do, too! I liked Ivory Flakes better, though, because the flakes were sparkly. I remember making a sort of paste with Ivory Flakes and putting it on Christmas ornaments. When it dried, it looked like ice-crusted snow.

  11. oh, boy, we had those aluminum ice cube trays with the levers for a long, long time-I was delighted when Mom finally agreed to buy plastic ones. We still have the aluminum ones someplace. I hated them, they were so hard to open and I skinned my knuckles, too-and also a lot of the ice cubes went onto the floor.

    Mom used Dreft powder for dishes for decades, she was sad when they phased it out in favor of liquid, but I didn't like washing dishes with it-too slippery.


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