The dishwasher went out awhile back, and in the week it took to diagnose the problem, order a part, and get it back in service – a week of washing dishes the old-fashioned way – I realized how far I’ve come in making peace with modern kitchen technology. It was not always so.
When I was growing up, we had four dishwashers in our household: my three siblings and me. With all that free labor around, my parents washed no dishes and mowed no grass. We kids were given to understand that they were involved with weightier matters, such as whether to admit China into the United Nations. (I suppose they supported the notion, because China got in.) So the kids washed and dried dishes by hand – morning, noon and night. I should also report there was no toaster oven, electric can opener, Mr. Coffee, or microwave in the house. If those exotic items existed in the 1950’s, we had no clue.
The first automatic dishwasher I encountered was in 1970 when my wife, small daughter and I moved into a house in Charlotte. There it was, hulking under the kitchen counter, with an ugly green door that swung open to reveal a cavernous interior into which one put all manner of dishes, pots and pans, fresh from the stove or table. You scrubbed off the worst of the leftover food by hand before you loaded the contraption, but still… Could a machine do as good a job of cleaning as my siblings and I had done? Would it, in the course of cleaning, reduce its load to shards of glass and crockery?
For a while, I continued to wash stuff by hand, enduring the snickers of my wife, a home economist. Then she and the daughter spent a week with her folks in Alabama, leaving me to fend for myself in Charlotte. I was lazy. Dishes piled up in the sink, to the point where I could have been cited by the Health Department. So on the eve of wife and child’s return, I gave up, loaded everything in the dishwasher, added soap, and turned it on. I busied myself about the house, cleaning up the other evidence of my temporary bachelorhood, and returned an hour later. I opened the dishwasher door to find that a miracle had taken place. Everything inside was clean and whole.
Since that eye-opening experience, I have come over time to embrace all manner of kitchen machinery. I happily use the toaster oven, pop leftovers in the microwave, and cherish a refrigerator that makes ice the modern way. I am, to put it simply, a convert to domestic technology.
If course the dang things do sometimes break, as in the recent case with the dishwasher. The trick is to be on good terms with an excellent technician who can size up a problem in a wink, knows how to order parts, and can get the things back in working order. We have a really good one – patient, wise, and possessed of a truck full of the right tools. He is our appliance guru.
What you don’t want is a Clayton. I was working in a TV newsroom in Charlotte in the 1980’s when we installed a computer system on which we could write, edit and print stories. Clayton had helped design the system, and he was smart enough NOT to have an office in the newsroom. Instead, when the system crashed – as it frequently did in its infancy – you had to reach Clayton by phone. Invariably, you would describe what the computer had done (or not done) and he would say, “It’s not supposed to do that.” So while we waited for Clayton to arrive and figure out why the system had done what it was not supposed to do, we hauled our old manual typewriters out of the closet (we were smart enough to not get rid of them) and continued with our work.
But our repair guy is no Clayton. I’ve never heard him say, “It’s not supposed to do that.” He keeps us humming right along. We have a happy kitchen. And I do not have dishpan hands.