I trace the faltering American family to the invention of the automatic dishwasher. What ever has happened to the human dishwasher with two hands full of wash cloth and scrubber, alongside a dish dryer armed with a towel? Where is the list on the refrigerator of whose turn is next, and the accountability if a family member somehow shirks their washing/drying responsibility?
No longer do family members have to cooperate to scrub clean glasses, dishes and utensils, put them in the dish rack, dry them one by one and place them in the cupboard where they belong. If the washer isn’t doing a proper job, the dryer immediately takes note and recycles the dirty dish right back to the sink. Instant accountability. I always preferred to be the dryer. If I washed, and my sister dried, we’d never get done. She would keep recycling the dishes back for another going-over. My messy nature exposed.
The family conversations started over a meal often continue over the clean up process when concentrating on whether a smudge is permanent or not. I learned some important facts of life while washing and drying dishes that I might not have learned otherwise. Sensitive topics tend to be easier to discuss when elbow deep in soap suds. Spelling and vocabulary drills are more effective when the penalty for a missed word is a snap on the butt with a dish towel.
Modern society is missing the best opportunity for three times a day family together time. Forget family “game” night, or parental “date” night, or even vacations. Dish washing and drying at the sink takes care of all those times when families need to be communicating and cooperating.
It is time to treat the automatic dishwasher as simply another storage cupboard and instead pull out the brillo pads, the white cotton dishtowels and the plastic dishrack. Let’s start tonight.
I think it is your turn first…
I’m astonished every day at how small the world has become with the global technology that allows me to see and talk real time with our son in Tokyo via computer, to exchange photos with friends in Europe, chat “live” on line with a soldier nephew stationed on the other side of the earth, call someone no matter what patch of ground I’m standing on or they are standing on at the time, and see home videos right after they are made in New Zealand.
For my parents’ generation, a letter sent from across the ocean took 2-3 weeks to reach its destination, so conversations were separated not just by miles, but by months between responses. When I was in Africa 35 years ago, I had to preschedule a phone call home a week in advance, and was allowed only three minutes (which cost an exorbitant $25 at the time) as the linking of all the operators to put the call through took incredible logistics. It was such a miracle and privilege, however, to hear my parents’ voices through all those many miles of phone line. Now, as a parent with a child far away, it feels like I can practically touch my son’s face through the computer screen (or at least I can see if he has shaved that day or not!)
We live in incredible times, and no doubt more “shrinking” of the world is in store for future generations. I can’t help but think this is all good, to help diminish the differences between societies and peoples, as we become more and more accessible and familiar to each other.
He’s got the whole world in His hands, and we have it all at our fingertips.
Johannes Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window
This was an unusual mail week. Rather than just the usual advertisements, credit card solicitations and bills, I received three personal hand written letters, carefully and thoughtfully composed, all meant to encourage me. They were written in response to a professional honor I had received that was recently publicized in a local magazine, but I was amazed at the caring shown by three different women who took the time to sit down and write to me.
It reminded me how infrequently I actually hand write any communication any more, how dependent I’ve become on the instantaneous nature of email, and how much I used to enjoy writing letters back and forth to family and friends, in what feels like another life. It has been too long. I am determined to write a letter a week to someone who needs to be able to feel the caring right in their hands.
Letters can be forever–a tangible representation of the writer illustrated by their choice of envelope, stamp and paper, writing utensil, style of script, sometimes a scent. The neatness or hurried nature of the writing says something about the urgency with which it was written. Emails have none of those features, and can feel ephemeral, although we know they can always be found and retrieved, for good and for ill, by those who know how to look for them.
One of my hopeful summer projects will be sorting through my parents’ letters to each other during their three year separation while my father served as a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII. The letters are tied in bundles in a large box that I have not had the will to open since moving my mother’s possessions after her death 18 months ago. I know once I start to read these very private and heartfelt letters, I will find it difficult to stop.
Does a blog of daily thoughts become a reasonable substitute for a collection of letters? Hardly. The page that can be held in the reader’s hands holds the writer too. That is something a computer screen can never manage.