Dishwashing versus lawn mowing

Published 6:16 am Saturday, May 5, 2018

As a child growing up in a large family, there were household chores. These tasks were assigned based on age and changed as we grew.  

I don’t remember much about certain jobs. Surely I dusted, swept, vacuumed and folded. It would be hard to imagine I escaped those duties as the oldest kid in a household which eventually included seven children and two very busy parents.

What I do remember is dishwashing and grass mowing.  

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We didn’t call a yard like ours a lawn. The first yard we had when any of us kids were old enough to mow, with reasonable assurance we would keep all digits intact, was a whopper. This yard was great for swing sets, tree houses, games and general running around.

My parents were enlightened and equal minded. However, logic prevailed in the early days of chores. We had to eat and be dressed everyday. We attended school in the next town over which required someone to get us there and pick us up.  Just those necessities took up an incredible amount of time every day. Mom was the one who managed the troops and the castle, as it were.

Dad went to work somewhere else. Mowing was his home responsibility, but it didn’t require attention all day. It could be kept nicely even given the unpredictability of weather and demands of work.  

Actually, my parents both enjoyed many occupations associated with homemaking and gardening equally. They acquired junk at auctions and restored the pieces to perfect condition. They developed a lovely rose garden and designed and built a brick patio wall. Dad could cook and Mom could garden.

They had more time for these pursuits when we children could share in the more mundane tasks.

The most pressing need as we grew was dishwashing. I can imagine my mom leaping for joy the day a child was old enough and tall enough to help with dishes. In the normal course of a day, breakfast was on the run and lunch was likely simple sandwiches. Dinner was another matter entirely.

Dinner was prepared in pots and pans. Dinner was placed on the table in serving dishes. Each person was seated at a place with full sets of utensils, appropriate plates for the meal and dessert. My dad was big on dessert. After dinner, leftovers were stored in the fridge in orderly containers.     

What was left was a mountain of dishes to be washed, rinsed, drained, dried and put away.  

The first patent for a potentially useful home dishwasher was granted in 1886.

The first automated home dishwasher was introduced in the 1960s, but was outrageously expensive, reportedly as much as a housekeeper’s annual salary. We had neither.

By the end of the 1970s, dishwashers had become one of the most popular appliances in the American home.

We had a system as the years progressed. When a child became old enough to do the dishes, he or she was placed in a rotation. One night on and then some time off. In my recollection, I did a lot of dishes. As the oldest, I was the first to reach the age of responsibility and I was always taller than average.

One day, just before I graduated from college in May 1972, there was a knock at the back door. I was in the kitchen, looked out and there in the driveway, was an appliance store delivery truck. Everything we had was in working order, so maybe the driver needed directions.

He had the right house and he had an automatic dishwasher — how ironic. I’m leaving home and now you get an automatic dishwasher. It was the type you loaded up and rolled to the sink to hook it up to the faucet. It was immediately usable. No kitchen remodel needed. It was large enough to make dinner clean up a one load, maybe two, process. Pots and pans often required separate attention, but who cared? It washed, rinsed, drained and dried all while you watched the news or whatever. It did not however, put the clean dishes away, except on “The Jetson’s.”

Given that it was the early ‘70s, we were way ahead of the curve.

About the yard mowing — that big yard was first assigned to my slightly younger brother. It was a pain to mow with all the trees, swings, patio and random objects to maneuver around. But, the job could be divided into three chunks and thus wasn’t so relentless as, say, dishes. 

Mowing equipment was not much different then. The lawnmower was gas powered.

I pestered my parents until I was placed in the yard mowing rotation. My brother was thrilled. With any luck, it would be my turn when the day came for the section with the grove of trees. Dishes continued.

Several years ago, I drove our children to see the old house. Someone along the line had cut down the grove of trees. Someone got tired of mowing around them, I suspect. I’ll bet they had the first brand new, state of the art, built-in dishwasher in their neighborhood when it was first available, too. What did their kids do everyday?