Washing dishes: A memory of 1994

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

They pushed back from the table.
“Would you like us to do the dishes?” one asked, her tone clearly reflecting her enthusiasm.
“Well, you know we usually do them by hand, and I doubt if that’s what you had in mind,” I replied.
“Whatever,” the other shrugged, eyes distant, in that universal teen code that compresses into one gesture the idea that there’s not much she can do about it anyhow, so she might as well bear with this adult and get “whatever” over with.

They are daughters of a neighbor, and give us occasional glimpses into life on Planet Teen. When your own daughters are in their thirties, it’s easy to forget that your experience with them at 14 and 17 was probably very different from what today’s parents face.
We talked of many things: of school, soon to start; of sunburn suffered in band camp; of the indignity of having to drive your sister to school as one of the conditions of having a car; of clothes and shopping.

“I get all my outfits at North Point Mall,” said the older. “They have so much more to choose from. I have a hard time finding jeans that fit -- I’m short, and if they’re right in the waist, they’re too long.”
“Not a problem,” I said, logically. “Just cut them off and hem them to the right length.”

That turned out to be the funniest remark of the evening.
“You can’t do that!” they shrieked. “It wouldn’t look right!”
“I certainly can do that, and you couldn’t even tell,” I retorted. “I hem Dave’s jeans all the time.”
“Well, that’s different,” they practically chorused. “You don’t care how your clothes look!”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You know what I mean,” the elder cleared it all up. “It doesn’t matter how you guys look...”

By then she realized she’d stepped in it.
”Of course,” I said. “Our lives are practically over. We’re married and don’t have to look good any more.”
“You know what I mean” sounded like an apology. So I took it.
“What do you think about wearing uniforms to school?” I offered. They looked stricken.
“We couldn’t express ourselves!” they objected.

“That’s just the point,” I said.
“You could express yourselves all the better if your creativity were directed toward writing and thinking instead of $48 leather pocketbooks.”
Eyes rolled.
One facial expression hadn’t changed, I realized, from when I was raising teens of my own.

That’s the one that says, “How could this fossil possibly understand what it’s like to be young?”
They’d never believe that they’ll be having exactly the same conversation one day with their own offspring, or a neighbor’s, no matter how often they swear they won’t.
That’s about when they offered to wash dishes.

“We usually do them by hand -- with just two of us, it’s easier,” I explained. Then I thought, Maybe they really do want to help. I relented: “I suppose we could use the dishwasher, since there were four of us. I know you know how to load a dishwasher.”
I remembered -- and stifled repeating the story for what would have surely been the tenth time -- that when we first moved to Georgia and were building a house, our girls beseeched us to get a dishwasher.
“I already have three dishwashers,” was my stock reply. To which they always howled, “Oh, Mo-o-o-m, you know what we mean.”
My guests got up, a little too quickly, I thought, and picked up their plates. The elder opened the dishwasher and saw the plastic bags the moment I remembered they were in there.

“I see you’ve found my plastic bag storage cabinet,” I quipped, a trifle embarrassed. “That should tell you how often we use the dishwasher.”
More rolling of eyes.
“On second thought, girls,” I backpedalled, “I’m not too crazy about putting these in there anyhow.” We had eaten on the porch and used the bright yellow plastic dishes. “I think it might dull the finish. The wooden salad bowls can’t go in either, nor the stainless steel pots and pans.” Now I know why we never use the dishwasher.

“Why don’t you just stack them on the sink?” I concluded.
“You didn’t really want to wash dishes, did you?”

“No, but Mom said we had to ask,” the younger said, in that flat-out candor that is so endearing in young people.
And up the driveway they sauntered, blonde heads together, beautiful women-children taking the sunlight back to Planet Teen.
[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]