Coming clean: The guys get dish duty on Turkey Day

November 24, 1996|By Rob Kasper

BIG FEEDS LIKE Thanksgiving produce immense amounts of pleasure and great stacks of dirty dishes.

I don't enjoy doing the dishes, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. And in our family, the menfolk do the Thanksgiving dishes. It is not as much an assignment based on gender as it is on talent.

In our tribe, the folks who bake the pies, roast the bird, stuff the stuffing, create the jalapeno and hominy casserole, serve the four kinds of cranberry relish, mash the potatoes and do something exotic -- I'm still not sure what -- to the squash, are of the female persuasion. The fetchers and scrubbers, the folks who make trips to the stores and restore order to the kitchen are of the guy persuasion. (Roles may vary from tribe to tribe, consult your local anthropologist for details.)

Like many guys, I cope in two ways when I'm stuck with an unpleasant job, such as washing dishes. First, I exaggerate the importance of the task. Second, I inject competition into the experience.

On the exaggeration front, I tell myself that doing the dishes proves you are a stand-up guy, and a valued member of the eating community. I might argue, without really believing it, that you can't get to heaven without putting your hands in soapy water. But I do believe that doing the dishes makes a guy a saint in the eyes of the cooks.

On the competition front, there is the tit-for-tat aspect of dish-washing. Put bluntly it is, "Them that works, eats." This is a message I grew up with. It was emblazoned on one of the towels that my three brothers and I used when we dried the family's dishes.

Like kids everywhere, we undertook this job with a great deal of complaining and competitiveness. And as with siblings everywhere, some of those feelings carry over to this day.

Take, for instance, the task of putting the dishes in the dishwasher on Thanksgiving. This job has been assumed by the oldest and the youngest of my brothers, who believe they are superior dishwasher-loaders. After the big Thanksgiving meal, my other brother and I, the middle children, let our siblings load the dishwasher. Then, in the spirit of brotherly love, we second-guess them, indicating in a not-so-subtle style that we -- could probably get more glasses in the upper rack.

Recently, to get some second-guessing ammunition for our annual gathering at our parents' house in Kansas City, I called an expert in dishwasher-loading, Julie Bundy. Bundy is manager of consumer information for Maytag Appliances in Newton, Iowa. Her company also makes Admiral, Jenn-Air and Magic Chef dishwashers. She pointed to a couple of mistakes that people, including my brothers, might make when loading a dishwasher.

One is allowing the silverware to "nest," or stick together, in the basket that holds dirty utensils. To ensure that spoons don't cling together and miss the dishwasher's cleansing spray, the artful loader puts some spoons in the basket with their handles facing up, some with their handles down, she said.

Another faux pas is loading glasses on top of the tines, the plastic dividers inside the dishwasher. The proper place for glasses is between the tines, she said. When you put a glass on top of a tine, you "restrict the water action," which results in inferior rinsing action.

I can't wait to catch my brothers in a nesting or rinsing-action mistake.

On the other hand, Bundy reinforced a point made by my know-it-all brothers. Namely, that people familiar with the

features of a dishwasher end up doing the most efficient job of loading it. Examples of such features, she said, are the "convertible bowl tines" in the bottom rack of some dishwashers. They can be flipped over to accommodate either a big bowl or a series of dirty plates.

My mother has this feature on her dishwasher, and I hate it when my brothers knowingly flip those tines. They behave as if they read the owner's manual, which, come to think of it, they probably did.

A full dishwasher hardly makes a dent in the stack of dirty dishes generated by our Thanksgiving feast. There are still plenty of dishes that need to be washed by hand and dried with towels. This is where my other brother, my brother-in-law, several shifts of sons and nephews, and I step in and soap up.

Our goals are simple. We want to get this dish-washing thing over with as quickly as possible without breaking anything. We want to have some fun. If we find evidence that a guy has made a mistake -- left a spot on a plate or smudge on a glass, for example -- we rib him mercilessly.

This combination of good- and bad-natured competition keeps us going. Before we know it, we have polished off the bowls and other small stuff, and are facing the pots and pans -- the crud-covered bad boys of Thanksgiving. Veterans can make short work of them as well.

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