Growing up, my three sisters and I sighed when Mom quipped that she didn't need to buy a dishwasher because already she had four.
But her low-tech philosophy grew on me. Even though I acquired an automatic dishwasher as an adult, I was never convinced that this so-called labor-saving device saved much labor.
My husband, conversely, adores this machine. He's an expert on all things dishwasher-related: rack maintenance, the best setting combinations, and most important, proper loading protocol.
On such issues I defer to him gladly. Since cooking is my job, dish-doing his, I generally just flee the kitchen after every meal, giving the dishwasher a wide berth.
A few weeks ago, however, it was different.
"Hurry home," I told Ken as he dashed off to an evening meeting. This was the night of the lunar eclipse, which we hoped to view shortly after he returned. Because he was pressed for time, I consented to clean up after dinner.
I soon found the dishwasher full of unwashed dishes - and the detergent box nearly empty. (One disadvantage of divvying up domestic chores is that the user doesn't always notify the procurer when supplies are running low.)
We had almost - but not quite - enough powder. What to do? I knew there was some reason that liquid sink soap shouldn't be substituted in this appliance. But what harm could come, I reasoned absently, in augmenting machine detergent with a scant quarter-cup of the sink brand? So I gave the dishwasher its marching orders and meandered off to read the paper.
When I returned a half-hour later, naturally, a tsunami of foam was surging across the kitchen linoleum. After running for bath towels, then cake pans, I began to bail, scooping suds into the sink as froth spewed from the dishwasher's gaskets.
Working frantically, I recalled the old "I Love Lucy" episode where Lucy takes a job in a candy factory and the conveyor goes haywire. Bubbling up next in my mind was the surreal "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" scenario from "Fantasia," wherein a laggardly Mickey Mouse is nearly swept away by waves of water fetched by enchanted brooms. Either situation seemed preferable to my predicament.
I stopped the dishwasher, but the beast just kept foaming at the seams.
I dared to open the door once - and quickly closed it again. Finally realizing that this machine needed to purge itself of the potent concoction I'd administered, I reluctantly restarted it. Brought literally to my knees by my self-inflicted domestic drama, I wished for a deus ex machina to smite this machine. How could my evening have gone from dull-as-dishwater to disastrous so rapidly? Imagining myself next as Lady Macbeth, wringing towels rather than my hands, I muttered that more than a little water would be required to clear us of this deed.
Us? Suddenly I realized that Ken was due any minute, and so was the eclipse. I paused to peer out the window toward the moon, which was also obscured by an impenetrable white film. Given the astronomical amounts of froth still pouring onto my floor, a sky-gazing washout seemed just as well.
At last, after additional sopping and mopping, the rinse cycle ceased. My soap opera reached its denouement just as my Mr. Dishwasher strolled in.
He quickly divined my misdeed. But seeing that I was already in a lather, he didn't chide me.
Actually, I'm glad it happened. I'm unlikely to be assigned dish duty again. And my kitchen floor is cleaner for the mess. Most satisfying of all, I've finally proven - right, Mom? - that in the right hands, an automatic dishwasher is hardly a labor-saving device.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society