Of all the household chores that are now part of my weekly, daily, and almost hourly responsibilities, cleaning the dishes probably ranks at the top of my “I’d-rather-not” list…does and always has…probably always will. If you’ll keep that thought in mind, you will understand that the absolute worst of my nightmares—the kind to wake me up in a cold sweat—would be to be trapped as a round-the-clock maid in the scullery of a big 24-hour restaurant, doomed for the remainder of my days to wash an endless stream of dirty dishes…dirty, and not just dirty, but dirty from people I don’t even know. Somehow, that just makes everything even worse.
Thankfully, in this day and age, even if I were to suddenly awaken in the middle of my nightmare and discover that it had turned out to be real, life wouldn’t be quite as dismal as it would have been just a few decades ago. These days, there are massive machines that make life for those 24-hour scullery maids almost bearable…almost. Several years ago…okay, more than several, I had a brief encounter with one of the smaller editions of these machines. I was working at a small camp for a week or two, helping out in the kitchen during summer camp sessions. This version of the commercial dishwasher was designed to have an industrial wire rack or tray slid into a drive-through style chamber. Once the custom wire basket, specially designed for this machine, was in place, the operator of the machine (a.k.a. the “scullery maid”) swung a lever into place to lock the chamber closed. When the “Start” button was pressed, some pretty impressive heat and steam, somehow incorporated with some kind of soap or detergent cleaned all the dishes in a matter of an astoundingly few minutes. Although the machine couldn’t wash huge quantities of dishes all at once, it was amazingly fast, so we were able to get each meal’s dishes washed in plenty of time for the next meal.
This was all quite a few years ago, so I’m sure technology and the people spurring it on have come a long way. They probably have, but I’m still amazed at what that stainless steel cube could do. Granted, we still had to handle all the dishes to load them into and onto the custom wire trays. The worst meal was definitely breakfast, when orange juice and milk mingled freely in the sinks and on the trays. I don’t know what it is about that combination, but I think I’m emotionally scarred for life, with the mental images of that brew as clear in my mind as if it had all happened yesterday. Despite all that, though, we owe many pleasant summer hours to that machine—was it a Hobart?—that got the entire camp’s dishes clean and appropriately sterilized in a matter of minutes, rather than the hours it would have taken the three of us teenagers if we’d had to do it all by hand. Saved us all from chronic dishpan hands, too.