Remember television commercials for Palmolive detergent, which end with, “You’re soaking in it!” It was spoken by manicurist “Madge” actress Jan Miner. Lotion ads promised to heal “dishpan hands” and another featured a woman who wore gloves, ashamed of her dishpan hands. Many dishes are hand washed every day and store shelves groan with liquid detergent.
A dishpan is a clever, versatile and useful item to have around the house and I believe everyone should have a good one because they last for decades. Most come with a quarter-inch hole in the rim for hanging on a nail.
They were used for mixing sausage, peeling apples, shelling peas and any purpose in which a wide bowl was required. Uncle Tom Watts’ instructions for making kraut said to “add a hand full of salt per dishpan of cabbage.”
A washroom was attached to the family well. It was simple, uninsulated and saw many uses, but this is where washing implements stayed. Washtubs, various pans, rub boards, and flour sack towels lived in the washroom with the dishpan hanging beside the door.
There were several kinds of soap, including tar soap, a great cleanser believed to be a cure for skin ailments such as psoriasis and chapped hands and feet. It is made of coal tar and still available. It was used when hands needed disinfecting. Pine tar soap contained sawdust as an abrasive.
Lava soap is popular with men who work with their hands. It contains “pumice” as an abrasive, which is just dried and ground volcano lava, the source of its name.
There was homemade lye soap for laundry, dishes, mopping and everything else. Kids and adults were barefoot outside most of the day and sheets were washed only on Monday. Daily bedtime foot washing was demanded. Kids and adults sat in “the churning chair” with their feet soaking in warm water with bubbles of homemade soap. (A churning chair had legs shortened so that one didn’t have to reach down to hold the dasher of a butter churn.)
Modest farm families wasted nothing, including food scraps if there were any. Scraps were tossed to the chickens, then the dishpan filled with hot water and dishes washed without detergent. The dishwater went into the “slop bucket” for pigs.
My grandmother strewed feed to her chickens from her dishpan. My grandfather broadcast seeds from it in his garden. Her dishpan was light, and steel covered by speckled white enamel and had a red rim. I noticed it year sago disintegrating with rust.
Today’s dishpans come in bare aluminum and the one I use has the dings and scratches from decades of use, including washing dishes.
Joe Phillips writes his “Dear me” columns for several small newspapers. He has many connections to Walker County, including his grandfather, former superintendent Waymond Morgan. He can be reached at email@example.com.