I do a lot of pot-walloping and generally speaking do not mind. This was one of Robert’s favorite expressions, as in, “Who are the pot-wallopers, tonight?” in preparation for addressing some concern of his in the kitchen. “Front and center!” he’d bellow, while the lucky two scuttled forth and waited expectantly-and silently-for his imperial instructions. Pointing at the skillets on the stove, he’d intone, “Make sure this grease does not go down the drain, because if it does, you’ll wish it hadn’t. Bring me my tea,” and he would ascend the two steps into the short hallway, and on through to the dining room and into the front room, where he would sprawl on either the sofa or the recliner, depending on the era, while a kid, usually JT, took off his boots.
My era of pot-walloping interest follows a long and rich history of same in our household. Prior to being drafted into the rotation, I remember the great pot-walloping elimination tournament, held by Robert over a now-forgotten period of time, the purpose of which was to pare down the number of available dish-washers from three to two. So over a period of a month or two, Eric, Brian and Noel each competed with one another, so that Robert could evaluate which one did the best job. The prize was that the person who did the best job no longer had to do the dishes. To this day, I believe there must have been more to the story, especially amazing because Noel won the competition.
By the time I came along, JT and I were paired up for a week at a time, and we worked two weeks out of three, getting a week off every third week. As systems go, it wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t horrible either, as we did get one-third of the time off from the evening dishes.
Now JT and I were still fairly good buds, at this point in time, so we worked together companionably enough most of the time. There were two roles: one of us washed and the other dried and put away, along with the accompanying tasks like clearing the table, and sweeping the floor. So one of us was chained to the sink, while the other could, if appropriately motivated, flit back and forth from the kitchen to the living room for some TV action on the side.
If I were washing, it drove me nuts, simply because it meant JT was getting over. If I had to be in the kitchen, then so should she. We’d play this competitive thing called “I kept you supplied all the way through the dishes,” meaning that I could wash them fast enough to keep something in the dish rack at all times. I do not think this contributed to the overall quality of the job, but it did get us out of there lickety-split, most of the time.
Still, washing dishes for eleven was not a light-weight operation. Even if the counter were perfectly cleaned off before dinner was cooked, there was still a lot to clean up. But if the lunch dishes were still there, or if there was just a lot of prep work, there could be a staggeringly huge mess to clean up. I remember this one particular occasion vividly.
It was one of those never-ending sagas, when I had been slaving for what seemed hours, but was probably about ninety minutes or so. Most of the dishes had been put away and I was slogging over the pots, pans and serving bowls. What might take me five minutes to scrub would only take JT about two seconds to put away.
Pauline was sitting in Robert’s head-of-the-table seat, working on paperwork of some sort. As always, she had the little portable radio right over her head, tuned in to KPOL, easy listening adult music, and the bane of my existence. Try as I might, I could never get her to agree to KRLA. The best I could ever get from her was an admission that just maybe, she might admit to liking the Beatles’ “Let’s All Get Up and Dance to a Tune That Was a Hit Before Your Mother Was Born, Though She Was Born a Long Time Ago...” off of the White Album.
This particular night I had been toiling for an eternity, whining about it even longer, and Pauline had been amazingly supportive, acknowledging that there had been quite a mess. Agonizingly, the job dragged on, probably fueled by the fact that there was something on the tube that was especially appealing, like a Monday night of Rowan and Martin Laugh-In. In desperation I attacked this serving bowl that had contained something that had subsequently turned into cement, like mashed potatoes, or something.
Water was being splashed about, suds were flying and I was getting to the breaking point, when suddenly, as I was transferring the wet bowl to the rack, it slipped and fell to the tiled floor, breaking into a thousand shards, and leaving me on the brink of desperation. But first, I had to face the music. Turning to Mama, whom I expected to be furious, I was shocked to see her-if anything-amused.
“Am I in big trouble?” I asked.
“No, you’re not in trouble. As a matter of fact, I was going to say that if you were going to drop the darn thing, you probably should have done it before you washed it.”
She shocked me to the core of my being.