Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Melmac Dishes

When I was in high school, we moved to San Mateo, California. This is where the adventure with the television plug occurred. And where we were living when Colleen got bad tonsilitis, so Forrest and I also had our tonsils out. Our first house in San Mateo, where we were when both of these things happened, was a rental and didn't have a dish washer. Mama and I used to do the dishes together, having lots of heart-to-heart talks over the task. Even though I didn't always want to do it, nonetheless it was a wonderful time, when Daddy and the littles left us alone and I had my mother all to myself.

However, eventually my parents bought a new house in a brand new tract. And it did have a dish washer. And so they bought a set of Melmac dishes. Partly they were dish washer proof, although so is real China. They were plastic, squarish shaped like the ones in the picture. Ours were black and red. Three black and three red of each of the pieces. And every night, when I set the table, I would give Mama and Forrest and me red dishes, because we belonged together and had all been Hunts before Mama remarried; Daddy and Colleen got black dishes, because they didn't (in my mind) belong with us. Besides, they were bad people.

Now, I have told you enough stories about Daddy for you to know that he wasn't a bad person, but this was a particularly difficult period in our relationship, and to me he seemed evil. I was 14 and he was terrified that I would get into some horrible trouble if he didn't control me completely. So, he timed the walk from the school bus stop to our door and would call at that minute to make sure I was home. Even taking the dog for a walk required permission. It was bizarre -- I had been given, by him, all sorts of freedom when I was younger. Suddenly, I had less freedom than either of the other kids -- and I was older than Forrest by five years and than Colleen by ten. In order to make this seem anything but crazy, it was necessary that I always be in trouble so that I was always grounded. And the problem with that was that, although I was good at figuring out my way around rules like only two languages at a time or don't read after bedtime, I was a very well behaved girl and just didn't get in any mischief that he ever found out about. So we had this strange struggle going on over chores. I told you about the hidden waste basket that resulted in my being pulled out of the New Mexico State Choral competition at the last moment.

But, my favorite was the bathroom. This was the crux of a lot of misery. I would clean the bathrooms every day, and he would go in to inspect them and announce that I hadn't done them. Before long I realized that it didn't matter whether I did them or not, I was going to be grounded for not doing them. At which point I decided that I was not going to be the only person in the family who was miserable. Knowing full well that the thing he hated most was my running out to do my chores when he got home from work, I started putting them off until I heard his car. From the time I got home from school until he pulled in, Mama would be cajoling me to get my chores done and I would be laying on my bed reading and saying, "As soon as I finish this chapter." When I ran out and started sweeping the porch and taking out waste baskets and cleaning the bathrooms, he would carp and complain and make sarcastic remarks and Mama would be under great stress. As far as I was concerned if she didn't like it, she should have stood up for me when I was falsely accused of not doing what I had done. And, as long as he saw me clean the bathrooms, he couldn't claim I hadn't done it.

When I was about 35, the three of us were talking and he told me that the way he had known that I hadn't done the tub was to run his hand along the inside and if he couldn't feel Comet, I hadn't done it. I was dumb founded. As if I wouldn't have gotten better at the task over time. As if I didn't dislike the feel of Comet on my shoulders when I took a bath. Absolutely amazing.


Ginnie said...

When I read "Melmac" it brought back so many memories. My husband did a whole lot of photographic advertising work for the makers of Melmac and Melamine in the late 50's. At one point they had a big to-do in NY City to show off their new ware and they gave beautiful chess sets to their buyers. The chess pieces were made of Melmac in black and white. We still have the set but have lost a white pawn which I've tried to replace for years!
Thanks for the memory and for all your great blogs.

Ally Bean said...

Well, that's a totally ridiculous criteria of how to tell if a tub is clean. I like how you figured out that if he saw you do it, then he couldn't deny your work. Very smart girl.

And all of that story from some dishes. Ain't it fun how the mind works?

Chancy said...

You could have just sprinkled some coment around the tub rim and called it "clean"

I love this post about the dishwashing. I lived for a few months during high school with my best friend down the street and some of our happiest times were when we washed the dishes, by hand of course. With our other friend making 3, we sang every song in our repertoire and pretended we were the Andrews Sisters. We used to buy the song books with all the words.

What fun.

Anvilcloud said...

My mother bought a set of melmac dishes and kept using them until she died.

kenju said...

As if you couldn't (or didn't) rinse away the Comet residue! I am glad my dad took showers and would never have noticed that anyway.

We had a Melmac set in our picnic basket and ours were burgundy, lime and forest green. I still have them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Aunt Joy! It's Jenny best friend. Reading about your step father's rigid rule structure reminded me of my own teen years. My father was mostly absent until my teen years (long distance trucker). During my teen years he decided to implement strict disciplinary guidelines. As a result, I raged against them and put myself in some very foolish predicaments. I often wonder if parents consider the side effects of discipline that is too harsh.

donna said...

I don't know why people think restricting teenagers does a bit of good. The only time my older son ever got grounded was when he was much younger and it was for not telling me where he was going with a friend. He was still checking in with me when he started going to college.... the younger one has never been grounded at all.

I've raised two boys who have never had a drink, smoked, done drugs, and who will part with friends who do if necessary. They've never gotten a girl pregnant, crashed a car, or been involved in a serious fight. I think we're doing ok.