Grandma’s Dish Pan

My grandmother’s dish pan retired to a place of mere decoration. Then the water well went out. I love a deep sink for the large pots we have but I soon realized that the amount of water needed to fill them part way up was more effort than it was worth, especially when they had to be filled more than once to complete the task. Grandma only had one sink and so the reason for the dish pan but it seemed pretty smart in light of how little water was needed to fill it. I’m not as tough as grandma. She could stick her hands in scalding water and not flinch. Not me! I do leave the water in the rinse pan boiling hot just like hers since my hands are not submerged in it. She said it helped to kill germs and I can see the importance.

I admit I don’t worry too much about germs. With livestock and grandkids some days I’m swimming in them but think back to her time period which began in the early 1900’s. Penicillin wasn’t invented until 1928 and lines of defense against illness were few.

My mom’s mom told me when I was young about an epidemic which swept the country and how every family in her little town was effected. Many healthy and strong quickly succumbed and were dead. Quarantine signs sprung up on doors and much of the town shut down. She must have been referring to the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 which killed 675,000 Americans and millions around the world. There was another flu pandemic from 1957 to 1958 which killed around 2 million people worldwide, including some 70,000 people in the United States. Then the world wide pandemic from 1968 to 1969 which killed 34,000 Americans. No wonder my grandmothers rinsed their dishes in boiling water.

It made me feel better too as the dish water soon became clouded which reminded me quickly of one of her farm daughter’s practices.


Dishes were scraped with a spatula into a chicken or pig scrap bucket. This kept the dish water cleaner for longer. Out came the spatula. The cleanest dishes were washed first for the same reason. Like hers, my pots sat soaking in gray water from the first round of dish water as a second round of clean water heated on the stove. I must admit not having water greatly deterred my desire for cooking. I definitely did not separate any milk so I could make ice cream, butter, or Alfredo sauce as I’d planned. The big separator has 50 pieces, I sold it, but my smaller one at 32 is still too many. The milk went instead to the plants as plant food; the chickens to replenish calcium; and of course we drank some and cooked with it.

This period of struggle without water has reminded me of many things I had forgotten. It has amazed me just how much water we use in a day even when conserving it. Water becomes precious when it is hard to come by. Our seven year old granddaughter has commented over and over again about just how important.  She tells me — she tells Papa, and thanks him for his part in restoring it to us. He fixed the water filter and replaced the water pressure tank.

Our granddaughter learned her efforts were needed. They mattered and she knew it. With her three older sisters gone, the weight fell upon her to help. It’s something that is lost in these days of ease. The need to be needed is real. She sat for long periods of time in charge of watching to see when the buckets under the rain barrels were full and turned the valve  off. Then she hollered to me in the house and I came out from my task to haul off the full one as she placed another to be filled. We did every time it rained. She helped clean house and opened doors as I hauled in buckets of water to fill the tanks on the toilets. Our days were made longer because of the extra needed effort.

It turned cold and I started a fire in the stove. Tired after a long two weeks, we sat by the warmth as a cold rain fell outside. Every time I light a match  I think of my dish pan grandma and the matches we had as a kid. She’d take one into the bathroom, light it, let it burn a bit, then snuff it out, and wave it through the air like a wand, the smoke leaving trails. It was a primitive air freshener. It has a comforting scent somehow. You don’t get that smell with these new matches. They go out as fast as they light and it is a race to get them to the corner of the crumpled newspaper. Sometimes I have to use three. The wood is fire resistant too as it rarely ever burns. If you know of a company that makes the good ole fashion kind, please send me the name. It would be good to have them again.

I asked my grandmother when I was a teenager if she too hated doing dishes and she replied, “No, I enjoy the warm water.” Hunched over the sink, a wrap around apron covering her torso, the old battered dish pan at her side is a vivid image ingrained in my mind. She use to tell me that she went from the horse and buggy days to mass transit airplanes. I know she lived through The Great Depression and two world wars, through pandemics, and many a day of uncertainty. That old battered pan is a reminder of just how blessed I’ve been.

I’ve decided to buy a dish pan for washing dishes in to keep it company. I’ve already found it. And a larger one or two to wash clothes in I’m on the hunt for. I will decorate my laundry room walls with them. I’m sure they will come down now and then to take their place in the workforce. These rugged, stiff, pans just can’t be beat when the going gets tough. Yes, I’ll keep my plastic dish pans right where they belong, to hold each of the kid’s newly laundered clothes but they don’t hold a candle to grandma’s enameled workforce.

One thought on “Grandma’s Dish Pan

  1. Ah, I still use the utensils from the kitchens of two of my great grandmothers, and I still grow the rhubarb that my great grandfather gave me before I was in kindergarten.


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