As I began third grade in the fall of 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was campaigning for a fourth term as president of the United States. Two events about that election remain with me: the yellow dog and the black, plastic dishpan.
During recess one day, a classmate shouted, “My daddy said you Democrats would vote for a yellow dog if he ran for president!”
After supper, I told my father, who was reading the newspaper, what Cecilia had said. Sure of his superior knowledge, I asked, “Daddy, would you vote for a yellow dog?”
He rose from his easy chair, placed his calloused hands on my shoulders, leaned down, and whispered, “You bet your bottom dollar I would, Dodo.”
“But, Daddy, why?”
“Because even a yellow dog would be better than a Republican!”
That was my introduction to politics.
A few days later, on Tuesday, November 7, 1944, my mom got up extra early, hitched a ride with a neighbor to Courtney school, and served as an election judge. Before leaving, she made corn beef sandwiches, a salad, and cookies for Dad, my little brother, and me to eat for supper because the polls closed late and then she’d have to count the ballots.
One of my daily household chores was to wash the supper dishes while the rest of the family relaxed in the living room. We had no running water, so I’d take a bucket outside, pump it full at the well, lug the water inside, and heat it on the gas stove in a large kettle.
When the water boiled, Mom poured it over the dishes I’d placed in the thick, black, plastic dishpan on the counter along with Ivory dishwashing flakes.
After washing each dish, I’d place it in the porcelain sink. When it held a pile of clean dishes, I’d pour hot rinse water over them. We’d use the water, which drained into a bucket beneath the sink, to slop the pigs.
On that 1944 election night, I had a brilliant idea: Why heat the water in the kettle and then pour it into the plastic dishpan? Why not simply place the pan on the burner, pour the cold water in it, heat the water, and then wash the dishes! Great idea! Why hadn’t my mom thought of it before?
So that’s just what I did.
As the water heated, I became absorbed in a storybook in the living room. Suddenly, Daddy shouted, “What’s burning?”
Black smoke billowed from the kitchen.
The smoke was as black as that in this photograph.
Daddy, my little brother, and I rushed through the dining room and into the kitchen. Water dripped down the front of the gas stove, puddling the floor. The plastic dishpan had collapsed on one side.
At that moment, the flame beneath the burner sputtered, but the propane gas continued to feed it. The odor of rotten eggs filled the room.
Dad reached forward to turn off the burner. Then he lifted the misshapen black mess from the stove, opened the back door, and threw the glob out onto the stoop.
“Dodo, why did you do that?” he asked.
“It was simpler, Daddy. One step less.”
“Good thinking, but do you see what happened?”
“That’s what plastic does. It melts.”
“It’s good to think, Dodo,” Daddy said, “but sometimes you stop your thoughts too soon. Think longer thoughts. Okay?” he hugged me and that was that. We proceeded to open all the windows and drive the smoke out into the chilly November night by waving dishtowels through every room.
Afterward, I sopped up the water from the wooden floor and tried to think longer and longer thoughts. It tired my brain.
Postscript: To enjoy a story about dishwashing in the convent back in 1959, click here.
Yellow Labrador and kitchen stove photographs are from Wikipedia.
The smoke photograph if from freedigitalphotos.com.