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How a wooden bristle brush cured a bad case of my dishwashing blues

Read how a bout of manual dish-washing slowly became a form of domestic therapy for Food24 contributor, Andrea Fedder.

by: Andrea Fedder | 25 Jun 2018
wooden dish-washing brush

(image: iStock)

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The dishwasher had been broken for weeks. Unable to switch over from one cycle to the next, it required constant babysitting and manual intervention. A gear was broken. Me? I was broke. The dishes still came out only half washed, bits of food and undissolved oil smears taunting my bull-headed efforts. The grim reality of hand washing the dishes clanged to the fore. Vexed at all the precious time this would take in my chocka-block schedule as a freelance writer (she writes, tea spurting out of her nose), I headed to the shops to buy a dish-washing brush. At least that wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

Our universe has this great little knack of throwing you an advancement on insight, just when you think your problems couldn’t be any more tedious.

The cleaning supplies aisle had several options for the job. A dowdy, plastic brush that looked more like the toothbrush of Goliath, some replaceable sponge options and a coiled wire brush that had clearly never been held by the ergonomics department at Housework Are Us. It was around handled wooden brush to the far right that caught my eye. The label said it would decompose once discarded. That’s thoughtful, I mused as I picked it up off the shelf. It felt warm in my palm. Sturdy and kind. Despite being thrice as expensive as the plastic options, I bought it figuring it was still kinder to my budget than fixing the dishwasher.

Back home, I filled the kettle and set about scratching food scraps into the compost bin. The wooden brush lay by the sink staring at me, probing me into action. A gut twinge made me reach for the eucalyptus essential oil, flicking a few drops in with the steaming water and dishwashing soap. 

I began with the least offensive items, a mug. Tannin stains lined the inner wall like the rings of a tree. With every turn of the wrist, the round-headed, brush burrowed further downward, thinking deeply, against the sides of the mug. My partner cherished his Earl Grey tea, while those pesky remnant stains irked at me. As the rings faded, the memories of our morning chats and cheeky banter with rusks became richly embedded in my memory.

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I laughed at the reminiscing about it. When I looked again, the mug was spotless. Next, I turned to the bowls from lunch. We’d eaten a quick veggie stir-fry together before he’d dashed off to work. A sour taste lingered in my mouth as the conversation we had then echoed through the shlish-shlosh of soap suds. A stubborn rice noodle clung on for dear life, refusing to be pried from the bowl. The more water the wooden brush absorbed in its efforts, the softer its thunking sound became. We’d begun talking about environmental impact. Friction salted the air as our views on the matter polarized us mid-conversation. I could have been gentler in my approach, softer like this brush. The noodle lifted itself, slithering to the bottom of the sink.

When the last dish had been scrubbed clean, water poured over plants, I opened a drawer, about to retire the wooden brush for the night. I stopped. A copper basket with stationary caught my eye. Its contents relocated, I hooked the caddie above the grey sink tiles and stood the wooden brush inside. I felt suddenly fond of him. 

I never did fix the dishwasher. My wooden brush and our sessions of cleaning together had somehow become like domestic therapy for me. I was convinced his ability to remind me of the true hierarchy of my heart’s needs was ingrained in the very life force of his handle. When I did finally retire him at the end of his long-worn life, I buried him below the eucalyptus tree, comforted by the thought that his decay wouldn’t cost the earth an arm or a leg. I named him Maslow.

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