Rantings at the Washing Machine

You knew it was only a matter of time before I wrote about laundry.

In the 17 years that I’ve been solely responsible for the cleanliness of my family’s clothes, I’ve tried out every kind of laundry schedule. A couple years ago I gave up and just started up the washer and kept it going. There’s always a load in the washer, another in the dryer, another in a basket waiting to be folded and another folded and waiting to be put away. It’s like one of those balls suspended from a fishing wire on a frame – once you set it in motion, it just keeps going . . . and going . . . and going.

I never minded folding baby clothes. They’re so small and they smell so good and even the tacky, kitschy, spit-up stained bibs are so cute you could rub them up against your cheek and stuff them in your mouth. 

But then the kids get older, the clothes get so big, the stains are just annoying and - why are there so many pockets in teen-agers’ pants? What are they hiding in there? Besides lip gloss, inky hall passes and cell phones that will ruin a whole load of laundry if not ferreted out? A full load of jeans makes such a racket, I have to turn the TV up to full volume to hearLaw & Order while I’m folding.

But you’ll rarely hear me complain about doing laundry because I’m so grateful to have a washer and dryer in my own home. When I was first married, I took weekly trips to the laundromat, which is the armpit of the worst neighborhood in the ghetto of the poorest Third World nation.

I took to tearing off a corner of a Bounce dryer sheet and stuffing it up my nose before entering. But that didn’t change the visuals – the place was an after-school special for why you should go to college and avoid your harder drugs. I’m no princess, but I was slightly put off by the people and the potential for picking up bodily fluids, and folded my clean laundry in the air and on my hips.

The last straw was the day two things happened: 1) two women got into a slapping match over a dryer and 2) a kid cried so hard he threw up and for that he got spanked.

I walked into our apartment that night and said, “Don’t make me go back there.”

Always eager to please, my husband took some poker game winnings to a used appliance store and bought me a washer and a dryer. Let the fawning begin.

For most of my childhood our laundry situation was like everything else in the 1950s: quaint bordering on pitiful. Our washer was in the cellar, along with my brother’s animal skins, the tool bench, dog poop and everything we were storing.  We didn’t have a dryer, so in the winter, our clothes got hung to dry down there. In summer, my mom would hang clothes outside, which wouldn’t have been bad except for the fact that we lived on a corner across the street from the elementary school.  I’d be on the playground at recess and glance over and see my mom’s bras hanging on our line. And if there was any question whose house that was, well, there was the outfit I had worn to school the day before, hanging right there next to them.

Laundry is so relative. No matter how bad you have it, someone has it worse. I used to read a column in The New Jersey Herald called The Amish Cook. Written by real, live Amish woman Lovina Eichler, it was not really about cooking, other than a token recipe for sweet pickle slaw or sauerkraut bread at the end. Instead, Lovina would write about her routine day. All she did was cook, clean, do farm work, sew, do laundry and squeeze out a baby every 40 weeks, but I hung on every word. Every few months she’d announce that she and her family were going to visit her sister in Indiana, so she was taking a few weeks off. 

“Damnit!” I’d say, slamming the paper shut. “How am I supposed to find out how Verena’s doing with that new stitch if they’re off visiting the sister?”

My favorite columns were the ones that would begin: “I did a big wash today.”  That meant that the weather was good, it wasn’t raining and the clothes wouldn’t freeze on the line. Lovina’s wash day meant scrubbing the bejeezus out of about 100 pounds of denim overalls for her husband and her eight kids.  Everything was done by hand and probably by candlelight and with soap made from animal fat.

The chick desperately needed a lucrative poker game.