Thursday, March 25, 2021

SOL21 Slice 25: It's a wash


I am participating in the
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2021.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for nurturing teacher-writers!

As usual, I have a mountain of cold water wash casual clothes, and just a slight molehill of lights and whites for the hot water wash. Laundry is a breeze these days, with just the two of us, retired, no pressure whatsoever. We wear what we like, whenever we like. You might say, it simply folds into my day - hahaha.

I think laundry must be one of those experiences that you can't imagine ever being different until all of a sudden it is.

When my boys were growing up, it seemed as if the washer or dryer was in constant use. The work and school week demanded thinking ahead, what clothes would be worn when? Of course, there were also endless surprises - someone needing this or that specific thing to be cleaned right away, at the very last minute. There was a dirty clothes hamper on each floor, by the bedrooms, and these were always overflowing. The shelves of the laundry room were always overflowing. So much laundry, laundry, laundry . . . no, in the midst of it all, I couldn't imagine it would ever be different.

I think back to how many loads of light clothes I washed as a kid, when all of Dad's uniform khakis had to be laundered. Oh my, that laundry was really the very definition of the word 'chore.' As the only girl in a religiously conservative home, doing laundry was my responsibility and mine alone for many years, beginning around the age of eight or nine. I had to be right there, present, when the dryer turned off, with the iron hot and ready. I would grab the white underwear t-shirts first and fold them up into thirds neatly; if I caught them when they were still warm, they'd be wrinkle-free and good to go. I had to press each pair of those khaki pants with a perfect crease down the front. I always had a hard time with his shirts; over and over, I would press the collar and the sleeves, to get them just right. My favorite piece to iron was his white handkerchief, that thin square of cotton white, so easy to press out all the wrinkles. Is a handkerchief part of the Navy uniform? I should look that up sometime. Even though I myself did the ironing, it still seems almost crazy that I pressed his underwear boxers - they had to be wrinkle-free in case of inspection. What a strange thing for the military to care about! 

Fast forward: one evening a week, after work, Dad would throw a load of his own laundry into the washer, and then retire to the den to quietly and slowly smoke a cigar. I was now 16 years old and we had been transferred to a naval base in Maine, after living many years in Virginia. I guess it was one move too many for my Mom? She decreed I was responsible for my brothers' and my clothes only, and that Dad would do his own laundry henceforth - he was not to hand it over to me, ever. There were two laundry bins in the bottom of their bedroom closet, one for his soiled things and one for hers. Dad would wash and iron his own clothes (far less ironing to do, because 'permapress' was a thing now). Mom washed her own things, too, at a separate time during the week. What argument, misunderstanding, marital rift had led to this? Oh my, I will never know. 

It's just kind of funny to think back on - I mean, they shared the same bed still. They shared the same closet. They did NOT share the laundry machine. They did their laundry separately for the remainder of their lives, until dementia set in and caregivers took it over - daring to wash their things together again.

What was that about? They have taken that story with them to their graves. 

It's all a wash now, isn't it?

"Housework never really bothered me . . . 
what bothered me about it later was that it was expected to be your life . . . 
when you're a housewife, you are constantly interrupted. 
You have no space in your life. 
It isn't the fact that you do the laundry."

- Alice Munro


  1. This brings back some unpleasant memories. Is laundry easier? I know it is, even though it doesn’t feel that way. I think this is the reality of my aging body. I hope the girls’ work paradigm is dying. I’m also wondering about the story behind the separate laundry. I wonder what went through your father’s mind. You e sure addressed some complicated social issues today. Lots to think about.

    1. Yes, I have lots of unpleasant memories with laundry! I was so determined to end the girls' work paradigm, I gave each of my sons a laundry hamper of their own when they turned 13 - they did their own laundry henceforth. It is a shared chore by my husband and me, too. I guess I could have written more - ha!!

  2. It's all a wash now isn't it? Love that last line to sum up the pondering of the dramatic change in chores. Your slices of life always start in one direction and lead to surprise. Sort of an O'Henry moment. The details make this delightful (the small square of handkerchief, the quick folding to save wrinkling) while the circumstances make your words thought provoking. Why do we do what we do?

    1. Thank you! I have been trying to write towards that 'surprise' - thank you for noticing...if I write long enough into something, there's an 'ah ha.'

  3. Maureen, your laundry stories are rich with so many stories. What a responsibility you had as a child to wash all the Navy uniforms, and interesting that the laundry duties split in this mystery. The details add so much--ironing the handkerchiefs, boxer shorts (what?) and permapress. Lots of memories for me too. As you allude to in the comment to Glenda, maybe there will be an "It's a Wash", the next generation. :)

    1. Thank you, Denise! All the memories came flooding back, as I sifted through my own simple laundry of today.