TITLE: Laundry and Life
By Sally Stap
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It was an emergency in 1973 that forced me to learn to do laundry at age sixteen. Yes, it is true that my mother did it for me until then. However, that night I needed things urgently for a date. My treasured bell bottom jeans and orange striped polyester body shirt needed immediate cleaning. After all, it was the only outfit in my crowded closet that would do that night. I had carefully altered the jeans with ribbon that I had cautiously sewn to cover a faded line that resulted from letting out them hem to maximize their length. Jeans never came long enough back then and we wanted them to drag on the ground. The body shirt, with snaps at the crotch, was critical as the low rise jeans weren’t high enough to tuck anything else in.
After I had moved to an apartment as a young woman, I remember hanging out at the laundromat for what seemed like hours. Sitting and staring at the tumbling dryer with eyes wide open and shoulders slumped, waiting for its inevitable slow and stop. My immediate energy turned to disappointment when I found the clothes still damp. I would shrug it off and pull clothing arms and legs out of the dryer and shoved them into the basket. I then left them spread out in my apartment, just to avoid another ten cents or minutes.
Eventually, single life turned into a blissful married adventure. I remember the first time that my husband and I did laundry together. Our socks were tangled, our jeans spooned in the basket. Red sleeves hugging blue plaid flannel shirts. So intimate as we grew accustomed to folding each other’s clothes just the right way with sections under or over. We decided as a couple how to fold the soft blue towels from our wedding. It was one of life’s important decisions that ranked up with gaining consensus on how to roll the toilet paper – over or under.
I remember the first time I did baby laundry. How could those little things the size of my hand actually fit anything human? I carefully folded each sock or outfit and lovingly placed it in the dresser that awaited our first child. I rocked in the brown nursery rocker and stared at the closed drawers, dreamily wondering who was going to be born. Baby yellows and greens filled the room, as we didn’t know the sex until she was born.
Oh how the clothes and volume grew as the kids developed. From baby spit up to filthy mud when they helped plant a tree in the yard. Red stains from “pasgettii” night despite a special shirt that we always put on them. Grease from who knows where or “however they did that.” Colors evolved from my choices of blues and yellows to their favorite shades of pink or green. Stain removal became a challenge in those years that would take me through many products until I grasped the power of Lestoil.
I treasured, but not enough, laundry folding parties when the kids grew into teenagers. Folding while I listened to the chatter of their lives. We whittled the mountain range of clothes down to a mountain and then several neatly folded baskets. One basket for each bedroom. Off to one daughter’s room where it would be immediately put away in drawers and closets. Off to another room when my youngest daughter would set it haphazardly on top of clutter. Only to be dug through in the morning crisis when a decision had to be made about what to wear. Clothes flying until the item at the very bottom of the basket was found. The following week, some of those still folded clothes would be rewashed, the result of undefined piles of clothes being scooped up for the new week’s laundry call.
I handled the fancy dresses gingerly after our first cruise. The girls had been so excited to get dressed up. I waded through the piles of vacation laundry, recognizing the touristy red shirt from one port and the vivid yellow sundress from another.
Rush in and out. Was I actually spending more time with their laundry than with them at times in the high school years? They were growing too fast as I folded laundry from their first dates, their first jobs, then their college visits.
I welcomed laundry when the kids came home from college. Maybe it was another way to hug them each while I treasured tidbits of time with them again. We would fold while I listened to their adventures and heartbreak. Crises that seemed to be on the level of world peace. Adventures that brought ear to ear smiles in the telling.
I remember crying into the soft folds of towels after the divorce. There were loads of distrust as I tried to wash away strife. Inevitably though the last load of shared clothes came, followed by sparse white and half-full dark loads. I remember laundry being as heavy as my heart as I adjusted to my new life.
However, a clean basket of laundry can also bring a fresh start to life. Loads of travel laundry. Loads of laundry following a visit to faraway places. Laundry following visits to daughters and their new families. Laundry preparing for the next trip, walk or adventure.
These days the laundry basket is rarely full. The clothes are not really that dirty. It’s only me now, in what is commonly called the golden years of life. That term that sounded so far away but I now realize it is here for me. Clothes worn for grocery shopping, walking the dog, going to the gym, or sitting at my desk to write. Clothes with an occasional easy to remove spot or stain. Laundry for my dog as her little striped sweaters need it.
Yes, laundry tells a story. One that is treasured. Laundry can tell a golden life story.
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