The Washerwoman’s Genes

February 28, 2006

A Life in Laundry

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 9:46 am

Family wash goes through your hands, piece by piece. I became a mother of two elementary school age children, and their little polo shirts and tees, their short shorts, their grass-stained sports uniforms, their brown-footed socks, all became mine for a moment or two: a few minutes of inspection, a second of sorting.

Some items I came to know more closely. I scrubbed the base-sliding dirt out of Little League whites, grime from the cuffs and the pocket edges, popsicle drips from shirt fronts. I dunked the sooty socks in bleach or rubbed them toe to heel in my hands with a dousing of detergent. I disgorged the heaps of dry from the machine and folded, folded, folded, pants and polos and jerseys, and was careful to forbear to iron the overalls lest they become “too flat.”

Laundry is personal. Each item is chosen on a day, becomes the known self of a person to others for that one day, then is cast off as soiled, to be forgotten until it appears again for choosing. In that time of forgetting, comes the laundress, to restore.

Before machines, every item was handled. Sloshed in a tub, yes, soaked and wrung in a twist, but first given a glance: scrub, yes, or no? True today: inspect, then douse with enzyme, rub with a brush, or not. Oh, you can dump, from hamper to basket to machine, but at the other end, tumble-dried stains are set forever. (That’s what the back of the closet is for, no?) It’s when you deliver your clothes to the process of laundry that they return better than they left.

The laundress surveys your drawers, gives your undies and jamies a look over, holds your sports clothes between two fingers. She has potions: blue and crystal clear, all-temperature, powder and liquid, scented like the air or teddy bears or nothing at all. She has technique, a wrist, a strong back, an eye, and she plays the Maytag like a violin.

The laundress knows dirt. Sauce and jam, mayo, tomato, yolk of egg. World dirt: garden grime, bug smear, mud of street and grease of car. Body dirt: say no more. The most profane and humble knowledge, a mortifying knowledge: the laundress’ domain. Then, and yes, now.

My baby’s togs made a tiny wash, fairy clothes in a small pile, folded with a flick. Then the pants legs grew, longer and longer, year by year, the corduroy thicker, the basket heavier. A life goes by in the laundry room, a childhood ends, her clothes fit her this year and the next, she does her own laundry.

That top? Is it new? It’s not senility that I don’t recognize the shirt on her back one day as we get in the car.

I got it at the mall with Meg the other week.

It’s nice, I say. Very you.

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1 Comment »

  1. I love my child .But i still would get angry

    Comment by les — January 11, 2007 @ 12:14 am |Reply


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