Collect from baskets, sort in colours, place in machine with soap, turn on cycle – oh ee oh oh, oh, collect from baskets, sort in colours, place in machine with soap, turn on cycle oh ee oh oh, oh (I’m thinking of the Wicked Witch”s minions chant as they tirelessly loop around her castle marching through their guard stations) – collect from baskets, sort in colours, place in machine….the “song” that keeps repeating in my mind is the oh ee oh oh, oh because it seems to be the perfect accompaniment to the never ending job carrying on ad nauseum (and particularly useful after nauseum) at my house, the running of our laundry factory. It is a known fact that particularly in a household with at least one child, the laundry factory CAN NEVER shut down. Charlie Chaplin’s assembly line worker in Modern Times has nothing on me for keeping up with the production of my production of clean laundry. I think since we moved to Brasted nine years ago, I’ve been through two washing machines and three clothes dryers. That might be saying something about the machines I’m using, but more likely than not, it is an example of what happens when machines never really get a break except perhaps when we are on holiday. It is nuts how the laundry factory at our house pretty much needs to work ‘round the clock to keep up with the demand.
The good thing about laundry, besides the obvious clean clothes, is that you can chuck it in and then work through other chores while it runs through its cycles. This morning for example, I had the whites spinning round while I got into full flow of bed making, dishwasher loading, answering emails, letting Winston out, letting Winston in and giving Natalie a sneaky dish of milk because she is just the most irresistible cat. I’d finally got to the point when it was time to pull out the first morning round of dried items and I had the best treat. It was great. My White Company terry towel robe was so toasty warm I had to stop and not just put it away, but instead, put it on, on top of my clothes – because although it is still not snowing (in ENGLAND!) it is so damp and cold here – the temperature warranted the extra layer. Plus it just felt good. So much so, the draw of the freshly dried dressing gown was too much to resist and my whirling dervish laundry worker self got a moment to wrap up and pause for a moment.
And, as I savoured the feeling of the robe wrapped snug around my waist and the lapels pulled close up against my cheeks, I had the biggest rush of my mom. Now the feeling did not come from a memory of her laundry acumen honed from divvying through five children’s worth of washing, oh no, Mom was not a great laundress not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, when we were growing up in Pennsylvania, she used to have our washer and dryer set up on the second floor, by our bedrooms and therefore laundry baskets, for the strategy of getting everything cleaned and back to our rooms with the least amount of effort. She used to espouse the purchasing of non iron items wondering out loud why any one would want to have clothes they actually had to be pressed.
In actuality, the second floor laundry room trick didn’t help however because the sheer volume of (clean but unfolded) undies, socks, shirts, towels, jeans etc literally accumulated in mountains on the floor outside the dryer – ranges so high the Rockies or Alps sometimes came to mind. Indeed, our laundry room actually became one of the best places for playing hide and seek when Mom was having an afternoon nap and we were supposed to be keeping ourselves quiet and entertained. In our laundry room of yore, you had the option, as long as you could be still enough, to burrow deep down into the clean clothes and rest easy from the seeker blissfully inhaling the fabric softened material while you waited to be found. One time, and I do not encourage you to try this at home (particularly given the recent story I hear about in Australia), I even used the laundry pile as extra cover for concealing my hiding place. After scaling it, I pulled it against the front loading dryer door as I climbed inside. I promise we were playing when there had been a rare hanging to dry session with the wet stuff coming out of the washing machine and I found it only mildly warm against the dryer’s drum metal. But I digress.
No, that warm robe reminded me of my mom because I once pulled a cotton turtleneck over Megan’s head when she was about four and she exclaimed,
“Aah, that feels just like a hug from Nana,” when her head popped through the neck of the shirt, her fine fringe plastered against her forehead from static electricity.
I can’t help but associate the warmth and good clean feeling of the laundry room with Mom since then. And lucky me, it also brings to mind my dear step mom, Judy, who is on the opposite side of the laundressing spectrum. Instead, she is so expert with her laundry management she even sets an alarm on the dryer to let her know when the optimum folding heat has been achieved and she can get in there and crisply fold socks, t-shirts and even fitted sheets like no one else I know. I can honestly say there is many a day, I bow to her laundressing greatness and enjoy cosy thoughts of her.
As I stood in the laundry room, while trying to avoid becoming entangled in the girls’ tights dangling from the indoor laundry line or misstepping into the rattan wastebasket quickly filling with the fluff from my dryer filter, my eyes came across the placemats I’d hung to dry on the laundry rack. Kathleen, my big sister, made them for all of us as gifts this summer when we gathered for a family reunion. Talking about domestic capabilities, she is the handiest with a needle and thread let alone a sewing machine, and she had taken recipe cards from my mom’s old box, photographed them and then somehow found a company which could make those photos into material for her to sew into placemats. Pretty cool, huh? The best thing about the mats is not just the food which also helps to bring Mom back for a moment but her handwriting. There’s a recipe for crabcakes, her mom’s chocolate sauce and even one for Chicken Fredrika which I do not even recall eating but I love seeing her words spelled out advising us to use “1 frying chicken – cut up (or you could use chicken breasts for company”. “Company” a great turn of phrase my mom always used to describe the people she and my dad entertained who would come to eat or to stay and after they’d gone we would always discuss how good a “visit” it was. It was uncanny how just seeing her words handwritten could evoke all those memories in an instant. Even with the dryer blowing Lenor “Summer Breeze” scented ventilated air at me, I could just about muster the sound of her voice and the aroma of her old “Charlie” perfume.
With the oh ee oh echoing in my ear, my revery of going home to my mother’s presence did not take the magical clicking of Dorothy’s red shoes to transport me to that place or state of mind. It was these small clues planted around me which instantly connected me back to her and I was only startled into full awareness by the piercing beep of my Bosch washing machine reminding me the cycle was complete and the next laundry load needed to be dealt with. Bending to remove the wet PE kit this time, I was left with the overwhelming wonder of what my small legacies will be for my children and future grandchildren. I was left hoping that I will be able to be associated with such simple, good feelings as tasty as my grandmother’s chocolate sauce for family or company, as soft as Megan’s turtleneck, as relaxed as my mom’s attitude with laundry accumulation. Maybe my aspirations should be aimed higher, but to me, the things that have most stuck with me through the years and accompanied me on daily chores and experiences have been those remembered sayings or the way she knew just how to stroke your face to erase all your worries.
Then this evening, as I poked my head into where Megan was studying for her last night of GCSE mock examinations snuggled in under an afghan with her Geography case studies, I asked her how she was doing and she gave me the answer to her state of mind as well as to my earlier laundry room musings. She was probably a little tired with so much studying and testing under her belt and I found she looked a little emotional as she cast her eyes up to answer me.
She said, “I’m okay but, today at school everyone was talking about what they want to be. What careers they will pursue. What they will do with their education and I thought, Mom, you gave everything up to take care of us. You didn’t get to teach Shakespeare or film. You just get to take care of our family. Thank you for doing that.”
I hugged her not just with a terry towel robe but my own arms and told her,
“Megan, I do not feel like I gave anything up. I only gained everything with all of you. I chose to lead this life even with all its mundane tasks; it is as rich as any Shakespeare play because of you.”
I realised, there and then, that perhaps my legacy will be that my children will have the love I’ve given them to grow strong and when they go out into the world and build their own lives the whole combination of my love as it is expressed in my cooking, cleaning, car driving, even piles of clean laundry will hopefully come back to them when ever or where ever they need me. It is my hope that the cycle of care and shared, everyday moments that hold me in good stead will carry on with them. I went to bed feeling like my laundry detergent cup runneth over – the oh ee oh silenced with my daughter’s acknowledgement and appreciation for the little things I do.