My mom has a thing for laundry. It’s something of a holy sacrament to her. When I “moved out” I had never done a load of laundry before in my life. And I wasn’t a 17-year old college bound kid. I lived at home or with my grandmother for all 4 years of undergrad so at nearly 22 years old I got married and moved three hours away without the slightest inclination of how to keep myself in clean clothes.
And before you get the wrong idea, I wasn’t “doless” (a nice Appalachian phrase for someone who “don’t lift a hand at much,” I suppose that’s also Appalachian and not terribly helpful but you get what I’m saying, lazy). I wasn’t given a fair opportunity to learn how to do laundry, I was never taught. As the saying goes, knowledge is power- and mom was keeping that particular power for herself.
And I get it from both sides. When I asked my dad if he did his own laundry growing up, he said granny would never let him near it. Granny still washes her clothes to death and once told me that’s what attracted her to my Pap: “his clothes were always just so clean,” she said. That’s all it took and she was head over heels.
Perhaps my mom didn’t have the patience to teach us the practice of laundry but I maintain that it was more about her affection for washing clothes. Each of my mom’s sisters shares this same attachment to laundering. The practices of letting things soak, stain removal, hot or warm water and the ever pressing question: when to use bleach are topics they discuss at length. When I was growing up mom would often lift the lid of our washing machine, which sat in the kitchen in our house, to watch the process in action before her very eyes.
When my mamaw was raising 11 young’uns they had a Wringer washing machine (pictured below next to my papaw on the porch) but by the time the baby-my mama- came along they had built a bathroom where the washer sat while the dryer was housed in the kitchen. My mamaw enjoyed laundry too, she said that seeing all those white diapers hanging out on the clothesline made her happy. Mom said their water pressure was such that they rarely washed much besides under clothes and wash rags. They’d be lucky to get one load done in an evening by the time the washer filled up and didn’t have time to get it dried before papaw went to bed, and the dryer didn’t run when papaw slept.
As mom told me all of this it clicked with her at the same time it did with me: “Maybe that’s why we all love to do laundry now. It’s like a luxury.” So I don’t hold a grudge for my laundry inadequacies.
When I lived with my mamaw in college she would sometimes gather up a few of my things from the floor of my room while I was in class or working. Mostly it was jeans, which I later learned she never actually washed-she would wet the knees and put them in the dryer to make me think that she had washed them. Clever badger. Perhaps her love for laundry took a backseat to her belief that things were not dirty, especially jeans, if they were only worn once.
I called my brother while writing this to ask about his knowledge of laundry to see if at eighteen he was as clueless as my sister and I were when we left home. He is in high school and still at home and I asked him if mom was out of town and he absolutely had to could he do a load of laundry. He gave a confident “Yes!” which surprised me and I asked him to walk me through the process to which he replied, “I’d take whatever I need washed to granny or Wanda.” Problem solved. But I could relate, I would never have dared touch mom’s washing machine when I was at home without her guidance. When she and my dad moved into the home they are in now she only had space for a stackable washer/dryer and to add insult to injury the washer locked while washing, putting days of watching clothes soak and spin in the past.
I cannot say that I share in the enjoyment of washing clothes, although I am firm in the belief that anything can be a spiritual experience if you take joy in it. The being my clothesline, I delight in seeing my clothes drying on the line in the spring and summer months. I think of home and mamaw and mom and their love of it and I feel connected to some small part of their beloved practice of laundry.
Sidenote: my mom’s washers been broken for two weeks now so prayers are appreciated.