Laundry: Honoring the Women Who Came Before Me

My mother reserved laundry for the weekends. My brother and I would have to haul our dirty laundry from our bedrooms on the third floor of our old, old Victorian-Farm style home to the unfinished basement. Our staircase leading from the main floor to the upstairs was curved and enclosed by walls that seemed to be holding their breath, so sometimes we'd just throw the piles down the staircase and collect the stragglers as we walked to avoid carrying the piles down the narrow staircase. The trek from our bedrooms to the basement seemed like a never-ending journey.

We spent our Saturday mornings playing Nintendo on the old console TV in the makeshift basement play room next to the makeshift laundry room while our mom sorted laundry into piles---towels, reds, whites, colors, towels, reds, whites, colors, towels, reds, whites, colors...The piles were massive and methodical. I don't remember my mother folding the laundry or putting the laundry away; I only remember the sorting and the piles that seemed like a permanent fixture in our basement.
My brother and I were fortunate to be able to spend much of our childhood at our grandparents' houses where laundry was an ever present activity. My Grandma Kush's house held a thing of wonder: A laundry chute in the hallway. My brother and I took turns throwing dirty towels down while the other stood near the chute in the basement waiting in anticipation for the towels to fall like stars in the basket beneath the chute.
Grandma Kush seemed to have at least ten bottles of various shapes and sizes atop her washing machine. She used Amway laundry products free of harsh chemicals, and all-natural stain remover was a fixture in her laundry routine. Her process seemed slow and deliberate. Stains stood no chance against my grandmother. She attacked each blemish with a spray bottle that sounded like someone holding an “F” for too long: Ffffffft, fffffft, ffffft--the spray bottle made its own rhythmic melody. Then my grandma would fold the piece of clothing to rub the stain with the opposite end of the item. She gave the stain no mercy scrubbing until her hands turned red. The result was always blemish-free clothing smelling fresh and bright like an early summer morning.
My Grandma Kinzer's laundry room sat on the main floor of the house right off the kitchen and close to the back door. Contrary to my mother’s laundry room, Grandma Kinzer’s laundry room never held piles of laundry. She'd take the laundry right from her and my grandpa's bedroom into the laundry room and she'd set to spraying every sock with a fine mist of foam Spray and Wash. Their socks were always crisp white no matter the age and my grandpa’s retirement job mowing the grass at the cemetery. After the wash, she'd haul the basket of wet clothes out back to the laundry line and would hang every item---socks, bras, underwear, towels, shirts, pants--where they'd fly like flags and dry, crisp and hard and smelling like outside--grass, fresh air, and whatever the neighbors cooked on the grill that night.
My laundry process has evolved over the years, and I’ve adopted habits from the women in my life who served their families by doing laundry. 

I can't seem to find time for laundry during the week. I chip away at the piles of laundry on the weekends while my kids play. And when my kids’ laundry is dried, I hand it off to them to fold and put away to teach them some semblance of responsibility. I’ve come to value knowing what's in my laundry detergent, so I've started making my own with water, Borax, baking soda, tea tree oil, and essential oils. The thoughtful, methodical process of mixing, boiling, and stirring has become something I look forward to each month. I hang dry whenever I can because I appreciate the clean, crisp smell and feel that hanging laundry outside can provide. Hanging each item is therapeutic and gives me time to pause and reflect. 

I don’t always love doing laundry, but now that both of my grandmothers have passed away, laundry feels like a way of connecting me to them--of honoring them. So I will sort and spray and rub and mix and hang and fold and remember the women who have gone before me.

1 comment:

♥ N o v a said...

It's amazing how laundry is so undervalued, and I myself did not realize its importance until I moved to New York City. Growing up, my siblings and I also had laundry rituals, although it was not as structured as yours. I grew up in the suburbs, and my parents owned houses that also had laundry chutes, and our laundry responsibility was to throw our dirty clothes down the laundry chute which led to the laundry room in the basement. My mother had a large hamper down there ready to receive the clothes, and my older brother and I had to sort the clothes twice a week. Whites with other whites, coloreds with other coloreds, and bedroom sheets and towels separated into their own pile. Then, as an adult, I moved to New York City, and all my prior laundry skills all went to crap. I moved into tiny apartments with no laundry facilities, and I was forced to do laundry at the nearby laundromats, and suddenly doing laundry became a monumental task. I had to haul large bags of laundry down the avenues, come hell or high water. After a time, I finally gave in to drop off service, and so now I drop off my crapload of clothes, and pick it up when they are done.