Ode to Laundry {scaling decades and continents}

They say the only things sure in life are death and taxes. I beg to differ.

Laundry is a pretty sure thing. Maybe not the actual doing of laundry but most definitely the need to do laundry.

My first home was a log cabin (I did learn to read there but that is where my similarities to Abraham Lincoln come to a screeching halt). It was located in the Southern Tier of New York State. I have fragmented memories of watching Mama hang laundry in the side yard. They are soft memories, like fluffy clouds of cotton candy. They consist of white sheets flapping in the breeze and blending with the sharp smell of fresh grass.

I’ve heard the stories for years. How Mama used a ringer washer and loved it. She was a farm-girl through and through so the move to the unfinished log cabin on the edge of the woods was an adventure. The ringer washer was no trouble, she always said, until the ringer broke. By then Papa had bought her a dryer and when she tried to use it with the too wet clothes– sparks flew. Literally. That was the end of the dryer and the clothes flapped happily on the line once more.

Then we moved.

The log cabin on Coon Road disappeared and the week-long trip to Homer, Alaska began. Mama did not plan to do laundry between New York and Alaska. She packed clothes for a week and prayed that her car-sick prone children would not lose their meals. It was nice a prayer though not exactly effective.

It wasn’t the nausea that did us in, however, it was the fleas. That one place we stopped to sleep? Bad choice.

Mama found a laundromat and I watched with round eyes as everything was washed and dried in a few hours. Incredible.

In Alaska there was no clothes line. Mama nearly wept at the sight of the practically-new washer and dryer installed right inside the front door. It was handy, convenient and addicting. She said (and so far Papa has submitted to her request) that she would never again be without a good washer and dryer.

I was four years old and the convenience factor meant little to me. There was something however that I quickly fell in love with- the warmth of the dryer. There were often clean clothes on top waiting to be folded and another load whirling away inside so I would climb up and curl into the freshly dried clothes to take my afternoon nap.

It wasn’t until over a decade later, while flipping through a photo album and happening upon a picture of me snoozing away, that Mama figured out why her daughter had a strange attraction to the dryer.  “It was warm!” I told her and she laughed until tears squeezed out of the corners of her eyes.

For the rest of my childhood, from Alaska to Florida, our washer and dryers always worked. Mama liked laundry. In fact, it was her chore of choice.  I folded clothes here and there and sometimes collected them but I always looked at my friends strangely when they talked about turning thirteen and having to take over doing their own laundry. If I tried to take over the laundry Mama would have definitely frowned at me. (And she has a fierce frown.)

Instead, I took over the meal planning. And cooking. And baking. And grocery shopping. And checkbook balancing. I flourished at it and Mama sighed in relief.

At college it was a laundromat again.

Then I bought a house and moved in with two roommates. There was a washer and no dryer. We happily strung up a clothesline. I had lovely thoughts of summery-smelling clothes and sunshine whitened sheets. They were pretty thoughts.

Did I mention that I was working full-time? My laundry hung on the line for days. I would often joke that perhaps I shouldn’t bother washing it first but should just hang the dirty clothes and squirt laundry soap over them and let the rain water wash them. I don’t think I ever had a load of laundry that went up and came down without getting at least a sprinkle of rain.

The good part? Rain-water adds a nice scent to clothes. They should make a soap that smells like that.

My next move took me to the mission-field in Brazil. There I lived in extremes. Sometimes, there was a maid to do my laundry. She used a ringer washer and deposited the wet clothes back on my porch and I hung them around, folded over double because I did not own clothespins.

Other times I washed everything by hand in my mini bathroom sink. With cold water. And a bar of soap. I earned some calluses and muscles through that experience.

Soon after moving back home, I got married to a man who owned a farm, several dozen tractors, a couple pick-up trucks, a plethora of cows and no washer.

Back to the laundromat I went.

When he surprised me that Christmas with an over/under washer and dryer that fit right into the corner of our bedroom, I danced a jig and thanked him with a thousand kisses. It was the best Christmas present ever. 

Then we moved. To Haiti.

The mission board graciously offered to buy me a brand-new washer when we arrived. We sent the Haitians after it and they came back with this… uhm… thing.

It was a washer, I think.

It was tiny. Like, teeny-tiny. There were no words on the instructions, only pictures. Strange pictures.

And when we first hooked it up, it danced. All over the kitchen.

You think I’m joking but I’m way serious.

The other missionary that was there, an older man in his seventies, was inside our house getting a few tools and he came running out with eyes as big as saucers. “There is something wrong with that machine!” He screeched, “It’s jumping up and down all over the place!” Then he proceeded to demonstrate. I nearly wet my pants laughing.

We did eventually find the problem, a couple long bolts stuck in to keep it stable for travel purposes.

I could only wash two sets of clothes at a time (that was literally all that fit in it) and I hung them on my porch to dry. I no longer left them out overnight, since items of clothing were apt to disappear if I was not nearby to stand guard.

And I fell in love with hanging laundry.

My little Sarah, helping with laundry (and perfecting her pout)

It was satisfying and calming. I loved clothespins (my dear Mama brought me some when they came to visit) and fresh spicy air. I loved standing at the kitchen stove and watching the clothes move in the breeze. I loved that it was just being there that dried them.

I especially loved that I could hang them on a line and not drape them over cactus like everyone around me did. I didn’t mind eating like the Haitians, speaking their language, learning their customs or dancing with their children– but I drew the line at getting cactus needles in my unmentionables.

Since we moved back to the farm there are days that I love my dryer. It is wonderful in the winter months and helpful on busy spring or harvest days. But I still sigh in delight when I get a chance to hang out my laundry.

And yes, sometimes the clothes stay on the line for days. That rain-water smell is still my favorite smell ever.

Do you have any memories of laundry? 
A funny story to tell?
A pretty picture to share?
Come on over to gretchenLouise.com and join in the link-up!

11 thoughts on “Ode to Laundry {scaling decades and continents}

  1. Oh this brought back so many memories. I’ve been out a washer this past three weeks. Got it back yesterday and never have I been so thrilled to do laundry! I have a laundry loving mama, too. I had forgotten about the ringer washer that sat in our kitchen – dragged outside to wash doll clothes in summer. I remember riding the bus home, and seeing my sister’s wedding dress billowing on the line. (She had thrown it right into the washer, said if it ruined it she’d have it professionally preserved, and my sister – still on her honeymoon – wouldn’t open it til long after she was dead!) Love this!


  2. My sister, whom my uncles nick named “Linus,” lived, until at least Kindergarten, with her thumb in her mouth and a raggedy pink blanket dragging behind her. My mother somehow disconnected Kim from her blanket, washed it, and hung it on the line one sunny summer afternoon. A bit later she realized that Kim, who couldn’t have been more than 2, had disappeared. A panicked search ensued. Kim was soon discovered sound asleep under the clothesline, her thumb in her mouth, and the other hand clinging to a corner of her blanket!

    I LOVE the fresh air smell of line dried laundry but there is just something beyond awesome about soft clothes, or towels, warm from the dryer!


    • What a fun story! 🙂

      I don’t mind warm clothes from the dryer but the wind on the hill keeps all my laundry whisper-soft. I helped a friend take down her laundry one day and realized that it was all crunchy- totally threw me for a loop!

      In the winter the wind can be a bit ferocious but I wouldn’t trade my breathtakingly beautiful summers for a calm winter, ever!


  3. Miss Natasha –

    I think you win the Diversified Laundry Lady prize! And the winter laundry pix is great. Winter laundry line clothes smell sooooo good. Of course they get tired when they have to stand around and thaw out before they can be folded. 😉



  4. “but I drew the line at getting cactus needles in my unmentionables.” This. Why on earth not?! 😉

    I think you’ve covered just about all the variances of Laundry Day:-D


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