When I was married and living in the houseboat, we had a stacked washer dryer which was really just one unit. Each had a very small capacity, but it fit in our houseboat which was the main criterion. The dryer used 120volts, which if you know anything about dryers is half the voltage of standard electric dryers. At half the power, the dryer took twice the time.
I suppose that this unit was designed for a household of one or two that did little laundry. However, my husband was a construction worker and we had a new baby. Thus we had lots of laundry, including very dirty work clothes and many many diapers. Now it was certainly better to be able to do the laundry at home than having to drive a with a new baby to a laundromat, but it meant that the washer/dryer was running most of the time. Since I was home with a new baby, this meant I was able to do wash all day, which is what it seemed like at the time.
If I had known what awaited me in our first home on the land, I would have treasured even this all-in-one. At least this machine filled and drained itself, had a rinse cycle and dried clothes.
Americans have a few places where many different people come together and have to work out sharing. The highway, of course, is a prime example. But there is a specialized set of skills required to navigate the communal space of the laundromat. When I was younger, I frequently used a laundromat since I didn’t own a washer. In more recent years, I still use them to launder items too large to wash in my home machine such as throw rugs and comforters. On those infrequent occasions, I have been able spend my time observing and contemplating. It is too noisy to read and the television usually blares something obnoxious. I did once try to write a poem in the place, but failed.
Timing is everything in the laundromat. It is important to empty the washer as soon as the cycle is finished. Otherwise you risk having someone unceremoniously dump your wet load somewhere. Similarly, apparently you are to leap up when the dryer load is done. Again, you risk having your clothes dumped out on any available surface. While it is rude to stare at another person’s load waiting for it to be done(lest you be suspected of clothing theft) there is often just an instant between their conclusion and your opportunity to nab a machine. I would advise going when the place is empty, but I have never found a time when that is true.
You will encounter a variety of people from the elderly wheeling their carts down the sidewalk to large families with very bored toddlers. The conversation seems to be limited to “are you waiting for that machine” and “are these yours?”(asked in that 30 seconds you have failed to empty a machine.) The main characteristic seems to be territoriality, with people favoring certain dryers. Apparently some run longer on the same dime. If you know that, I think you have probably been hanging out there too often!
The main thing I have acquired in laundromats is deep compassion for people who don’t have washing machines. No one ever looks happy to be having to do their wash with others. Everyone would clearly rather be at home.
I return to my saga of laundry with a look back at my first place of my own after college. I found the washing machine in the basement and quickly mastered rolling it over to the sink, filling the tub with water, draining the tub, filling the rub with rinse water, draining the tub and then hand feeding the garments through the wringer. The only electrified parts of the machine were the agitator and the pump for draining. The wringer was hand run. This required a certain degree of coordination, using one hand to turn the wringer, another to feed the garment, and another to make sure the clothing didn’t fall on the floor. I knew it felt as if I needed three hands!
The basement also had clothes lines as did the back yard. The whole process was tedious, not fitting my idea of myself as a successful working woman. I occasionally took a load of washing to my parents when I visited and did it while we talked. I also discovered the laundromat. As anyone who has used a laundromat knows, this has its own lengthy requirements from finding quarters, getting soap(unless you’re willing to pay an arm and a leg for the laundromat’s own little packets of soap), and transporting the clothes to the laundromat. Then the social interactions. Of which, more tomorrow.
I lost my little sister, Patsy, last August. Her birthday was today and I am pausing to share a little about that day. My mother was due on January 12, and so we were all waiting to see when this baby would actually arrive. In those days, of course, we had no idea of whether the baby would be a girl or a boy. I wanted a girl; my brother wanted a boy.
Tired of waiting for the baby, my parents went out for dinner, leaving us with a sitter. My mother had one martini and dinner. At the restaurant she went into labor and they went straight to the hospital. At the hospital, the doctor asked her if she had had anything to drink. When told about the martini, he quipped, “That’s all the pain relief you will get.” But my sister arrived after only 45 minutes, making her entrance quickly to compensate for her late start!
A girl was to be named Jean, after Jeannie with the light brown hair, a favorite song in our family. Patsy, nearly ten pounds, had a full head of black hair. Clearly this was no dreamlike Jeannie. It took at least two weeks before this baby had a name, but they finally thought of Patricia. They skipped a middle name.
She was a happy baby, a cheerful little girl and a life loving grown woman. She fought breast cancer through three different sieges, finally succumbing after all that could be done had been done. She died peacefully in her sleep, as she had wished. I know the angels blessed her coming in and her going out. Love you, kid.
In the museum of the Hancock, Massachusetts Shaker community, one can visit the communal ironing room. Pictured above is the ironing room itself and the stove that heated all the irons. While it is hard to see in the left hand picture, each little door could be opened to see the group of irons being reheated on the stove. While you can find irons like this today, they are usually used as doorstops.
When I was a kid, there were two fabrics in clothing: cotton and wool. Cotton wrinkled and wool shrunk, so each required specialized laundry knowledge. Cotton required ironing. I learned to iron when I was about eight, and have done it for the rest of my life, though many clothes I have today are blends that don’t wrinkle(at least enough to warrant my ironing them!) When I married my husband I told him I didn’t know how to iron, wanting to avoid the presumption that I would do his shirts. Of course, he figured out my ploy, but went ahead and did his own ironing.
The first iron I used did not have steam, so the clothing needed to be dampened, then rolled up to evenly distribute the moisture, then stacked with the other items, then ironed. I learned on pillowcases and handkerchiefs before I was “promoted” to my father’s oxford dress shirts. For some reason, my mother thought it was essential that I knew the proper order to iron a man’s dress shirt. As you can tell from the paragraph above, this specialized skill has not been put to use in my adult life.
Today fabrics are a mix of materials and my fancy steam iron has dials to adjust the heat and the steam. Nonetheless, I find myself melting some fabrics after forgetting to adjust the temperature down from linen. I have no idea if anyone irons today. Judging from a recent advertisement I saw, some people count on fabric softener to substitute for the chore. Never worked for me.
The house we moved into when I was eight had a truly fascinating feature: a door in the second floor hall. When you lifted it up you were staring down a long tube. We soon learned that it was a laundry chute and emptied into a cabinet in the pantry where the washer and dryer were located. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time daring one another to go down it, especially since we had been sternly forbidden to do so. I was too big and cowardly to try, but I am pretty sure one of my little sisters tried it out. But the chute was a great place to throw a sibling’s toy or shoe. No one ever thought to paw through the laundry to find a missing object, so it remained missing for up to a week.
I never did the laundry, but I always had to fold the dried clothes and linens. We had a large dining room table, and the clean wash was piled up on it waiting for me. I can remember coming home from school to be confronted with a gigantic pile. At least it smelled better than the pile that had accumulated in the chute!
I did have to do a lot of ironing, however. But ironing deserves a post of its own. I will get to it tomorrow. (Just as I did with the ironing!)
When I was young, my mother had a washing machine, but no dryer. I think that in the early 1950’s dryers were still considered luxuries. We had a contraption such as the one shown in the photo above. My mother didn’t take any photos of our actual drying spinner, probably never thinking anyone would want a photo of it!
I imagine it was a genuine pain to do the laundry this way in Oregon where it seems to rain much of the time. She also had clothes lines in the basement for times it was simply too wet to bother hanging clothes outside. She had three of us, with two in diapers for a while, so the wash was never ending.
I think, though, that things only seem a burden when you acquire another way of doing them. As long as neither she nor anyone she knew had a dryer, hanging clothes outside was simply part of her life. I never heard her complain about it. I only knew her joy when we moved when I was eight into a house which came with a dryer. She was thrilled and we knew it. And it came just in time for baby number four and another round of of dirty diapers!
Doing the laundry this morning, I thought back about all the different places I had done the wash and all the different machines and lack thereof that I had used. I will start this wash day series with a poem about my neighborhood. When we first moved in, my next door neighbor actually said the quote that starts this poem.
Reading the Lines
“I can’t believe you pay to dry them. The sun is free.”
Pampers won out so
Diapers no longer announce new births.
But the lines still tell stories.
Flannel pajamas reveal a marriage chill.
Khakis replace work overalls.
Lacy bras give way to sturdier support.
Men’s clothes suddenly disappear.
Make of it what you will–
Here we still value thrift over privacy.
It had been three weeks since I had been able to go to the gym for my twice weekly session with my trainer. First I had been sick for a week, then she had been sick for a week, then it had snowed. I wasn’t sure how much my strength had slipped during that time. But I was able to do a good 45 minutes of weights and stretches, only 15 minutes less than usual.
It was good to see the regulars; the women who come in at the same time I do each week. While we don’t know each other outside of the gym, we are great encouragers to one another and utterly noncompetitive. Each of us has her own goals, strengths and weaknesses, and we exercise in friendly proximity.
What I had forgotten in just three weeks is the beneficial effect that even this brief workout and socializing has on my state of mind. It is easy for me to slip into a mild melancholy without even realizing it. Since I am retired and my husband still works, I have a lot of time alone. While I enjoy the solitude, it can creep into isolation without my notice.
But today I went, I worked out, and my frame of mind improved. I was reminded of why I have committed to this routine. It’s more than my muscles that need a workout. My sociable nature needs one too.
A close friend of our family had a difficult labor with her first child. The couple had prepared for the birth, as do most young couples, with classes and books and discussions with other new parents. However, little went as planned. After the ordeal was over, I offered this short poem as witness to the seeming battle that went on for nearly a day.
You led us in a lockstep march
broke to take a rest
then plunged ahead
onto the front line.
We camped to wait a word from the field.
You and your mother struggled
The battle plans gave way to actual terrain
rockier than scouting reports
more treacherous than plotted.
we longed for armistice,
combatants lying down
for a well earned rest.