Wash and wear
By Sharon Lynch
Published Aug. 1, 2017
“But I don’t want to go with you,” whined Jason, leaning his kitchen chair back almost to the point of falling backwards. Maggie had already told him that was not an option but, being a 10-year-old, he persisted.
It was laundry day at the cottage and Maggie was loading the car for the weekly trip to the laundromat in town. Really filthy towels, kids’ shorts, jeans and T-shirts far outnumbered her own clothing. She had already explained to Jason that he was too young to be left alone, but of course, he disagreed. So she stopped talking about it and let him complain loudly while she continued filling the backseat with all that she needed to turn dirty into clean.
Maggie empathized with her grandson. She also would prefer to stay by the lake rather than deal with a hot and crowded laundromat. But it would also be satisfying to look at the neatly folded piles even as she wiped the perspiration from her face. So she did what any smart grandparent would do. She bribed him with the promise of an ice-cream cone after the deed was done.
It worked. There was blessed silence from the passenger seat as she drove and Jason listened to his playlist. How different laundry day had been when she was his age, she thought. There was no laundromat. Or if there had been, her mother couldn’t have used it because she had no car at the cottage. Dad only came north on weekends and they were a one car family back then. This meant if her mom couldn’t walk or boat to her destination, they all stayed put.
Laundry was done in the wringer washer. It stood on a wooden platform amidst pine and birch trees. Maggie watched the machine chug and vibrate as sunlight spilled through the branches above. She remembered looking at the churning soapy mass and marvelling that such dirty water could produce clean clothes. A large galvanized steel tub was filled with clean water for the rinse and then each item was fed through the wringer to squeeze out as much moisture as possible before everything was hung on the clothes line.
Watching the flat clothes emerge between the two rollers had given Maggie both a thrill of amazement and mild fear of the pressure needed to squeeze the clothes that way. What if a hand got caught between them, she wondered as she watched her mother feed one piece at a time through the wringers. Of course there was no shortage of water since the hose used to fill both the machine and the rinse tub poured out lake water. It was the original cold wash and rinse.
The clean wet items were hung on a long clothes line her dad had strung between an ash and wooden post. As the line sagged downward with its weight, Maggie’s mom used a pole pressed under the line to push it skyward. This prevented the clothes from dragging on the ground and on a breezy day – which everyone hoped for on laundry day – the clothes would wave and skip as though saluting the world.
When she was old enough it was sometimes Maggie’s turn to bring in the clean, dry laundry. Everything smelled like the outdoors as she pulled them off the line and into the basket. Her mother did the folding in the cottage and then each bed had a tidy tower of crisply clean clothing to put away in the rickety old cottage dressers. Maggie loved the smell and feel of these and wished they could stay that way. But half an hour in the froggy marsh or up the side of the cedar tree changed that.
Now she pulled into the parking lot and heaved a sigh of resignation at the crowd she could see inside the building. Despite a bit of grumbling from Jason, which Maggie silenced with the words “ice cream or not,” the two of them hauled all they needed into the sticky-warm interior.
As she waited for the cycles to finish, she sat in the car with the windows rolled down and read her book. Jason was busy with his device. At one point Maggie looked over at her grandson and then the people bunched indoors. She wondered if this was progress. A chugging old machine under a forest canopy seemed so much more pleasurable than where she was right now.