Laundry Tales by
200
(281 Stories)

Prompted By Laundry

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Story # 1

With three kids, four beds to make, and seemingly endless piles of towels to wash and dry, laundry “day” happened several times a week. Wash, dry, fold, put away was my mantra.

When I was a child, we had a washer with a wringer in the basement of the two-flat we shared with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. We loved to play there on rainy days, hiding behind sheets strung up across the ceiling. Somehow, we convinced my youngest cousin to put his hand in the wringer. Despite his shrieks of pain, amazingly nothing was broken except for our spirits, as the rest of the crew was grounded by my mother and aunt.

Story #2 — Suburbia in the 1950s

When we moved to the burbs, we still didn’t have a dryer. At least the washing machine was safer, lacking the external wringer. I remember helping my mother hang clothes out to dry on a contraption that looked like this:

Of course, we still had clotheslines strung across the basement in case of rain. Laundry day was an all-day production. We actually only washed clothes when they were dirty, unlike my grandkids who toss whatever they wore that day into the hamper. Most things needed to be ironed, so damp clothes went into a plastic bag. If they got too dry, my mother would sprinkle them with a water-filled coke bottle with a sprinkler top. I started learning to iron when I was pretty young, practicing on my father’s handkerchiefs. As a pre-teen, I was ironing shirts, skirts, and pants. Eventually, we got a clothes dryer, which was a huge help.

Story #3 — The Laundromat

When we were first married, our apartment had a communal laundry room in the basement. Not only was it hard to find a time when the washer and dryer were free, but someone stole all of the fancy underwear I received at bridal showers. The laundromat was more efficient. We could get everything done once a week by using more than one machine. I remember being in one when we found out via the small tv mounted in the corner that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. There was mass hysteria as people gathered their wet clothes and ran home.

Story #4 — Laundry Chutes

Our house was built in 1911 and laundry chutes were a common feature in older homes. Ours started in the staircase between the second and third floors and went down to the basement. Of course, my kids delighted in throwing all manner of toys and junk into the chute, running down to the basement to retrieve them and repeat the game. My one fear was that my youngest was small enough to fit in the chute, and I was vigilant about her access. My anxiety wasn’t irrational, as one of her friends took a trip down the chute in her house and broke both of her legs. Luckily, she didn’t go down head first.

Story #5 — Too Much Laundry

With three kids, four beds to make, and seemingly endless piles of towels to wash and dry, laundry “day” happened several times a week. Wash, dry, fold, put away was my mantra, especially on weekends when I didn’t work. (Wait … wasn’t doing all of this work?) While my husband could be helpful with some chores, I don’t think he ever tried using the washer or dryer. My kids knew how in a pinch, but there was always too much homework or an important activity. I figured I could at least make them responsible for putting their clean clothes away, so they each had their color-coded laundry basket. Problem was, they wore the clean clothes straight from the basket, leaving me to put away what was left so I could use the baskets again. Another parenting fail.

Story #6 — Laundry for Old Folks

Our old house had a very old, top-loading Maytag that was both repairable and reliable. When we moved to our condo, we inherited this washer and dryer:

I must admit to being initially intimidated by all of the options on the dials until I realized I only needed to master two settings. Now, doing laundry became, literally, a pain. Bending to use the fancy, new front-loading machines hurt my arthritic back. It was time to teach my husband the basics of doing laundry. Sadly, our weekly laundry day now takes two of us, and making the bed is a real project. While my husband is still loath to turn the machines on, he can do it in a pinch. We pile all of the clean, dry clothes and towels in a basket, which he carries into our tv area so I can fold while sitting and watching the news (more pain). It’s really not too bad now that we have our system down.

When my parents were pretty old, they were still living in a 3-floor condo with the washer and dryer on the lowest level. My mother used to throw all of the dirty clothes, towels, and sheets down from the top floor to the main floor to the basement. Then she would work her way down the stairs and spend the whole day in the basement until everything was washed, dried, and folded. I have no idea how they got their clean laundry back to the upper level. My father must have helped with this task, although he never went near the machines. That was woman’s work. Now that it’s too late to ask my mother how they completed the task, I have to give her credit for sticking to her laundry day routine until she moved into senior housing after my father died. She finally admitted how nice it was for someone else to do her laundry and make her bed. I totally get it, Mom.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Laurie, thanx for the fun (except for the back pain!) tour thru your evolving laundry life.

    Like your folks, mine had a washer but no dryer in the basement when I was a kid, and the wet clothes hung on clotheslines strung from wall to wall. And alas it’s now too late to ask my parents why – dryers were certainly on the market then, weren’t they?!?

    See https://www.myretrospect.com/stories/my-beloved-basement/

  2. The secret to a happy marriage – delegation. My Irish grandmother Mary loved her electric wringer – there is a fond memory.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Great summary of how the tasks have changed through innovation over the period your life, Laurie. My kids in London do not have a dryer (it seems that is not a staple of most homes there), so the drying racks are out in the kitchen frequently with a baby (who is now a toddler, but there is still a LOT of laundry to be done).

    I agree that those machines seem MORE rather than less complicated and also MUCH less reliable. My husband doesn’t believe me when I say we will be lucky to get 10 years out of them. Appliances just don’t last like they used to. But then, neither do we!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      LOL on appliances being like us. They don’t make them to last anymore. The repair man I used to use is pretty much out of business as everything is computerized and disposable. He agrees with you that 10 years is pretty much the limit. We create so much trash. I’m surprised homes in London don’t come with dryers. That’s quite a chore when you have a baby.

  4. Jim Willis says:

    I loved your laundry stories, Laurie, and they bring back a lot of memories. I just posted one (late) that is similar to your first tale, although a bit more serious in consequence, and a lot more graphic (probably better suited to Halloween than Christmas or Hanukkah!
    Also, like your husband, I often need instructions from my wife on how to operate our machines. But I’m learning, out of necessity. Thanks for sharing all these tales!

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    Doing the laundry is one of those things that is underestimated in my opinion. It is an essential part of life but doesn’t get the respect it deserves. I get all the stages of laundry you describe. You didn’t mention trying to get laundry done while traveling–a whole other experience. Dryers used to be more expensive and less efficient, and I think are now more popular in the US than other countries. We hung the clothes out on long lines in the back yard for years. Of course, now that we are trying to reduce energy use, air-drying is once again encouraged, but I haven’t put up a clothesline yet.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    The rotary outdoor drying rack is considered almost a national icon in Australia. They actually have a name for it, although I can’t remember it.

    Gina’s sister’s house has a laundry chute. I love the idea!

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