Meditation on Laundry

This was going to be called, “Mountain of Laundry”. We just returned from a short, active family vacation, and there it is – a mountain of laundry. Sort of along the idea of Sisyphus rolling his rock to the top of the mountain, just to have it roll down, over and over again. Then, I thought, perhaps an adjustment in attitude was required.  I should follow the yoga way of being in the moment; turn the all-too-familiar activity into a “meditation in motion”. For a somewhat mundane task, like shopping, tidying or putting dinner on the table, there is a kind of value to the work. Just because it’s domestic doesn’t mean it’s not important, especially in terms of having a comfortable family life. I suspect that our relationship to laundry reveals a lot about who we are. So, here goes…

I don’t actually hate laundry, and prefer it to some of the other chores.  I had thought, naively, that laundry would be a thing of the past, a la, “The Jetsons”, somehow programmed and automated. Not so. In fact, laundry has changed little since my youth, and I wonder if it has to do with being, still, “women’s work”. That is to say, “If they can send a man to the moon….” Same basic washer/dryer pair (sturdy, low-tech Sears Kenmore); same woven plastic laundry baskets; pretty much same detergent, Tide or Arm and Hammer; and same process: out of hampers, sorting into “whites” and “coloreds”!!! A couple turns of the dial and off it goes. Then, the reverse sorting; the folding, generally on our big bed; the leaving out to be put away. (Although my sons learn to do their own before leaving for college) I think that’s pretty much exactly what I remember my Memere doing, back in the day.

But not exactly. When I lived with my aunt in CT, I remember a neighbor who had the old-fashioned wringer machine – rather nightmarish. Everyone we knew had a clothes line, and used it. Now, only for wet towels after the beach. And racks, for those sweaters gently cleaned with Woolite. There used to be “delicates” – lingerie, nylons, and my grandmother’s corset, that were washed separately in their own little bag. And, ironing – so quaint. We had special clothes for church, which had to be ironed, wrinkle-free. Fortunately, not the hats and gloves, though.

As a large family, we always had a lot of laundry, but not so many clothes. Being close in age and size, sisters shared and brothers shared. Never my own pair of underwear, and all of us fished our socks from a communal drawer. There was an interesting period where the washer and/or dryer expired from so much use, refusing to be resuscitated. My mother at that time was not able to put together enough money for a new washer and/or dryer, so it became a matter of trips to the Laundromat with rolls of quarters, a couple times a week, with, I believe, up to ten loads. Now, that was an outing.

I myself had many years without washer or dryer, living apartment-style in NYC and in other places. Plenty of hours in the Laundromat, waiting/watching, with never a romance springing up. And then, one day, in Brooklyn, I found a laundry run by a Chinese family, who would wash and fold my dirty clothes, very cheaply, very well and with a smile. I was so grateful, I wrote them into a chapter of my book, Spanish Soap Operas.

My “load” today is not so heavy, really. The boys help, certainly. The machines do what they’re supposed to very dependably. In lieu of “delicates”, I learned from a wise friend, Noriko, to rescue my bright, better-made garments from the dryer (the destroyer of all fabrics), and let them air dry in the bathroom. The routine is familiar and fairly relaxing. The only surprise is the occasional unfamiliar garment that shows up, neat, clean and washed, but belonging to someone other than us. We have a lot of company, and they leave all kinds of things behind.

And so, my meditation ends, although the laundry remains. In all, I’m grateful for the convenience, and the physical ability to do the task, the clean clothes, and the nice smell. I do it, willingly, but if that nice Chinese family were to open their little store here in Bedford, would I be glad to see them.


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