Thursday, July 21, 2016


I do not enjoy housework. I do love laundry.

It was a privilege bestowed on me at the age of three. Mom led me down the wooden stairs to our basement, past the potato bin filled with creepy spider-leg-like growths sprouting from the spuds, and into the corner where the white wringer washer stood.

“I need your help,” she stated. “I will pass the washed clothes through the rolling wringers and you can catch them on the other side. But be careful! Don’t let your fingers get caught!”

I concentrated as hard as I could, grasping every article of clothing with a preschooler’s determined precision, and passing each back to Mom for a second round.

“Thanks for helping me with the laundry,” she stated.

I beamed.

At age five, ironing was allowed. Shaking distilled water from the turquoise blue Tupperware container, I dampened Dad’s clean hankies and ironed with care. The steam rose as I pressed each one flat, then folded it in half, pressed again, and then a final fold, with steam rising. The red polka-dot rectangle was perfect every time.

“Don’t burn your fingers,” warned Mom. And I never did. At least I never admitted to it because I was so eager to graduate to tea towels and pillowcases.

When I was eight, I was tall enough to hang the freshly washed laundry on the clothesline in the back yard. Mom instructed me to hang shirts by their tails, and to share clothespins between underwear pairs. There were a limited number of the spring-loaded pins in the bucket. “Don’t run out,” Mom directed, “we need to dry everything completely. The dryer doesn’t make the clothes smell as nice as the fresh air does.”  Every time I climbed into my cool crisp bed, I knew what she meant. The prairie wind permeated the cotton sheets.

I dozed and dreamed of tranquil days.

When I turned sixteen, it was time to get a summer job. My first choice was the laundry at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre. In my assigned white uniform dress, I worked beside women that had made this job their career. They taught me how to press sheets in the massive rollers, and, like Mom, cautioned me to watch my fingers. I learned how to fold linens with precise teamwork. And if a few items came through still soiled, we tossed them back to the men to rewash. On Monday mornings, the weekend’s pile of dirty clothes, collected from the residents of the hospital, reeked of body waste and stale cigarettes. But by the end of the day, the stench was replaced with steamy freshness and we all knew we had done a good job for the residents of that intimidating institution. I spent three stifling sweaty summers there.

I loved it.

At twenty-six, I became a mom. I lived in a low rent townhouse in Henrico County, Virginia. Each home had a washing machine in the kitchen, and the complex provided rows and rows of communal clotheslines. With limited funds and a hippie’s perspective on natural birth and parenting, I chose cloth diapers for my baby. As he stained the white muslin mustard yellow, I worried that I might not be able to properly clean his wraps, but the cheap kitchen washer and the blazing Virginia sun bleached every diaper back to perfection.

I was the best mom ever.

And now I stand at the clothesline strung between two oak trees in my yard. I hang up my first grandchild’s diapers. They are fitted, colourful creations. No clumsy pins or stiff plastic pants are needed. These one-piece bottoms snap to fit any size baby. They are adorable. They are his. I handle them with care.

What a lucky grandmother I am.

I don’t care for housework.

But doing the laundry for others…is love.

©Conni Cartlidge    July 2016