It was not until I went away to college that I realized how much laundry my mother did. I don’t mean that my family of four generated an unusual amount—none of us changed more than once a day, or had especially extensive wardrobes—or that she stood around an industrial-sized cauldron like Mrs. Buckets in “Cheer Up, Charlie.” Rather, at any given moment, some step of laundry-washing was in process. If the washer or dryer wasn’t running, clothes were being sorted. Large piles of lights and darks littered the hall floor. There was a wicker hamper of some description, in a nook under the linen closet, but things either didn’t make it there or were sorted with such dispatch that they never reached its limbo. And always, always, there was the folding. My parents’ bed was generally covered with a large pile of clean clothes; anyone who happened to be sitting on the bed watching TV would either fold a few napkins in the course of a show (me) or sit atop a mound, occasionally knocking clothes onto the floor (my brother.) Then there was the hand-washing, or those pieces my mother had deemed too delicate for the dryer: there were usually a few of these hanging damply in the bathroom. She did not work full-time back then; one wonders how all the laundry might have gotten done if she had.
It’s not that she was compulsively clean in other ways; if anything, the house was fairly chaotic. Indeed, when we did have guests over, the door to the master bedroom had to be kept rigorously shut because there was so much laundry on the floor. We always had plenty of clean clothes, which is of course nice, but in retrospect I think she washed things too much: towels got frayed and faded long before their times, the knees of our jeans seemed to have unusually short lifespans. She used utilitarian detergents; there was some vague but distinct taboo against fabric softener that made the first sheet I borrowed in the college laundry room feel deliciously illicit.
Her constant laundry-doing was a running joke in the family, as well as something of a mystery. How was there always so much laundry? The mystery only deepened when I moved out on my own and realized that one load a week was sufficient to keep me in clean clothes and sheets, and that the whole process only took a couple of hours. Read More