What Labor Day means to me…

The last cookouts of summer, final trips to the pool, packing away those white pants and shoes. I can only imagine these are the things that people think of on Labor Day weekend. Not me. I think of laundry. Mounds and mounds of laundry.

When I was a kid, we spent every Labor Day weekend watching the Jerry Lewis Telethon, imagining holding a backyard circus to raise money to donate (they always featured kids who’d pulled off these seemingly amazing backyard fundraisers). And we watched my mom do laundry. Approximately one year’s worth. Now given that I have no memory of going to school naked or being mocked for wearing clothes that were so nasty they could stand on their own in the corner, she must have done laundry at some other point during the year. But I do believe it was just enough to get by. I think most clean clothes were acquired at the store, rather than from the dryer. As soon as I was tall enough to reach the control knobs on the washer, I started doing my own laundry. (No need to insert snide remark here about how I am short and that I may still struggle to reach the knobs on a top-loading washer.)

Our laundry “room” was in the basement. The basement was unfinished and not, I suppose, a desirable place to just hang out. I remember there was a chalkboard on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. A hook where my brother’s bike ended up more than he’d have liked as punishment for riding in where he wasn’t supposed to. The far corner housed a giant tower of wires that controlled all the lights in the house. Next to that sat the wash area. Along with the requisite washer and dryer, there was a television (handy during severe weather related trips downstairs) and a giant counter for folding with bins underneath for sorting. I don’t remember if there was ever anything in the bins. I do remember that on top of that counter the mound of clothes stood taller than I did. (Again, no need to point out that such a mound didn’t have to actually be terribly high.)

Every Labor Day weekend, you could find my mom sitting down there amid the haystack sized piles of clothes, towels and sheets. She would be watching the telethon and washing and folding the finally clean clothes. Don’t ask about ironing; I know she owned one and that’s as much as I can say on that topic. After a while, she’d get lonely or maybe just tired of sitting in the basement, and bring a pile up to the family room to fold. I think she stayed up all night, watching the donation total rise and the pile of clothes to wash shrink.

I remember one weekend when she was gone (where’d she go? no idea.) and my dad had reached his limit on the whole laundry thing. It was grey and nasty out; probably early spring. So the pile had grown pretty hefty by then. Anyway, he filled at least dozen giant garbage bags with the dirties, stuffed them in the car along with me, my brother and my grandma (how’d she get suckered into this?) and drove us all to a laundromat. At first, it was kind of thrilling to stuff all those clothes into the giant washers, feed it quarters, and watch it clean our clothes. I thought it really seemed pretty smart, to be able to get all your laundry done at once like that, rather than have to dedicate an entire holiday weekend to the task. The excitement quickly wore off. We stopped paying much attention to the job of sorting and just stuck to stuffing. Years later, my mom still talked about the time my dad shrunk her favorite sweater by washing and drying it. And even as a kid I didn’t have much pity on her because that one sweater gave its life so that load after load of my clothes could finally be fresh and clean.

As an adult when I’d go visit my mom, she seemed to always have laundry going. Her washer and dryer were in a little room just off the family room, so you could watch any tv you wanted and have the constant hum of the dryer in the background. Still, there seemed to always be at least one pile of dirties crammed in there. Some habits just cannot be entirely broken, I suppose.

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