Sunday, October 24, 2010

Old-Fashioned Laundry

For the last few months, probably since May or so, my washing machine has been hooked up in my back yard.  Yes, I know, that sounds like the ultimate in trashy.  And it probably is.  But it was also just plain necessary.

The washing machine broke.  Even if we fixed it ourselves, the replacement part was $80.  No one had a spare $80.  If we bought the part, that $80 would have come out of the food or gasoline budget.  So the washer had to remain broken. 

There was also no money to go to the laundrymat.  Once upon a time in the past, we took about 8 loads of laundry to the laundromat and it ended up costing about $50.  Coin-op laundry sounds cheap but it's NOT!

So Matt (my ex-husband, always eager to be the savior and gatherer of glory points) brought us a washing machine that he had sitting around.  He hooked it up with the garden  hose in the back yard because the laundry room is upstairs and very difficult to access and no one wanted to risk life and limb moving one washer down the stairs and another one up the stairs when it would only be temporary and we'd have to do it all again before too long.

So, all summer I did laundy in the back yard.  It was quite an interesting experience.  I actually enjoyed going out barefoot early on a summer morning and putting in laundry.  There's something very grounding about standing on bare earth and doing a timeless task such as laundry.  For eons, women have been washing laundry much closer to the earth than we do today.  In all of time, before electricity and running water and washing machines, washing laundry with one's feet on bare earth and one's hair blowing in the breeze was more the norm than the exception. 

My friend Viky came here from Mexico at the age of 19 or 20 with nothing and speaking no English.  She was one of my renters.  We built our friendship on my very bad Spanish, her great patience and good nature, and the fact that we were pregnant together.  She recounted stories of people dying from snake bites and heat stroke on the trip across the border.  She told me about having no shoes at times during her childhood.  And she spoke of washing clothes in river with her mother as a child.  I never forget that. 

My inconvenient, broken-washer remedy put me in touch with a primal human experience.  I actually enjoyed the earthiness of it -- when I wasn't feeling just plain trashy and pathetic!  I did my share of cringing at the orange extension cord snaking across the yard and in the back door and at the way the spin cycle rattled the porch post and made my mother's garden bell ring like an old-fashioned fire alarm!  I wondered if the neighbors had peaked over the fence at my embarrassing, improvised laundry room.  I wondered if they through I just had low standards or if they had the compassion to know that it was just necessity in a bad situation.

A few weeks ago the dryer broke too.  Instead of hauling heavy, wet laundry up to the dryer (which is definiely not fun!), I commenced to draping wet laundry over outdoor chairs and on the fence.  I learned a lot about what a wonderful whitener and deodorizer sunshine is.  I probably should have put up a clothesline and given myself that part of the old-fashioned laundry experience as well but I just never did.  I'll always remember my grandmother's clothesline and the bag of clothespins that hung from the line.  I've marvelled at different methods of hanging laundry on a clothesline that I've seen here and there from my car:  hanging shirts from the bottom hem instead of putting clothespin bumps in the shoulders, concealing the underwear on the middle clothesline, draping the sheets across several lines in big scallops to keep them off the ground -- all that domestic women's wisdom that has fallen by the wayside as modern conveniences have made such knowledge obsolete.  There was definitely an art to laundry that has been lost to us! 

Yesterday my muse lead me to the laundry room (the inside one).  My muse tends to do that -- she takes me to my work station for the day.  I never know where it will be until I get there but I always get the most done if I listen to her work assignments!  I thought I was just going to get socks but I found my day's work as well!

So I found myself behind the dryers (I have two because the washer takes less time than the dryer and I can get more laundry processed with two -- though usually one is broken) cleaning out backed up lint and trying to redesign the vent system that I've been told is the reason my dryers keep breaking -- the improper ventilation overheats them and the fuses and heat coils burn out (See! I've learned a lot!) -- and laying on the floor worming my arm into the vent that goes through the wall and under the floor to the outside.  In the process, I solved the mystery of the God-awful death smell we had in the laundry room in the spring:  a bird's nest in the vent line.  The one remaining intact egg with the teeny, oozing hole in it smelled worse than I can describe!  But at least it wasn't a dead cat like I had feared because one of our cats had gone missing about then.  Whew!

I scrubbed out vent pipes and swept up enough lint to build a new dog and found a whole 44 cents for my trouble! 

Matt spent the last week on a fairly lucrative construction job so, when he heard what I was up to, he volunteered to go get the parts to fix all the machines!  After $140 ($80 for the washer part and $25 each for the dryer parts) and several hours work, I am delighted to report I now have TWO working washers and THREE working dryers!  Praise the Lord and the laundry gods!  I'll sell one of each -- I can't wait to get the washing machine out of the back yard and the extra (previously broken) dryer out of the playroom -- and that might recoup the cost of the parts.

I cannot tell you how completely THRILLED I am to get to do laundry inside, in my beautiful laundry room, like I live in the 21st century!  It is truly a blessing that I wish I could bestow on every woman throughout time who ever washed laundry in cold water while standing on a dirt floor and hand-wrung it with chapped, red hands and hung it to dry on a cold day where solid, frozen laundry was a possibility.  I am so blessed.  And now I'm going to wash everything in sight!

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