Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sepia Saturday #319 - second try: The Laundry Incident

The laundry prompt for Sepia Saturday this week dredged up the memory of an incident that took place in my family sixty-five years ago when I was eight. Funny, when you start probing your memory how much it's like tuning in a radio station. At times, the remembered snippets come in loud and clear but then they slip out of grasp, and you have to work hard at clearing away the static to get them back. We are talking sixty-five years here......

As I recall that day, it was dinnertime for my mom and dad. We kids ate early, but the parents enjoyed a couple of cocktails first. I was sitting in the kitchen; my mom had broiled steaks which were ready and resting on the hot plate. She took a salad into the dining room and sat down. Suddenly I heard her shout. The shout was shocking as mother was very reserved and I rarely saw her lose her temper. "You're as crazy as the rest of your family!" she shouted. And then I heard an odd clanging noise. Mother rushed into the kitchen, pulled off her apron, threw it on the counter and ran down to the basement. I can remember being scared; I'd never seen anything like this. I carefully got out of my chair and peered into the dining room where my father was sitting with a stunned expression on his face, salad on his head and shoulders, and Kraft French dressing dripping off his nose. He looked at me then down at his rye and water which was slowly turning orange in front of him. I asked him what happened, and he just shook his head.

Meanwhile, mother was cooling off downstairs. Our basement was always about 10 degrees cooler than the house and dampish with a faint mothball aroma which issued from two large cabinets in the corner where we stored our winter clothing. I guess you might call our basement a sort of "she" cave. Mother had painted the floor a rich maroon color (very fashionable in the day) to brighten it up. Her wringer washer was the heart of the room. There was a workbench down one side equipped with various ordinary household tools - wrenches and hammers, nails and screws but my father had no part in this. My mother was the handywoman and took care of domestic repairs. She did everything in our home - moved furniture around, painted, hung curtains and she even made shelves and cabinets, using the carpentry skills she learned from her father. 

The next morning, everything was normal. The salad remnants had been washed out of the rug. We ate breakfast and went to school. While at home for lunch, eating crepes with my mother, the doorbell rang. A big surprise, as we rarely had anyone at the house during the day. Mother answered the door. It was Eaton's, our city's largest department store, delivering a brand new Westinghouse washer and dryer. My mother was confused, then thrilled, pleased and bemused. Whatever my dad did or said the night before, he made up for it in a big way! 

The washer and dryer, gleaming white symbols of reconciliation and detente, took an honored place 
in the basement laundry area. Our old wringer washer went off with the Eaton's delivery men to the Happy Hunting grounds. 

This pair is very similar to my mother's surprise gifts.

Before this abrupt modernization, the wringer washer was the star of the basement. My job, when I participated in laundry duty, was to feed the wet clothes into the wringer gizmo and shake them out on the other side. If they were still too wet, they went through again. I enjoyed the process - handling the warm, wet clothes, being alone with my mom, breathing in the smell of the laundry soap and watching the bluing action in the rinse water. 

Mother ironed, on her permanently "up" board, standing on a rag rug, in a spot next to the machine. She used her trusty General Electric for the ironing. As in the prompt photo, the clothes were sprinkled with water to make ironing easier. We used a recycled vinegar bottle with a perforated cap from the local fish and chips shop.  Mother took great pride in her work and made sure the collars were crease and pucker-free; the seams down the sides of the shirts were perfectly flat, and those tough spots around buttons were smooth and beautiful. She used a shoulder pad placed under the arm holes to get the tough wrinkles out of the shoulders. Every buttonhole was flat, and she'd check for loose threads and clip any strays with her little sharp sewing scissors.  After the shirts had been ironed and given a good shake, she'd make sure they were hanging straight on the hangars with the top buttons done up so they wouldn't sag open and get creased again. 

Years later I was back in Canada visiting my mother and bemoaning another one of my failed relationships. "You don't how to handle men," my mother said. My ears pricked up because after all, I still remembered the laundry incident and the hugely successful outcome we'd all enjoyed because of it. My mother knew what she was doing in the man-handling department. 

She went on to tell me a short story about her recent visit with my sister, who did inherit the man-handling gene from my mother. She recounted, "Jim yelled downstairs to Eilleen to iron him a shirt. You (meaning me) would have told him he should have planned for the shirt the night before and to iron it himself. Eilleen, instead, answered 'Yes, dear'. Then she took a shirt out of the laundry basket and put it in the warm oven for a few minutes, shook it and put it on a hangar. Jim ran down, put on the warm shirt, threw on his jacket and went to the hospital. He wore white coats over the shirts and nobody really saw them anyway.....but he thought he was wearing a freshly ironed shirt, ironed by his devoted wife." 

Fortunately, although I kept it in mind, I didn't have to apply mother's implied advice. The situation in the ironing world changed rapidly for the better; there was less and less need for it! Shirts became polyester blends and easier to iron, if at all; dress codes relaxed and we all began to wear t-shirts and other more casual clothing. Life went on and I don't think I ever ironed a man's shirt again. During my brief period on where I met Richard, my permanent husband, I made a full disclosure about my lack of ironing skills and other deficiencies. Fortunately, he is a ready-to-wear kind of guy, who actually enjoys washing and ironing his own clothes. I always make sure I compliment him effusively about the beauty of his sharply creased jeans and shirts. See mom...I got at least a part of your message!

I doubt that I'll ever score a triumph in my lifetime like my mother's washer and dryer - her record will remain unbroken by her daughters. And maybe that's a good thing.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:51 AM

    My Dad used to use a white hankie every day at work. I can remember ironing them first the whole thing flat then folding it in half and then in a quarter and putting them in his top drawer. I also used to polish his shoes with a soft sponge thing and get the polish out of a small can with a Kiwi bird on the top. funny the things that you remember. Beth Cobb