Rumor has it that my maternal Irish great grandmother was a laundress for a Catholic Church in New York City. If that is true, I am descended from a long line of Irish washerwomen. Laundry was always a priority in my household growing up and it is one habit of my mother’s that I can’t shake either. It’s funny which of your mother’s habits you hold onto to and which ones you discard.
Perhaps it’s because it is of one of my most beautiful memories of my mother. We lived in a very urban area near New York City. It was an apartment house with its laundry room in the basement. I was a pesky child and often tagged along with her. I don’t think she even wanted me to “help” but she was afraid I would get into something. My baby brother was often left with the kindly older lady next door, Mrs. Johnson. My sister was already in school.
Down the elevator we would trudge with baskets of dirty clothes. With three children, she and my Dad, it was a daily chore. Hours I spent wandering that apartment basement, poking through others people’s stuff (the storage area wasn’t locked) all under the watchful eye of my mother sorting, prewashing and carefully folding the laundry for the next step.
My mother was frugal. She always thought the dryers were too expensive so she would cart the heavy baskets to the roof of that apartment. That’s where the real dreams began. The roof of that apartment was glorious. On clear days, you could see the entire expanse of the New York Harbor: the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park, the downtown harbor and all the seafarers that frequented it. I watched barges, tugboats and the occasional pleasure boat all while my mother hung her own sails of sheets in that urban breeze against a brilliant blue sky. With the clothes whipping in the wind, the echoes of the tugboat horns accompanied the visuals. I loved those days. Not yet in school yet conscious enough to think and remember.
My girls tease me about my laundry habits. Why does everything have to be so perfect? Why does my white underwear smell of bleach? Why do you buy Oxiclean® by the bucket full? The answer is invariably, “That’s the way my mother did it.”