I’m at the laundry mat right now washing some quilts in those big huge machines. I love those things. They spin around and make cool whirring sounds. If you put a plastic action figure in there, you can see the blur of him spinning around through the glass door and imagine how dizzy he’s getting.
I have some good memories of laundry mats – being there with my brother or friends, running around pushing each other in the rolling carts, doing laps around the washing machines in the middle, little hellions taking the corners on two wheels, listening to the old folks grumble about “out-of-control kids these days.”
My brother and I had the responsibility of doing laundry when we were growing up. Like everyone else in our modest neighborhood, our family only had one car, and my dad worked a couple of states away so he came home about once a month, leaving us without a vehicle most of the time. Which was fine since the grocery store, school, church and everything else was within a couple of blocks.
But the laundry mat was about six blocks away, and we had to carry the laundry basket full of clothes, one of us on each side. I kind of liked going to the laundry mat, but my brother was in middle school and it was NOT cool to be walking down the street carrying a basket piled high with clothes, especially with your little sister.
We’d wait until we had nothing clean to wear, so the laundry basket had clothes mounded about two feet above it, held in place by a sheet draped over and tucked firmly into the sides. It looked like we were carrying a fresh grave.
We made the trip under the cover of darkness. In those days kids got to go anywhere, day or night. It was safe in our little East Tennessee town. People didn’t lock their doors, and crime was unheard of.
We both grabbed a handle and headed down the street. Whoever saw car lights would yell, “CAR!” and we’d drop the basket on the sidewalk and dive into the bushes so they wouldn’t see us. I am laughing as I type this because now I can see that basket from a driver’s perspective. What did people think when they saw the abandoned basket sitting on the sidewalk? Did they see us scramble into the bushes and wonder what we were up to?
My brother was pretty popular in school. Girls called him all the time. His reputation would have been absolutely ruined if those cars held kids he knew who would rat him out the next day at school.
When it came time to cross the busy, four-lane street, we lurked in the shadows until it was clear both ways for a good distance, then we’d run like crazy. Since I was almost four years younger, I didn’t run as fast, so the basket would get askew and sometimes tip over. Laundry gushed into the street in a ragged trail. We scrambled to get it back into the basket. My brother would dart his head back and forth, urging me to hurry up before a car came and saw him in the street with his little sister surrounded by dirty underwear.
Once the clothes were washed, we’d make a game of folding the sheets. He’d grab the corners on one end, and I’d get the other ends, then we’d take a couple of giant steps toward each other like we were dancing at some fancy ball, lifting the corners up and down in a silly fanfare. We’d connect the corners and he’d hold them while I picked up the corners at the fold, and we’d step apart, then move back together with the same flouncing moves. It was just foolishness to entertain ourselves, and we giggled like idiots.
Funny how we were so worried about what people thought on the dark streets, but we didn’t care a bit about the opinions of the crowd in the laundry mat.
We loaded those folded clothes and started the trek back home. Usually there was less traffic, but we’d still have to abandon the basket and take cover several times. I wonder why no one ever stopped to check out the laundry basket full of clothes just sitting there. Maybe they thought that basket must have had a darn good reason for being there, and it was none of their business. Those were innocent times. No thugs or gangs or opportunists were cruising around looking to steal people’s clothes.
Somehow we managed to do this chore week after week completely on the sly. Eventually we got a washing machine and our laundry mat days were over, much to our delight.
If you ever decide to investigate a laundry basket full of clothes abandoned on the sidewalk, I bet you’ll find some kids trying to maintain the facade of being cool by taking cover in the bushes close by.
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