Janet Sheridan: While others frolicked
September 18, 2018
"Remember," Mom said, "I want the washing finished and the young ones happy when I get home." Then, she escaped out the door, leaving me with a mountain of dirty clothes and three unabashedly disorderly siblings.
I headed to the basement, leaving Barbara, Blaine, and JL at the breakfast table making up inane jokes, then laughing inordinately: "Knock, knock." "Who’s there?" "Janet." "Janet who?" "Janet’s stupid!"
I descended six stairs to the cement-floored laundry room with its sluggish floor drain and musty smell. Sighing with self-pity, I inserted a hose into the washtub of our antique wringer washer, turned on the water, adjusted it to warm, and dumped in a measure of grainy detergent.
Wrinkling my nose with distaste when I dealt with other people's underwear, I methodically sorted the laundry into piles of dark, white, and light until loud wails summoned me to the kitchen. The boys having disappeared, an anguished Barbara sat alone, sobbing and saying she knew she shouldn't leave the table until she finished her oatmeal, but a fly had landed in it, and she couldn't take another bite. I told her I wasn't about to fall for that old trick and thumped her to reinforce the message.
When I returned to my task, the washtub was about to overflow. Grabbing the hose, I inserted it in the rinse tub, then scooped a couple of bucketfuls of excess water from the washtub and, deciding a few suds wouldn't matter, added them to the rinse water. As I put a load of whites into the wash water and engaged the agitator, suspicious sounds again issued from the kitchen.
The little boys were wrestling, knocking into the chair where a sad-eyed Barbara still sat. To my amazement, she had managed to capture a fly and drown it in her oatmeal. I told her to get out of my sight before I made her eat it like a raisin. She escaped, and I sent the boys outside to ride their beat-up tricycle, ignoring their protests that it had no front tire. Maybe riding on the rim would build muscle somewhere other than between their ears.
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The rinse tub full, I now had to deal with the dreaded wringer. Dad had warned us about washing-machine wringers that mangled the arms of wee children, and for the rest of their lives, they had to be fed like baby birds. We still had our arms, but Carolyn once forced two pair of jeans into the wringer and stalled it. Then, the weight of the wet denim broke the wringer free from its locked position, so it began rotating on its axis in circles, the levis flying out like arms on a horizontal windmill. We played a thrilling game of dodge the jeans until Lawrence, the first of us to gain any sense of maturity, came to investigate and ruined our fun.
I hated inserting small items like stockings and handkerchiefs into the wringer, because they sometimes failed to exit obediently on the other side of the rollers, so they continued to go around and around. Theory dictated stopping the wringer, popping a roller, and removing the stocking. Daring demanded snatching one end of it without wringing your fingers and hanging on until the offending item unwound.
Finally, the first load wrung into the rinse water, and a second load chugging in the soapy water, I checked on the terrible trio. I found them playing in the yard and told Barbara throwing rocks in the air and telling her little brothers to run under them was proof she'd been adopted. All three looked at me with puzzlement, then headed for the garden, where they'd pick and eat green gooseberries.
Soon, the sheets were wrung into the laundry basket, and the other loads were progressing in an orderly fashion. Carolyn had been told to hang the wet laundry when she returned from babysitting, so I'd soon be sitting on the porch, enjoying another Bobbsey Twins book in which chores didn't exist, older children went adventuring, and younger children obeyed without question.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.