Every happy chore makes her happy in the same way – satisfying to perform, tangible results, a smoothing-out-of-life feel when she’s done – but every unhappy chore is unhappy in its own way. Vacuuming is one of her favorites, and so is wiping down the kitchen, and so is laundry.
Ironing? Dusting? Get thee behind her, Satan. If it cannot be put through the washer and dryer without undue harm, it is to be avoided. If it’s small and intricate and grouped with other small and intricate items on glass-fronted shelves, just say no.
Laundry is always a happy chore. Load after load: whites, lights, darks. She is a laundry racist, say her children, who believe in shades of gray and whom she does not allow to touch her clothes, not that that stops them.
Towels are folded first because a minute or two later, there’s a giant stack, and who doesn’t like to feel accomplished with so little effort, at least once in a while?
Then come the jeans, followed by the shirts, followed by the t-shirts, followed by the underwear and, finally, the socks, which are painful and frustrating for reasons all laundry-folders know and therefore best not discussed here.
Recently she went home, to the land where she grew up. There she found the house she grew up in, and the man and the woman who were there when she was born. The fields and woods stretching in all directions, and the pine trees and the white birch and the maple, and the remains of her old tree house.
She went to the diner with her father, and sat with the men who have known her all her life, the ones who heave themselves out of the booth to hug her, and then squish over to make room for her. She ordered the special – hash and toast and two eggs and coffee – and watched as the waitress brought out the special jar of strawberry jam kept in the diner fridge just for her father and his friends.
She was told by one of the men that if you stretch strings across your outhouse hole you can play tunes, that is, if you’re male. She is not male but she is intrigued nonetheless and would like to get to the bottom of this, so to speak.
She came home to sit in the thirty-eight-year-old New Room with her mother, who was still in her bathrobe and had made fresh coffee. Together they watched her mother’s computer, photos from forty and more years ago floating slowly across the screen.
Oh, there you are. So cute. Oh, there’s Oatie, her first birthday, so cute. Oh, there’s Robert John in that little winter coat. Oh, there’s the Christmas where you got the giant stuffed camel, remember? Oh, there we all are at Gettysburg – remember? Oh there you are holding Oatie’s hand on the first day of school, remember?
Late that night, after midnight, she came downstairs to find her mother sitting at the computer playing solitaire. The rumble of the washer and the dryer emanated from the other room.
“It’s late,” she said. “Aren’t you tired?”
“I’ll be going up soon,” her mother said. “I’m just doing your laundry.”
“I am capable of doing it myself, you know.”
Click, a red six on a black seven. Her mother is good at computer solitaire. And regular solitaire. And Scrabble. Click, a black nine on a red ten. Her mother smiled.
“I know you can, honey,” said her mother. “But how often do I ever get to do your laundry, anymore?”
She looked at her mother and listened to the whirring of the washing machine, winding down now. She remembered the years of the clothes hamper in the only bathroom of the house, holding the clothes of its six inhabitants. She pictured her mother, a non laundry-racist like her grandchildren, swapping out the newly dry clothes for the newly washed.
She kissed her mother goodnight and went up to bed. In the morning there was her laundry, clean, fragrant, folded.