Happy in the Same Way


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?

She remembered.

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.


  1. oreo · May 21, 2009

    Let’s start a club, and only people who believe wholeheartedly in every sentence of the first three paragraphs can join. Then we’ll have someone to call and say, my daughter threw in a dark with the lights (not whites, mind you, but the lights) after I started the wash! And the person on the other line will gasp with an appropriate degree of horror. And we’ll have club meetings where the hostess leaves a humongous pile of towels in the middle of the living room that we fold while chatting, perhaps even some thick quilts that require that peculiar two-person dance to do just right. And no guest will ever surreptitiously run a finger down the buffet to see if she’s dusted, and in fact all will hope that she has not wasted her precious life on something so obnoxious.

    And just when I thought my mother-envy could run no deeper, you say she still does your laundry. Good lord, I’ve been doing my own laundry since kindergarten. Your mother is just too sweet.


  2. Felicia · May 22, 2009

    I LOVE doing laundry too! Ahhh…just thinking about the smell of fresh laundry makes me happy!


  3. Pepper · May 23, 2009

    You made me cry again.



  4. Beryl Singleton Bissell · May 26, 2009

    What a lovely post. I allowed myself to drift into the quiet business of those activities, the rewarding pile of towels heaped high, the return home, the photos drifting across the page. Had her mother scanned all those old photos into her computer? Had “she” done it for her mother. The old “New Room,” the diner conversation. All of it feeling so soothing and quietly humorous yet tenderly sad.


  5. Sam · May 28, 2009

    Gorgeous. I laughed out loud at the bit about folding the towels first. I always do that, but I never realized why. Thank you.


  6. alison · June 2, 2009

    The towels are my saving grace on many days. If I can glance over at a giant stack of yellow and green towels, not everything can be lost, right? A giant stack of towels is a lot of bang for the buck.

    And “her” mother scanned all those photos in herself. Her mother is not only good at computer solitaire, she’s good at computers. And many other things, including flamenco dancing.


  7. Midge · June 25, 2010

    For me, it is about neatly folding my boys’ tshirts, shorts, underwear etc. and matching their socks. It feels like the one way I can do something for them and take care of them without argument. Since I am usually folding laundry at night, it also gives me the illusion of having some control and making order out of a chaotic household.

    Also, I must add that I am not a laundry racist…it all goes in together and seems to come out ok.

    Allyson, your account of your visit is truly lovely.



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