Today, I forgot how to fold towels.
At first, I thought I was just distracted thinking about Donald Trump, Hell, and hand baskets, but even as I worked to refocus on the domestic task at hand I just didn’t have it in me. I attempted different combinations hoping to achieve the correct soft shape, but to not avail. It was as if today I awoke with this particular skill evaporated from my repertoire.
I do not come by domestic prowess naturally. In fact, my default is a rather healthy masculine don’t care, don’t notice, attention-deficit driven, I would rather be shooting hoops sort of setting. However, as it turns out, through thirty years of marriage, working from home and raising three boys, I got pretty darn good at carrying my weight in that department. Some could have called me a domestic czar. I don’t think they did, but they could have. I am pretty sure my motivation originated with the hope that housework would result in swinging from the chandelier - you’re my hero affections. It doesn’t really work like that no matter what the manuals say. It just kept me likeable.
Fortunately for my wife, my mother, God rest her soul, taught me how to do laundry the year I graduated high school. She probably waited too late, but I won’t put that on her. I remember her emphatically stressing the importance of clean well-folded laundry and how I needed to know how to do it properly for when I go away. “Girls notice these things,” she would say. Mama also reminded me often that girls like boys who had clean kept fingernails, white teeth, and shined shoes. And, of course, how the rescue squad would appreciate my clean underwear.
I am surprised that I wasn’t left to my own laundry devices after the morning I blamed her for me not having clean socks and missing the school bus. Maybe I was, but I don’t remember it lasting long. You see, my mom wasn’t a real neatnik or anything, but she did have a sort of laundry fetish. She took great pride in her laundry skills and spent a lot of time in that little room hanging and folding. In her sixties she went pro and worked part-time at a laundromat where she was paid to do other folks’ clothes. Boy, were they lucky. She seemed to really enjoy it and would have probably done it for free.
So, one Saturday afternoon, she led me to the small room where Tabitha, the cat, lived in the window above the dryer. “Dang, look at all the money in that jar!” Mama was saving the random coins to fund something unknown to me. "Finders keepers," she bantered.
The lesson became pretty intense and overwhelming quickly. Step-by-step we went through the paces – turn all the clothes right side out, empty the pockets, unroll the socks, sort them – whites with whites, colors with colors, unless they were permanent press, jeans separately or with rock n’ roll t-shirts. I do remember, shortly after our lesson, I botched this part and ended up with a shrunk pale blue “Eat a Peach” tee. The Allman Brothers deserved so much better.
Whites were washed on hot, permanent press on cold, jeans on warm – or was it – only washed on warm and then rinsed on cold? Not “in cold,” but “on cold.” There were pliers sitting on top of the washing machine to aid in turning the settings since the knob had broken off.
Once a large load of whites was inside the barrel she began a dissertation on the differences between Clorox and Clorox 2, when to add them to the wash and what to listen for. I am sure she was brief, but she lost me quicker than she had begun. Next, I was schooled about the timing nuances of fabric softener, which I never did get the hang of. Thank the lord for today’s dryer sheets.
Speaking of drying, I seemed to have a better attitude for that. Perhaps, it was because I knew that the washing was over, I was closer to being done, and dirty was clean again. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that the world was turning again.
Very important note: Mama directed me to always shake out the clothes when they come out of the washer. She said it cuts down on wrinkles and they dry faster. Don’t dry anything on high except for towels. She approved the drying of tennis shoes, but you had to put a chair in front of the dryer door in order to keep them wrangled inside and the operation running. Permanent press clothes go on low. Brian’s middle age hint: take blue jeans out of the dryer while they are still a little wet and let them dry naturally over the shower rod. This is so you can actually fit into them again.
I remember, years ago, my friend Paul told me that he was at a laundromat in West Nashville and the lady that worked there told him that Lane Brody would drop off her clothes to be cleaned, but she always washed her own underwear. I never forgot that story. Perhaps laundry fetishes are hereditary.
Bzzzzzzz! Like the warm spring day in North Carolina that it was, fresh-smelling clean clothes were awaiting my response. T-shirts were to be freed first as they wrinkle quickly. Mama showed me how to fold them perfectly, but I haven’t done it since that day. Jeans were next. “Don’t fold them with a crease in the leg,” she cautioned, “Unless you like that look.” “What look?” I asked. “Like a nerd,” she replied.” Nerd was her word for dork. She showed me how to match the inseams, fold them over once and iron with the palm of my hand. My white almost-knee socks with the colored wide stripes near the top were rolled while tighty whities doubled easily. Button-up shirts went on a hanger, without the cardboard (save those for nice pants).
The next dryer load, consisted of the dreaded sheets and towels. Now, there is nothing intuitive about folding towels correctly, but it is important business that must be considered when they have to reside in a linen closet shelf. I can feel the female readers dying to share their knowledge as they read this. Sometimes this wakes me in the night. Thirds. Right? I was never good at math either. Forget the sheets, by the way.
Load after load, to my surprise, my teenage self became a man, not a woman, as I learned the ins and outs of doing clean laundry that day. And, I wonder, just now, if Mom was so fastidious about this job because so much of her life was consumed with dirty laundry, the kind generated by years of mental illness and poor choices, which she tried not to hang out. Metaphorically speaking, this must have been her way of coping and controlling the only thing she could, which made her proud and things could start anew.
I’m still not an expert at doing the laundry, not even close, but through every single step of it I always remember that day and my dear mother. If only I could remember how to fold towels.