Household Word
Take Me to the River

Yesterday, while I was in my basement contemplating a mound of dirty laundry, I found some old National Geographic magazines. Instead of sorting the whites and the colors, I became engrossed in the magazines. In one issue, there was a photo essay on caves (they looked a lot like my basement laundry room, only sunnier). Another had pictures of women washing their clothes in a river. Ugh, I thought, Iím glad I donít live there! There are probably crocodiles in that water.

Then I looked at the picture again. The sun was shining on the river. The women were smiling and talking to each other. Some were even laughing. I never laugh when I do the laundry.

Laundry is my least favorite chore. Maybe I hate it because I always end up with a pile of mismatched socks. Or maybe I dread doing the laundry because my washer and dryer are in the basement, wedged between my husbandís tools, rusty tricycles and those old magazines. Itís dark down there. Lonely, too. I usually avoid doing the wash until my family runs out of clean underwear. "Wear your bathing suits under your clothes," I tell my kids. "Iíll do the laundry later today."

Thatís why I was staring at a mountain of dirty clothes that perfectly preserved my familyís not-so-recent fabric history. At the bottom were nearly petrified beach towels from our trip to the beach last summer. Next came a fetid sediment of soccer pads and kneesocks from the fall season. The strata continued with a layer of linty fleece tops. Dingy underwear and mismatched socks from yesterday crowned the peak. It was a grubby monument to the merits of nudism.

I examined the picture of the women at the river again. They donít have their own washers with a special cycle for lingerie. They donít have dryer sheets, fabric softener or color-safe bleach. Heck, they donít even have plumbing. All they have are water, rocks, sunshine and each other. Sure, my Maytag might get clothes a little cleaner, but I think Iíd be willing to sacrifice a few shades of white for a laugh with friends on laundry day. Besides, I could blame the missing socks on the crocodiles.

I imagined the women on my street, washing load after load of laundry alone in their dark basements. Somehow, the women at the river bank seemed far less primitive.

I thought about my town. There is no river, and besides, there must be all sorts of wetlands regulations that would prohibit public laundering. Then I had an idea.

I called my neighbor Denise and asked, "Do you have a pile of laundry in your basement?"

"Do I ever!" she said. "Itís creeping up the basement stairs. It scares me."

"Get it," I ordered as I held the phone with my chin and stuffed my own composting clothing into big black trash bags.

We loaded our dirty laundry into the trunk of my car and headed for the laundromat. Together, we separated whites and colors, added detergent and loaded quarters into eight machines. While the washers chugged, we drank coffee, talked and even had a couple of laughs. It wasnít the river, but it was better than being alone in the basement.

Next week weíre going to take our laundry to the fountain at the mall. Hope there are no crocodiles.

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