I wrote this last year and shared it with my Facebook friends. I’m airing it here for others who might enjoy it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The laundromat has a life of its own and is filled with a multitude of amazing stories. If you keep your mind wide open all the time and a close watch on the heart of all mankind. (Apologies to Charlie Pride for taking liberties with his great lines.)
One evening the other week an older woman was there washing oodles and oodles of clothes. She had helped her daughter clean out some place of someone who had died she said. She herself was currently living in her pickup truck. Earlier in her life, she had been a bartender and then a truck driver after her children were grown. She was making good money, until she had to stop driving truck because her doctor’s replacement refused to write her a refill for her narcoleptic meds. “You’re taking too much,” he told her. For years she’d thought his refusal was because she caught him hankypankying with his nurse that day when she stopped by for her prescription renewal at lunchtime after parking her big rig across the street. But she recently discovered when looking through old mail that someone had used her prescription and gotten it filled a bunch of times at a pharmacy in another town. That was why the new doctor thought she was using too much of her medication. She suspected maybe the culprit was her daughter who’d gone to school with the young doctor. Since she couldn’t drive without her meds, this new doctor kept her from becoming a millionaire, because she was just getting ready to buy her own rig. She’d already picked it out, she said. Plus a whole bunch of other incredible stuff. I mostly just listened.
Tonight there was an older man who was playing the harmonica softly while he waited for his clothes to wash and dry. Beautiful gospel songs and Christmas music. Music that lived deep in my heart from years ago. Songs I sang and loved. And miss.
His wife is in the nursing home for two years now he said. She’d had a heart attack. He plays organ too at his church on Pine Street. The African American Episcopal Church. He learned to play the harmonica when he was little. He held out his hand to show how tall he was when his mom and daddy bought him his first harmonica. He promised the Lord if He’d help him learn to play it that he’d always play for Him.
A pretty bright-eyed woman who looked to be in her early to mid-thirties came in with a basket heaped full of laundry. “Are these the biggest washers they have?”
Yes. You can get a lot in them. I just put a whole bunch of stuff in one.
“I delivered my baby at home myself. I have some bloody towels and blankets to wash.” She busied herself with inspecting the jumbo washers.
I stood there and watched my clothes spin. She started loading her laundry into a machine.
It seemed like maybe I should respond to her comment since she obviously wanted me to know that fact, for some reason. But what in the world do you say to that?
Were you alone? Was your husband with you?
“This wasn’t my first child.” Her voice implied that fact made her totally capable of having a baby without anybody’s help. “But she’ll be my last. My sister was with my other children in the car. I was going to go to the hospital after my water broke, but I had to call to get someone to keep my children. I decided to just take them with me to the hospital. But I didn’t make it out of the living room.”
She kept loading the washer.
I kept standing there and watching my laundry spin around.
How many children do you have?
“She’s my sixth. She wasn’t planned. I work in a profession that’s not safe. I woke up one day and didn’t know where I was. A few months later I discovered I was pregnant.”
She said it all as matter of factly and cheerfully as if she was talking about the weather being sunny and what she’d eaten for Thanksgiving dinner.
She finished loading her stuff into two of the big washers, then asked me and another man who was there what water temperature was best for getting blood out of clothes. “Hot,” he replied without hesitation. She started the washers, then went out to her car where her sister was waiting. I went out to get some stuff from my car which was parked beside hers. “I told her Aria’s story,” I heard her tell her sister as I was getting the stuff I needed. She had her sister google how to launder blood-stained clothes. “Wash like normal.” She got into her car and started the engine.
I gathered up the quarters that splattered on the ground when I dropped the roll I’d just dug out of my purse. I’d told her inside I had extra quarters if she needed some. “That’s okay. I have enough.” She smiled at me through her car window. “I’ll be back.” Then she backed out and drove off.
Inside the harmonica-playing man came over on my side of the room and loaded his clothes into a dryer.
All the dryers on his side were empty. Are these dryers better? I asked.
“My brother told me the ones on this side are hotter.”
I busied myself with my laundry. Then I started talking to him about the music he was playing. How it was familiar. That’s when he told me about his wife being in the nursing home. And how playing music helps him keep his spirits up. I told him I play the harmonica too. We talked about the different sizes of harmonicas we like to play. And he told me about the huge harmonica in Germany that’s as long as several commercial washers. And about the music group he’s in. And that he plays guitar too. And about their church getting smaller because young people play sports on Sunday now instead of going to church. And how our country needs revival.
Pretty soon the new mama came back. She wheeled the laundry cart up to the washers and started carefully sorting through her freshly-washed clothes, checking to see if the blood had come out. She pitched a couple pieces into the trash can. “It’s time to say good bye.” Then she came over and stuffed the remaining kit and kaboodle into one dryer. It was chock full. “I’m going to put all my quarters in and come back when it’s done.”
She headed toward the door. “How late does this place stay open?” she wondered.
Till ten, I replied. It was nice meeting you.
“You too.” Then she stuck out her hand and told me her name. She said I looked familiar and asked if I knew so and so. I didn’t. We exchanged a few more comments, then she left.
The harmonica player took his finished laundry over to the table and started making neat piles of clothes. He chatted as he folded, telling me about working on his dad’s hobby farm when he was growing up. How hard they worked making hay. And how his mom and sisters peddled produce and blackberries in town. And about the Mennonite preacher he knew way back when. How the Mennonites helped them build their church. When he was done, he slung his black garbage bag of laundry over his shoulder and pushed out the door, making parting pleasantries as he went.
I looked at the mama’s laundry spinning as I waited for my loads to finish. The huge bundle looked awfully wet. I tucked a few quarters into the slot. I looked at the clock and back at the wet mass. I tucked in a couple more.
My laundry was soon done. I stuffed my basket and laundry bag full of lovely clean clothes and loaded it all into my car. Her dryer churned merrily in the empty laundromat as I pulled out of the dark parking lot and headed home, my heart full of sundry thoughts and feelings.