The fascinating world of laundromats

I have an assortment of vivid memories from laundromats. The earliest is of the slatted frosted glass windows at the laundry my mom used when I was about five years old. The window slats tilted back and forth to open, like a Venetian blind. The half-obscured oblong glimpses of the parking lot and road in front of the building remains in my memory. I, like many kids that age, loved to kneel on a seat and look over the back of it, rather than sit in it and look frontwards. It was at that same laundry that I remember learning to fold sheets with my mom. This is a nice dance when done with another person, giggles when one of you turns your end upside down. In my adult life, though, I usually fold sheets alone, and use the “fold, fold, fold….arg…roll the darn thing up and stuff it in the closet” method.

The next memorable laundromat had that lovely hot-clothes smell and two intriguing ‘bullet holes’ in one of the large windows. I don’t know if they were actually made by a BB gun, or a pebble tossed up by a passing car, but our town was far too small to have a ‘rough side’ and people rarely if never rode around shooting out their car windows in any case, so it seems unlikely that the two dings in the big window were caused by any real drama.

I was older now, perhaps in junior high, and memories of the laundry are accompanied by a vague irritable stress. The Tastee Freez was right across the street, which provided excuses to go get nasty industrialized snack products. I also remember using the wringer once in a while, though probably just to entertain myself. And I remember one amazing day where I went to change dollars for dimes at the machine in the corner, and instead of regular dimes, the machine discharged antique real silver Liberty Head dimes. I knew my coins from my dad, who liked to stash bags of silver coins in the garden in case of Zombie Apocalypse. I begged my mom for more dollars, making change until no more silver dimes came out. I remember ending up with a good 50 or so of the precious coins, plus enough regular dimes to finish drying the clothes.

Quarantine these days features the washing of enormous amounts of laundry, mostly because we are washing things more frequently than usual, and because being at home all day I am washing things that normally don’t get washed often, like cotton blankets, throw rugs, and the covers from the sofa pillows. Here in Brazil there is no dryer, just racks suspended from the ceiling near a breezy window, and the warm dry sunny climate to turn out load after load of fresh clothes. We hang gym clothes and towels directly in the sun to dry, to get that extra sanitizing effect. The rest dry well enough in the laundry room.

My mom has always kept me up to date on her laundry – she gets to hang it on a real line in a sunny yard, which is cozy and nostalgic. I would do the same in a minute if I had a place. The laundry is like a living creature then, like fire in a fireplace. It becomes a member of the household.

Diptheria, Measles and TB! Oh my!

My mother recalled the quarantines of her own youth:

She remembered having diptheria when she was about 3 years old and an official coming and tacking a pink quarantine sign on the front door. She couldn’t go out of the house but she didn’t remember it affecting anyone else.

She remembered that when she had measles it was important to keep the blinds shut, as there was a danger of blindness. She recalls being sick in bed and the first steam shovel was rolling down the road to a new mine, and she was so excited to see this novelty, but her mother only let her watch for a moment, because it was not good to allow light to hit her eyes.

She remembered that her brother had gone to a TB sanitarium when he was six years old and he was there for a year. This had happened before she was born, but she saw pictures of him from that time, and remembered how forlorn he looked.

She remembered that a girl she knew in high school was sent to a sanitarium for a year, too, and eventually recovered. She heard that a couple of her mother’s brothers died from TB, and another was sent away to a sanitarium, but being already an adult at the time he moved on from there after he recovered and never returned home.

When she was in grade school she remembered an itinerant family arriving in town for a while, and their three children came to school and had lice, and had to hang their coats on hooks away from the other children’s coats. She remembered getting lice once and her aunt washing her hair with kerosene in the laundry sink to get rid of them. And she remembered a lot of kids having ringworm, and having a bandage on their heads for this reason. She said they didn’t tease the kids with ringworm, but knew to stay away from them until it was cured, as it is highly contagious.