You’ll Never Wash Alone

My mother,
Your mother
Hanging out the clothes.
My mother punched
Your mother in the nose.
What color was the blood?

That’s what is known as a counting-out rhyme—a way to determine who’s going to be “It” in a playground game of hide and seek. And despite the fact that it’s a little gross (which is the way kids tend to like things), it’s also sort of sweet (the first part, anyway). Can’t you just see my mother and your mother hanging out the clothes? All right, maybe not my mother and your mother because they don’t know each other, and frankly I can’t remember my mother ever hanging out the clothes; but somebody’s mothers out in the backyard pegging sheets and socks to the clothesline, gabbing, and apparently engaging in fisticuffs.

Laundry is social. At least that’s how it was traditionally, whether townswomen were gathering at their local water source to wash their clothes or meeting over the backyard fence with baskets full of wet duds. It still is social, if you happen to live in a dorm, an apartment, or another place where you don’t have your own washer and dryer. Then you’re compelled (let’s not say “forced”) to visit the communal laundry room or the neighborhood launderette where you’re likely to meet up with your neighbors and you might even make new friends.

I know a couple who have been married for more than 20 years and who first laid eyes on each other in the laundry room of their apartment building. It happens…hopefully more often than two moms punching each other in the nose.

Good or bad, laundry is a shared human experience. Everyone has a laundry story. Just ask them.

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