2003.11.26 The color of laundry

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

A curious thing happens when I am burdened with too many things to do and I’m too overwhelmed to begin tackling even one of them: I putz. I piddle. I poke. I cruise on the periphery. Instead of just plunging in, I nibble on the edges.

I need to deep clean the kitchen in preparation for company coming. So, what do I do? I pick up a small pepper grinder, recently discovered during a mad rummage through the spice shelf. It’s been driving me nuts with its old layer of grime. I’ve wanted to scrub the thing for weeks now, but with everything else on the agenda and a perfectly fine, full shaker of pepper sitting in the cupboard, it seemed like a waste of time.

But today when I should have been scrubbing the floor or washing the walls, I find myself with a steel wool pad, madly giving the mill whatfor, grinding the grime right out of it. Senseless, mindless endeavor.

And then later today, when I should be cleaning off the dining room table, where do I find myself? At the computer, finally typing in a master grocery list so I won’t forget anything when I next go shopping. I’ve been meaning to do it for ages; one more week of putting it off wouldn’t matter. But, suddenly, it has taken on a sense of urgency—if only because the following elements exist at the same time: 1.) I am thinking about it. 2.) The computer is free of children. 3.) While shopping, I have remembered to write down things I should add to the list. 4.) I have the store receipt in my hand which lists everything I just bought.

We will ignore number five: I don’t want to clean off the dining room table.

Although it does come into play here because I know I need to find my notes about a recent conversation with my husband. He was giving me a hard time about my laundry sorting idiosyncrasies. He, and his son after him, will toss anything indiscriminately into the washing machine. Black socks, white shirts, maroon underwear, yellow shirts, green pants: they are colorblind.

He comes downstairs with a load of clothing in his hands while I am sorting items from the bathroom hamper and our daughters’ hampers.

“Any chance I can get my clothes washed today?”

“Sure, I’m about to do a nice lights load,” I tell him cheerfully. “Do you have any?”

He shows me what he’s collected. None of it qualifies for admission into my nice lights load.

“I think I’ll just do my own wash separately,” he decides. He’s afraid I won’t get to all of his stuff if he waits until I divide it into my many categories.

Besides the nice lights (light-colored items that need a gentle cycle), my laundry piles include crappy whites (anything my children wear relating to sports, especially socks and underwear), nice darks, crappy darks (includes David’s black socks and colored underwear as well as kids’ sports clothes), dungarees, sweat shirts and sweat pants, sweaters (in season), dark towels, light towels, sheets, dish towels, and Polartec or fleece clothing. Am I forgetting anything? Sometimes, if there are enough red items, I do a separate load of them.

David suggested the other day that I wash a few dirty dish towels with a load of clothes. I gave him a look of incredulity. Such a travesty of laundry protocol doesn’t deserve a response.

If I find my notes on the dining room table, I can tell you the outlandish claims he made a couple of weeks ago.

[Stay put and I’ll go look....]

It took me an hour, but I found the note.

I had been sorting laundry and David watched as I dropped clothes into my many different piles.

“You’re a lunatic,” he commented.

“Don’t you ever put the black socks with the white socks?”

“Ew! No! Never!”

“You’re a racist,” he concluded.

My kids have complained about my discriminatory practices before—usually when they want me to put their underwear and socks in with the nice clothes. But racist? That never occurred to me.

My father was an unabashed bigot, but my mother was usually very accepting of all people—until my sister started dating Bruce, a black guy.

“You can’t cross the color line!” she used to scream at Linda.

I must have been sorting the laundry during those big arguments. It’s a testament to my sister’s character that she never let my parents’ prejudice color her life’s choices. She married Bruce several years later.

But her laundry piles look pretty much like mine.

    – Nov. 26, 2003 

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