Lessons from the laundry

January 11, 2016

Most of my childhood my father had a second job in some form or other. His primary job, where he worked for over 35 years, was at a plant called “Gulf Research” in Harmarville, PA. You know the drill… he left at precisely the same time each morning with his lunch box and thermos and pulled into the driveway at exactly 5:30 each afternoon… on the dot, without fail, like clockwork. But it was his secondary income that I want to mention briefly.

Before I was born and into my early childhood before I can remember, he worked (on the side) for Sears and Roebuck repairing appliances… stoves, refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, etc. Also before I can recall, he owned a dump truck that he used to haul miscellaneous things on the weekends for whoever would pay him. Sometime around 1965 or so, he made the decision to go into business for himself (again “on the side”) drawing on his expertise gained from working at Sears, I suppose. He opened a “coin operated laundromat.” Not sure why so many of them used the designation “coin operated” since that was somewhat implied (it wasn’t free) but many of them did, none the less. Beginning in 5th or 6th, grade I took the bus (every third week) to the laundromat each day after school and “worked” there until my father picked me up at 10:00 p.m. My sisters Peg and Donna worked the other two weeks. Mostly we were responsible for giving change, keeping things tidy and dealing with any other issues that came up. I was okay with the “giving change” part but the “keeping tidy” thing… well let me just say it wasn’t my forte. What on earth is this all about anyway? Well, I thought I would share with you some “Lessons Learned From the Laundry.”

1. This past week I was doing laundry because Ellen was having some back issues and going up and down the stairs was painful. At one point, I pulled a load of pants and socks out of the dryer. Most of the socks had matches but there were two independent, rebellious, rogue socks. (Not surprising) Lo and behold, I found their matches in my drawer!

Lesson: Even the most unlikely miracles are possible.

2. The one thing customers complained about the most at the Laundromat was the fact that the machines were not cleaning their clothes well enough. Inevitably they would be packing the washers so full and tight that the agitators couldn’t do their work. You know… 100 lbs. of manure in a 50 lb. sack.

Lesson: Have reasonable expectations for the circumstances of your life.

3. On occasion people would fuss about the fact that the dryers took too long.

Lesson: (See # 2 above) Dryers are designed to tumble the clothes allowing air to separate the items. One giant clump doesn’t work!

4. I remember once smoke billowing out of the little compartment behind the dryers that allowed access for repairs. I panicked and thought there was a fire. It turned out to be a belt that was going bad.

Lesson: Check out the reality before assuming the worst.

5. Some of you may remember a song done in the 60’s called “Leader of the Pack” that began with the rumbling of a motorcycle engine. A band called “The Detergents” did a parody entitled “Leader of the Laundromat.” My kids bought me the 45 some years ago. Go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi5yDBvYUcE, if you want to listen. My sister Ellen was in high school when this song came out. I remember her telling me about folks good naturedly teasing her.

Lesson: Most things can be viewed through a “lens of levity.”

6. People would put gobs of Clorox into white loads to try and get out stains.

Lesson: Some “stains” in our lives require more than man made solutions.

7. You can put numerous filters in place BUT lint still finds its way into your laundry room and clothes.

Lesson: No matter how much we protect our psyches and how many compliments and “strokes” we hear, negativity still finds its way into our lives and frankly… it hurts.

8. Clothes wear out after a while. Hard water expedites that process.

Lesson: Aging is inevitable. Hard living brings it on faster.

9. Laundry is never done! It has to be cleaned over and over again.

Lesson: Something about “repentance” here.

10. No matter how hard, efficiently or fast my father worked, machines kept breaking and needing repair.

Lesson: Smooth sailing in life is only a temporary condition. Strengthen your faith in the good time to carry you through the hard times.

11. We had a heavy steel “change machine” on the wall that dispensed dimes and nickels in exchange for quarters. This was before the current machines that can scan and read dollar bills. The machine was made from ¼” thick steel and held onto the wall by another heavy sheet of steel. I can’t be certain but I’m pretty sure the building could have been nuked and that change machine would have still been in place. On one rare occasion when I was tidying up, I was cleaning the aforementioned lint off of the floor. After filling a dust pan I stood up only to hit my head on the corner of the change machine. It knocked me silly.

Lesson: Sometimes even when we do what we’re supposed to do it can lead to painful failures.

12. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not do a good job for my dad while I “worked” for him.

Lesson: Have age appropriate expectations for children.

13. On one occasion a bully from my school who had been harassing me for months came to the laundromat to give me a hard time. I remember that I was afraid of him in school, but this was tantamount to attacking my whole family. I picked up a carton of empty glass pop bottles and threw it at him. Glass smashed all over the place. He looked at me like I was insane and then he walked out.

Lesson: Not real sure the lesson here but I’m glad he didn’t beat the snot out of me.

14. We used to sit around our kitchen or dining room table on Sunday afternoons counting and putting change into those paper tubes for the bank. I was allowed to keep any really old and valuable dimes or quarters. I had a few collections of them. Liberty head dimes, and the quarters before Washington was on them. I spent them all in High School.

Lesson: See number 12 above.

15. For the most part I hated my time at the laundromat. It seemed like every time something fun was going on with my friends I had to work.

Lesson: One never knows what sort of experiences will be called upon in the future. Nor do we know how we will be impacted and trained by the things we have done. I should add that Ellen and I were behind in doing our laundry because our washing machine was broken. I repaired it – a new “snub ring” (sorry, can’t explain that to you), a stabilizer spring, and replacement of a leaking internal hose. Thanks, Dad.


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