“Bag? I don’t see any bag,” I announced while peering all around the vacuum cleaner.
“Look inside the canister,” my lovely wife, Grace, offered.
“There’s a bag in there?”
“Yes, dear. Where did you think all the dirt went?”
Rubbing my chin, I mused, “I guess I never gave it much thought… So, how do you open this thing to get at the bag?”
“Give me strength,” Grace sighed. “Better yet, would you please just get me a fresh ice pack and a glass of ginger ale—no ice?”
Grace is recuperating from an appendectomy (what the heck an appendix is, why we have one, and why it sometimes needs to be removed is an enigma even the sage Grace can’t fully explain). She is feeling better each day thanks to the support of generous Daniel Island friends and some questionable assistance from the dysfunctional duo of yours truly and my Aunt Toogie. Grace’s friends lavished her with cards, flowers, gifts, and enough delicious food to feed us through the hurricane season. Toogie not only advised Grace to “milk this for as long as possible,” but also announced she would be in charge of protecting and allocating the many dishes that arrived at our doorstep, taking a particular fancy to a coconut cake baked by Grace’s friend Gail. After every lunch or dinner, Toogie would inquire, “How about a little bite of a sweet?” The occasions when Grace demurred did not deter Toogie from helping herself to yet another slice of coconut cake or some other alluring confection.
Toogie and I took on the daily routines Grace generally handled such as the marketing, food serving and clean up, house cleaning, and laundering. We soon came to learn about other activities that we, heretofore, had no idea Grace managed or that needed attention. For example, early one morning, a gentleman arrived at the front door and explained he was here to tune the piano. Toogie gave him a good perusal but did not invite him past the threshold. I suspected he might be a cat burglar casing the joint. A quick check with Grace, convalescing in bed, cleared the stranger for entry.
“Certainly, you remember Mr. Miller,” Grace declared.
“I had no idea Grace had a piano tuner!” Toogie remarked as she and I took a break from clearing the breakfast dishes.
“Who knew?” I added, blowing on a steaming cup of reheated coffee.
As Toogie and I struggled to keep up with the chores, Grace provided definitive coaching from her bedside command post. For example, “When you buy oatmeal, be sure to get Quaker Oats, and buy the one that says ‘old fashioned.’ The label is blue on top and red on the bottom. It is my favorite for both cooking a hot cereal and for baking cookies. Don’t get the oatmeal labeled ‘quick—one minute.’ That one is red on top and blue on the bottom.”
“I didn’t know there were so many varieties of oatmeal,” I remarked to Toogie as we searched the grocery store shelves for the proper product.
“Who knew?” Toogie replied, finally finding the elusive blue-over-red brand.
The most intricate and complex of all tasks, however, is laundry. The best analogy I can provide is that laundry is a lot like baseball. At first blush, baseball looks rather simple—hit the ball, run the bases. Yet, as we know, baseball has a myriad of intricate rules—fair and foul, strikes and balls, force out, hit by a pitch, sacrifice fly, and more. Laundry is just as complex! Oh, it looks easy. Put the clothes in the washer, then into the dryer. But not so fast, Mr. Clean!
Rule 1 (Sorting): Be sure the clothes are sorted into three piles—whites, lights, and darks. Once you think you have that mastered, it turns out the “three piles” principle is modified by Rule 1A: Red is neither a “white, light, or dark” but is, in fact, an exclusive fourth color category. Witness Grace calling from the bedroom, “You didn’t put the red kitchen towels in with the darks, did you?”
“Who knows this stuff?” I moaned to Toogie. “Where is it written?”
Toogie just tapped her forehead. “Right here,” she replied, reaching over to snatch an ecru tee-shirt out of my “white” pile. This subtle reprimand prompted me to seek Grace’s counsel on a few items close to the dividing line.
“I have a few items of laundry here that are questionable on the light-versus-dark scale. I’ll hold them up, and you tell me whether they are light or dark.”
“Oh, good heavens,” Grace wailed, pulling back the blanket. “I’ll do it. Give me the basket.”
Shooting me a disdainful glance, Toogie coaxed Grace back to bed with an offer to fetch a piece of coconut cake.
“Watch closely,” Toogie huffed, peering at me over the laundry basket. She reached in and took out two items. “This is light,” she declared, shaking the garment in her left hand. “And this is dark!” she sputtered, waving another one in her right hand.
I wanted to tell her that the blouse she identified as “light” was, very possibly, a borderline “dark,” but I refrained and trudged back to the laundry room and set about dividing the dirty laundry, attempting to combine Toogie’s tutelage with the wisdom of Solomon. Sorting laundry may sound simple, but it’s no piece of coconut cake! Try the following test. Consider these shades of green: lime, emerald, pear, asparagus, loden, chartreuse, hunter, olive, shamrock, jade, celadon, moss, tea, Persian, myrtle, and Charleston. Now you correctly sort those babies between “light” and “dark!”
Rule 2 (Pilling): Some garments need to be turned inside out before washing to avoid “pilling” (whatever the heck pilling is). This is not a further modification of Rules 1 and 1A (and, consequently, does not necessitate more than the aforementioned three or four “piles”) but can be accomplished as the presorted clothes are put into the washer. Identifying the clothes needing to be turned inside out is still a mystery to me. Unfortunately, they are not labeled “Warning: Men, turn this garment inside out before washing!” That would be too easy. One must learn these secrets through trial and error. Who knew?
Rule 3 (Detergent): Oops! I screwed up already! Rule 2 above is actually Rule 3. The correct Rule 2 is: Always put the soap in the washer before the clothes. That is “always” as in “always,” not “sometimes” or “when I remember.” Otherwise, soap residue on “darks” is a telltale sign that may cause the “umpire” to charge you with an error.
Rule 4 (Settings): Set the dials for everything from load size to water temperature to type of fabric. Perhaps only my friend Bob, a former airline pilot, could fathom the complexity of such a control panel. If a setting is not properly activated, the machine responds with a loud, beeping alarm.
“Don’t forget to set the type of spin cycle,” Grace will holler, somehow deciphering which setting is out of whack just by the pitch of the beep.
It would seem that drying should not be as difficult as washing. Au contraire.
Rule 1 (Air Dry): Some items, while soaking wet, do not go into the dryer at all, even though they would be dry within minutes. These items (lingerie, delicate fabrics, jeans) are hung on hangers, rods, or door and cabinet knobs and every other protruding object all over the laundry room (which soon takes on the look of a Marrakech bazaar) where they will then hang for hours to dry. Much like Rule 2 of washing, the clothes have no visible tags or markings indicating whether they should be directed to the dryer or toward the closest doorknob. Devoid of this knowledge, apparently clandestinely passed from generation to generation of experienced dryer masters, the novice is left to fend for himself.
Rule 2 (Loading): While all the towels in a bathroom can be washed in one large load, they must be separated into two smaller loads for drying for them to “fluff up.” This is the “infield fly rule” of laundry. Why one load to wash and two loads to dry? I can’t describe it. Which explains why I overlooked it and put all the wet towels into the dryer.
“You didn’t put those towels in all at once, did you?” a voice behind me asked softly.
I turned to face Grace.
“Why are you up…here?” I stammered. “You need your rest.”
“I need to move around a bit,” she replied, opening the dryer door and removing a mound of towels. “You and Toogie have worked so hard. I’ll finish this. Why don’t you take a rest?”
Like a baseball manager removing a rookie pitcher from the game, the message was clear: Take a shower, kid. Better luck next time.
I trudged downstairs to the kitchen. Toogie was seated at the table working on a crossword puzzle.
“I think I’ll have a glass of iced tea and a piece of coconut cake,” I sighed.
“Cake’s gone,” Toogie barked without looking up from her work.
“Gone?” I answered.
“Yep, yesterday. Every last crumb.”
I slumped into a chair across from Toogie, closed my eyes, imagined the taste of that coconut cake, and thought, Who knew?
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