It would be tackled on a Saturday
When all four daughters were at home to help.
Mama ran the job, rewarding speed and sunny dispositions
with sweet-smelling chores like pegging clothes out on the line,
or gathering in.
That wasn't me.
I usually sorted dirties in great heaps upon the kitchen floor,
never mastering the complex rules concerning weight of fabric,
color, odor, depth of dirt. Towels go in this stack, Mama said,
unless they're red or purple -- those make a separate load --
they won't be colorfast. Sheets, pillowcases here,
school clothing there, except for underwear.
Check crotches carefully. The stained ones get a special soak and scrub.
Now start that tub of whites – no, not those smelly shirts --
they'll wait till near the end. And barn pants, overalls, go last.
The sorting, soaping, dashing, wringing, bluing,
rinsing, wringing, rinsing, wringing again,
the hanging, drying, taking down and folding up consumed our day.
We finally saw the last foul load of overalls go in.
Oshkosh B'Gosh went churning in a gray-blue soup
garnished with straw. They crawled up through the wringer,
somewhat cleaner, though I wondered how.
Their buckles caught between the rollers,
made them gasp and stall and fly apart.
An easy fix, said Mama, to my great dismay.
The washer drained out slowly, clogged by a silty mix of soil
chaff, manure and broken buttons, stones and screws
We made pancakes for supper, too weary for the usual roast or stew.
That was some job we did today! chirped Mama.
Don't you feel good?
We rolled our eyes and sighed, Sure do.