Clean Laundry

19 01 2010

Everyone has a favorite smell that seems strange to other people. I enjoy the scents of gasoline, indoor hockey rinks, old books and clean laundry. Perhaps my love of the last one stems from my allergy to laundry detergents that are scented, leading to a sort of nose envy of other peoples’ warm, fluffy, clean laundry that is slightly scented with names like Mountain Rain or Lavender Fields. Whatever the reason, I enjoy the smell of clean laundry…

When I was six years old, my mother was particularly ill and we had a housekeeper who came in to help with domestic chores since my dad worked a lot and my mom was too weak to do those tasks. Laundry was one of them…I always loved watching her bring piles of dirty clothes downstairs to the laundry room and later bring clean, light, airy piles of clean clothes upstairs to fold. It was nice to see the disorder of a pile of clothes turn into something neat and organized. My mother was always quick to express her gratitude to this woman for keeping us in clean clothes…and I picked up on that, even as a young girl.

One afternoon, our housekeeper had failed to finish the laundry, leaving a pile of my dad’s work pants, socks, dress shirts, etc. on the laundry room floor. My mother was lying down and my brother and I were told to play quietly in the basement (right next door to the laundry room) when we saw that pile. Somehow, we got the bright idea to do the rest of the laundry to make our sick mother happy and proud of us. We figured that we had seen other adults use the machines enough times before that we could do the same thing and I envisioned bright visions of my mother’s smiling face, her glad voice as she hugged us and told us how much she loved us. This urged us to clamber onto the machines, dumping in the clothes, turning on the water and throwing in capfuls and capfuls of what we thought was detergent (but in reality was bleach). We went back to playing, very pleased with our accomplishment, just waiting for the moment when our mother would awake and come downstairs to praise us.

It never happened.

Our mother came downstairs, curious about the noise of the washer, and discovered our dad’s expensive dress clothes spotted in many differing shades of pink, white and taupe. I don’t remember all that happened after that but I know that we tried to explain and there was a lot of screaming on her part and crying on ours. My brother and I were spanked and put in our rooms til our dad got home…and no one ever recognized that we had been desperately trying to win our mother’s love and attention (two things she was consistently too tired to give her demanding children).

For myself, I feel like that desire for a mother’s love was commingled with the elusive chase for the smell of clean laundry.

What are your favorite smells that might seem strange to others?

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