Genetic Memory: Laundry Days

There aren’t many things in this world that I despise but laundry is definitely one of them! I hate separating clothes, packing the landry bag into the push cart, pushing the cart 1 ½ blocks to the laundromat, all the while praying for an empty machine.  I HATE waiting and waiting for the clothes to dry, and folding them only to find that a few garments could use extra time in the dryer. By the time I push the cart back to my Brooklyn apartment I’m too tired to put them in their proper place.

With such an attitude, who would have imagined that I descended from multiple generations of laundresses.  Yes, millions of Americans may be able to claim a similar ancestry, however, I found this particularly ironic as I pained over my laundry this weekend.  My aunt (my mother’s sister) told me that my maternal great-grandmother Margaret Payton and her husband, Guy, operated a laundromat in Baltimore City in the 1970s.  This should be no surprise because many of the women in Margaret’s family were domestic laborers.  The 1930 U.S. Census identifies her mother Teresa “Trecie” Payton (my great-great grandmother) as a laundress.  My aunt confirmed this by explaining that Grandma “Trecie” and several other women in her family did housework for the nuns and priests of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

I have a hard enough time building up the temperance to wash my own clothes, so I can’t imagine how these women pushed themselves to launder other peoples’ garments.  Judging from my grandmother’s attitude toward work, these women probably suppressed most of their feelings about the job and saw work as a means of managing their responsibilities as mothers, wives and daughters.  They would pride themselves on making their families as comfortable as possible.

As I separated my lights and darks I wondered, ‘Was it their experiences that made me feel so guilty about using the drop-off service?’,  ‘Did they hate folding sheets just as much as I did?’,  ‘Could my loathing of laundry days be a result of some genetic memory I inherited from these women?’  I guess I’ll never know but for now I feel thankful that I have automated machines instead of the boards and brushes my grandmother saved in her basement.  Thank God for innovation and hardworking mothers!

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