Monday, November 12, 2007

memories are where you find them

I finally got around to folding the clean cleaning rags in the laundry basket that had been kicking around the basement for a couple of weeks. Surprised to learn that I fold cleaning rags? Well, that's what I was taught to do, although I have at least rebelled against my mother's strict system of sorting the rags into three distinct piles. There was the dusting pile, made up for the most part of old t-shirts. 100% cotton only - synthetic blends need not apply. There was the window-cleaning pile, mostly thin old cotton sheets that had worn through where our feet had restlessly kicked at night. Finally, there were the old towels, saved to soak up all the spills and accidents of a growing family.

I am happy to just get the rags folded into one neat pile. They are predominantly old towels, I find. Bath towels and wash clothes, hand towels and dish clothes, worn thin from repeated use. Some of the blue and yellow bath towels go back to when we lived on Longford. The pink and green patchwork-patterned ones (they look as bad as they sound) date to before the bathroom re-model on Denison. Some of the kitchen towels we took to Chincoteague and back, to the little house on Lewis Street where we stayed each summer.

There are not just old towels in my clean pile of rags, however. I find pieces of Ben's old flannel shirts, that always seem to grow too short in the sleeves before they can wear out. Oxford cloth shirts that he wore to work make excellent cleaning rags, and I find a few of those, as well. I don't find any of the kids' old clothes, and that puzzles me at first, until I remember that we always gave those to someone we knew with younger children or bundled them off to Goodwill.

The remnants of my own old clothes are the most poignant reminders of the past. Here is a panel of those flowered Liz Claiborne shorts I wore when we took the kids to Disney World. How I regretted wearing shorts that had to be unbuttoned and then un-zipped for each of my many trips to the restroom! Here is the front of that over-sized New York Yankees t-shirt I bought to wear when I was pregnant with Tom. It reminds me that I saw my first major league baseball game during that pregnancy - the Cleveland Indians played the Yankees. (Reggie Jackson hit a solo home run in his first at-bat.) I don't seem to have a single remnant left of my dad's old flannel shirt. I wore that all the time when I lived in the dorm, and for many years after that. When it was beyond wearing, I cut it up for cleaning rags. It seems even those are gone now.

That's the interesting thing about it, I guess. The cleaning rags just wear away over time, some taking longer than others. As I fold them, I remember. It's not such a bad thing.


anne mancine said...

Is this post just too Erma Bombeck for you guys? Oh, do you even know who that is?

Well, it was fun to write, anyway.

Julie said...

no way, i thought this post was awesome!

actually i was surprised that i'm not the only one that thinks about that stuff when folding the rags or even reaching for one, or loading up the doors of my car with a few. i knew about that yankees shirt, which was, i think, a house painting shirt for a while too--or maybe just a post-painting rag. dad's flannels are a key item, as are the old bath and dish towels. (though yes, lots of the old dish towels, once chincoteague towels, are here at school with me)

remember when we made tie-dye shirts in the basement? some of the shirts from that project eventually worked their way to the rag pile--i found the one i made in there a while ago.

since i was always so nostalgic, even as a little kid (saving tile from the bathroom before it was remodeled, and wallpaper scraps), i was glad that stuff ended up in the rag pile, where it was still around and visible, rather than in the garbage.

weird, yes? so i was surprised you would post on something i figured was too odd for anyone but me. ;)

and in answer to your last question, no--i'm afraid i don't know who erma is. doesn't seem great, from context!

anne mancine said...

Well, I could just send you to Wikipedia, but the entry for Erma Bombeck says, "an American humorist who achieved great popularity for a newspaper column that depicted suburban home life in the second half of the 20th century."

Let me just add that she was a native Ohioan.

Also, Jules, don't you have some scraps of old carpet squirrelled away?

Ben said...

Heloise was the first suburban home life columnist, see "Hints From Heloise". Erma Bombeck was the next Heloise. BTW, the local pronuciation is HELLoyz.

I personally wanted to put all our old shirts out on the curb lawn, preferably in the snow, but Mom said no, we need cleaning rags.

More recently there has been some conTROVersy about cleaning rags. Should shirt sleeves and collars be removed? Should shirts be cut into smaller pieces? Exactly who is the arbiter of acceptable levels of synthetic content? Oh wait, that's right. Anne decides all things cleaning rags.

At one point the majority of our cleaning rags were cloth diapers from the era of 2-kids-in-diapers. (We were on the cusp of disposables). Then one day we realized there were no more diapers in the cleaning rag pile. It was poignant, in that very slightly poignant way.

anne mancine said...

I had forgotten all those diapers that used to be in the pile. They made the best cleaning rags! And to think that we had twelve dozen of them.

I absolutely and unashamedly reserve the right to make all cleaning rag-related decisions. I use most of them, I wash them, I fold them, I make the decisions.

Julie said...

heh heh heh--i do remember several episodes in my youth when i was folding the rags, and I decided the cleaning rags were too big, and cut them into more manageable pieces myself. mom was NOT pleased. :)

now that i've secreted so many away to school, i can cut them however i like! but the bigger they are, the more stuff you can use 'em on...