“What happened to you?”
The question was voiced by my sister, Cheryl, just a few weeks ago. Two of my sisters, Brenda and Cheryl, were visiting here. We were at the family farmhouse, where my Aunt Katie lived until her death last August. I was not involved in whatever activity – meal preparation, or cleaning, or sorting – my two sisters were busy with at the kitchen table, so when the dryer stopped, I stepped into the shed to fold the laundry.
Cheryl followed a few minutes later. That’s when she said it:
“Cindy, what happened to you?”
Her tone was kind and curious, yet clearly she was disappointed in me.
The question was driven by the towels I had just folded. Though they were folded – because I’d asked – the way that Mom had taught us (in half twice the long way, then in thirds from the other direction for bath towels; in half twice the long way, then in half from the other direction for kitchen towels and hand towels; in half, then in half from the other direction to make squares of washcloths and dishcloths), my corners did not perfectly line up. As she neatened and refolded the ones I had done, she asked again, incredulous, “What happened to you?”
She added, “You are the one that taught me this,” as she helped me fold the rest of the load, with all of her corners and edges lining up perfectly. I blinked. I shrugged. I gave a little smile. I didn’t know what to say. I was kind of embarrassed. I felt a little bit ashamed. I knew what she was talking about, sure.
Growing up in our large household, I was in charge of laundry. And I took it very seriously. I arranged the piles of clothes around the perimeter of the round, heavy wood table in age order for each family member. Socks and underwear were stacked separately, in an inner circle, so that they wouldn’t topple the tall piles. All had to be put away, to make room for folding diapers and towels.
Though I never used cloth diapers with my own children, I can still remember the way to fold them. I have altered the way I fold towels (once in half long-wise, then in thirds from the other direction, then in half again for bath towels; in thirds from the short ends, then in half long-wise for kitchen towels, hand towels, washcloths and dishcloths) to better fit the space in my cupboards and drawers, but I still know the way Mom had us fold them. Muscle memory, from so much practice.
And I was precise. There was one right way, and things had to be done to those exact standards. I insisted that each of my younger siblings were just as careful as I was. Later, my own daughters struggled under my clothes-folding rules. They despised the job, as they seemed never able to meet my standards. They rebelled by folding their own clothes however they wanted, or not at all. To this day, I doubt they ever fold two towels exactly the same way, just to spite me!
So, what happened to me? When did I lose the precision in clothes-folding that made such an impression on Cheryl? I didn’t know how to answer, when asked, and I’ve been wondering about it ever since.
There were times that my reasoning got defensive.
“I’m too busy,” I tell myself, “no time to worry about precisely lined-up corners!” I am not as busy as Cheryl. She works two jobs as an administrator for two separate school systems. She is divorced, like me, so is solely responsible for the maintenance of her home and yard, as I am. I have to admit, she does a better job of it than I do. She also spends more quality time with her children and grandchildren every single month than I do with mine in a full year. In addition, she dates, goes to social events, and plays Words with Friends. “Too busy” does not work in comparison to Cheryl.
“Life is too short,” I say, “to worry about perfectly folded towels!” Yet all the things that have caused me to realize that life is short – the deaths of both parents and several siblings – happened to Cheryl, too. Plus, she had cancer. If I were the cancer survivor, you can bet that I’d be throwing that in her face! With a superior tone, I’d say, “Once you live through cancer, my dear, you realize that life is too short to worry about petty things like towel edges.” But, no. She’s got that one cornered, too.
So, without defensiveness, what has happened to me? When, exactly, did I quit caring, and why? It has been on my mind quite a bit since the question was posed. I don’t like to think that my standards have gone out the window. Could it be something else?
I do not have, in my adult life, a “clothes-folding table” like I used when I was growing up. Actually, I have that exact table now, but it sits in the dining room, far from the laundry area, and is generally loaded with a vase of flowers, a couple candles, and whatever paperwork I am currently working on. I fold clothes using the surface of the top of the washing machine. A much smaller space. That could be a reason.
Yesterday, a beautiful, breezy warm day for putting laundry on the clothesline, I thought of another. Though I tighten my clotheslines regularly, the lines still sag with the weight of the wet laundry. It causes things to dry slightly misshapen. Because I dry my towels outside, they do not have corners that will line up. So there! Unless or until I learn that Cheryl also has a clothesline, and dries her towels outside, and still manages perfectly aligned corners…that is my answer to what happened to me!