“We do not remember days. We remember moments.” Cesare Pavese, Italian writer
Walking up the stairs, holding a basket of clean whites, I wondered how many loads of laundry I’ve washed in my life. Nine? Ten thousand? What laundry soap did I use in 1982? What brand of washer did I have in 1999? Beats me. What I remember about laundry, though, are the bright lights of the laundromat that spilled out onto the sidewalk at 10 p.m., the only time in the day I had to wash clothes, and especially my waitress uniform, when I was first on my own – seventeen years old and living in a studio apartment on Phillips Avenue in Sioux Falls. I remember the tingle that crept up my spine when I walked down the concrete stairs to do laundry in the dingy basement of the farmhouse, cobwebs in the stone-walled corners and a lone sixty-watt bulb hanging on a braided cord from the six-foot beamed ceiling. I remember my grandchildren sitting, mesmerized, in front of the dryer watching their clothes rise and drop, rise and drop, and giggling every time a pair of underwear appeared in the glass window. I remember the smell of freshly laundered sheets, the feel of a blanket straight out of the dryer, and the satisfaction of laying down a clean dog bed in the corner of the kitchen.
There’s no way can I recall every bathroom or kitchen sink I’ve brushed my teeth, but I remember the feel of my father holding my chin with one hand while teaching me how to brush my teeth with his other. We used Colgate tooth powder in those days. He’d sprinkle a little into my hand and I’d wet the bristles of my toothbrush and rub them into my palm, creating a runny paste. The taste was not minty like toothpastes today, but it tried to be something pleasant, unlike the salty, bitter taste of baking soda, which I tried once when I was on a “natural toothpaste” kick.
I don’t remember everything I’ve baked, but I remember how kind Mr. and Mrs. DeSchepper were when I brought them an angel food cake I made for them when I was ten years old, only instead of using egg whites, I used a egg yolks and the cake was the weight of a boulder and only three inches tall. They each ate a piece, raved at how delicious it was, and thanked me. My mom, when she asked me where all the eggs went, didn’t scold me when I told her I’d used them to make an angel food cake. She only asked me to re-read the recipe directions.
Maybe it’s because I am fifty eight and my hair has turned gray and I’m afraid that one day I’ll forget that I’m holding these moments closer to my heart. Maybe it’s a side effect of the pandemic and divisive politics that has worn me down and caused me to seek shelter in the moments most tender and delightful, moments that don’t make my stomach lurch or my eyes squint or my shoulders bend forward in despair.
I know it can be just as easy, if not easier sometimes, to remember bad moments, sad moments, angry, frustrating, and frightful moments. If that’s you, if you are struggling to find solace, think about the laundry. Think about brushing your teeth or baking a cake. Maybe, like me, you’ll find that some of your best memories are found in the mundane moments of everyday life.