Joanne Palmer: Our lady of the Perpetual Washing Machine


There's a place I go to worship every morning. The windowless room is quiet with creamy white walls. As soon as I cross the threshold a feeling of hope comes over me. Maybe today will be the day I triumph over dirt. I stand in front of my washer and dryer to make an offering. Plink. In go the new khaki pants I bought for my son. He didn't even make it to the car before the dog jumped on him with her wet paws. Pif! Paisley boxers. Mmmmf! Thick ski socks. Thunk! Camo pants, camo jacket, camo T-shirt, the fashion of choice for fourth-grade boys. As the water rises, I add detergent and make my plea, "Oh great Tide, please do what the ads promise. Get these stains out."

I'm weird. I spend more time in the laundry room than any other room in the house. There are only two of us, nevertheless I do at least one load of laundry every day.

I like to wash, dry, but not fold. From the dryer, the clothes go onto my bed. When it's time for bed, I move the lump to my desk chair. In the morning the lump returns to my bed. Eventually, I sort out my son's clothes and put them on top of his dresser. Every now and then our clothes actually see the inside of the closet.

Before I start a load, I love to inspect my son's pockets for the treasures he hides. Rocks seem to be a particular favorite. Even in winter he loads his pockets with pebbles, striped stones and occasionally a heavy round rock that bulges against the fabric. Cargo pants can hold lots of tiny Lego pieces, army guys poised for battle and candy wrappers. Sometimes I find screws, a baggie or an expired invitation to a birthday party stuffed in there. My pockets, on the other hand, hold utilitarian items like Kleenex, coins and maybe a scrap of paper with someone's phone number scribbled on it.

I am not a slave to fashion. I start the day in my warm dog-walking fleece. Unless I have an appointment with an actual human being, the fleece doubles as work wear. My son, however, at age 9 is increasingly fashion conscious. The other day, I caught a glimpse of his boxers peeking out above his pants on the way to the car.

Me: "Ah, Peter, those pants are falling off you."

Son: (indignantly) "Mom! I'm low riding."

Me: "Yeah, well, ride right back into the house for a belt."

Son: "Mom! (stamps foot) I have to set an example for the 'mini-me's' at school."

Me: "Get going."

Even the dog worships the laundry room. It is her sacred hiding spot, the den she retreats to whenever snow slides off the roof or fireworks erupt. I know this because I came home one day to discover everything-laundry basket, detergent, spot remover, fabric softener-upside down or cockeyed. The dog hair on top of the washer was the first clue. Next, I followed a trail of blood into my bedroom. There sat the four-legged tsunami that had blown through the laundry room holding up a bloody front paw. Scared of something she jumped on top of the washing machine, tearing a toenail in the process.

I have a deep reverence for my washer and dryer. I bow before them every morning. I'm not sure other mothers feel this way, but for those of us who do I propose a saint be named after us. I'd proudly wear her medal on a necklace and call it, Our Lady of the Perpetual Washing Machine.

Contact Joanne Palmer at


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