Saturday, September 2, 2006

You Can't Do That

A meditation upon: Folding sox

Saturday must be wash day for most Jesuits. This morning there were a lot of folks lining up to use the washers in my new Jesuit community here on the campus of Loyola Chicago. Of course, in my house we don’t actually line up to use the laundry room, we just bring our baskets downstairs and set them among other baskets waiting for a free machine. When someone’s wash is done, of course the brother Jesuit is not there to empty his washer and throw his clothes into the drier. Nor is he there later to empty that drier and fold or remove his clothes. So, invariably, one other kind brother does it for him (else a machine would never be “truly free” to use by another).

Anyway, this morning, one kind soul had the goodness of heart to fold my laundry. How nice, I thought, until I noticed (to my horror) that the socks had been rolled in that “ball” fashion. You know how that is … one sock is crumpled into the other, whose elastic neck keeps it tightly bundled into a small roll-puff the size of a grapefruit. I hate that. The elastic of the one sock gets stretched too far out (and stays that way for about a week) so that when you put it on later, it “feels” used … it does not have the tight freshness of a new clean sock. It feels like someone’s been wearing it. It is stretched out of shape more than the other one. Yuck!

Then, as I carried my basket back upstairs to hurriedly undo the little sock-balls … I started thinking back on how I learned how to fold socks in the first place. Simple. My mom. The saintly mother of fourteen children (see previous post) had her own science of daily washing laundry that we must have all picked up from her like some genetic instinct or primal theory of life. Then I began to ponder the mere miracle that doing laundry for a huge family must have been. As I unfolded, I thought, “How did that woman do this?!”

After mom did the laundry, she brought several large baskets up to her bedroom to set out all our clothes on her bed in little rows of piled clothing, lined up in order of age. This row of shirts, pants, undies and socks for Billy, the next row for Pat, Jim, and then that row up there, along the pillows, the clothes for Steve. Later, we had to come into our parents’ room to collect what we owned and place it neatly in our own bureau drawers.

It seemed easy back then when I was ten, but now … I imagine what a mystery it must have been to manage that feat (no pun intended). I have nine brothers. That’s a lot of piles of laundry, and my folks’ beds weren’t that big. How in the world did we figure out whose clothes were whose? Shirts and pants were easy, I guess. Underwear (all tightie whities) had an initial written on the tag; but the big mystery was socks! How could my mom ever tell whose sox were whose? Something in my memory tells me that we all had a different color: blue, brown, green, argyle, whatever. Maybe mine were always black, explaining perhaps why I was attracted to the priesthood. I do recall owning a lot of black socks. Indeed I never had white socks because I had to wear goofy corrective leather shoes, and white socks only went with sneakers. Something tells me that any white tube sox were arranged (and assigned) according to the colored stripe on top: Skip = red, Tom = green, Ed = blue. Who knows. I invite my siblings to relay what they remember about this mysterious science of family laundry to me, as I may add it to the story. It really makes for a great tale, and even better memories.

My socks are unbundled now and nicely folded into my Jesuit drawer. Earlier, I was caught between 1) complaining about Jesuit community life, and 2) being thankful that this good soul had the courtesy to fold my laundry. I eventually fell into the latter response and was moved to share that moment of grace here. Thank you, … whoever. Thank you, mom. And I suppose I agree with my inner voice of justice that tells me, “If you don’t want your socks stretched out of proportion … get your bare feet down to the laundry room to fold your own ‘darn’ socks.”