As I mentioned in one of my tributes to Bonnie Howe Behunin, my cousin wrote several poems about her parents. I shared the poem she wrote to honor her father, my Uncle Pete, and promised to include lines dedicated to Aunt Ida, too. Actually, there are several poems about Bonnie’s mama, and it is too hard to decide on one because each reveals a different facet of this kind woman who was large in stature and heart. (In fact, Meryl Streep’s physical appearance as Julia Child in Julie and Julia reminded me of Aunt Ida’s height and breadth.)
As I reread the tributes, some verses stimulated my own memories, and I realized that’s another reason I feel compelled to share Bonnie’s work. For example, the following poem talks of a time LONG past, but many of us can remember that in our childhood, household tasks were backbreaking chores! Take wash day, for example ~ now we can throw a load or two of dirty clothes into the washer and dryer EVERY day, completing the job in under an hour. (I don’t particularly care for that task and have often repeated that I hate to RUIN every day by washing clothes, and so I still leave that chore for Saturdays.) Back in the “olden days,” however, moms NEEDED at least one WHOLE day to process shirts and blouses, pants and skirts, sheets and table cloths through the wringer washer before hanging them on clothes lines strung between poles in every back yard.
I remember our family’s “wash room” was located in the basement, and Connie and I sent our soiled clothes sailing down the laundry chute, that was disguised as a drawer located near the baseboard in the hallway. I was terrified of the washer as I was sure the wringer or the cogs would grab my pudgy little fingers along with the pillow cases and crush them, thus forcing immediate amputation! (Sadly, that horrible scenario actually happened to G.E.’s mom when she was a little girl, causing a life-time of embarrassment for her as she always hid her 1-jointed pinky behind the folds of a hankie.)
Maybe my mom worried about the same thing because I don’t remember helping with the wash as much as I do recall sprinkling and rolling up handkerchiefs and pillow cases after pulling them from the clothes lines. At some point I also learned to iron those items. While none of this may sound the least bit fun, the companionship of working together as mother and daughter is what often lingers in our hearts and minds. Here is Bonnie’s recollection of those days.
~ Bonnie Howe Behunin
Slick and soft, and smelling clean,
The soapy laundry smell
Of when Mom rubbed the extra lotion
From her hands to mine:
Mom and wash day.
A round washtub for soaking clothes,
The agitating, guiding of each piece
Through wringer to the rinse and bluing,
Then to the line.
We brought the clothes in:
Mom piled them, fresh, high in my arms
Until I could not see over
Or breathe past the clean to the sky.
We folded and stacked and finally finished,
Sprinkled the clothes to be ironed tomorrow.
Then Mom shared her lotion,
Cupping my small hands,
First one, then the other
In her big ones.
I think of those nights in my bed
With my hands on my face,
Breathing my mother
As I cling to wash day.