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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Monday, April 13, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 22-A: "The Laundry Chute"

When we moved into the little brick house in Roseville in 1961, I was 5; Dave was 7; Paul was 8; and Kathy was 9. The layout of the house was simple (and nearly identical to all the other houses that lined the rows of streets).

From the front door, we stepped into a small 4'-by-4' landing with a coat closet to the right (behind the open door). Just a few feet ahead was a half-wall (with open shelves going to the ceiling) that separated the landing from 10' square space between the front door and the kitchen doorway. Mom called this area the dining room in hopes of someday having a table to put there, but the truth is it was not separated from the living room and functioned as such during the ten years when we all squeezed around the Formica table in the kitchen.

To the left of the landing, taking a small step up, was the area that was the living room with a big picture window facing the street. At the far end of the small living room was an entrance to a hall, which was actually not a hall but a hub of five doors a few feet apart. The first door on the left was a linen closet; the second was the bathroom; and then completing the hub were the three bedroom doors.

Built into the wall between the first and second bedrooms was the small metal door of a laundry chute, a feature we kids, at least, had never seen before. Every house in our neighborhood had the same little door in the same place for dropping dirty clothes to the basement, but we found all sorts of other uses for that hole in the wall:
It served as a "walkie-talkie" between floors; as an eves-dropping "bug" to listen in on conversations below; as a way to "put toys away" without having to walk to the toy box; and my favorite use of all: the little door was a make-shift guitar of sorts. Just inside, it had a long coil spring that could be strummed with a range of two or three notes (depending on how far I opened the door). The long shaft was a great resonator, allowing the music to be heard throughout the house. Through the years, my devoted practice on this unusual instrument brought hours of personal enjoyment for me and hours of irritation to the rest of my family.

For more years than we'd ever admit, my brothers and I were not very good at judging when our clothes were dirty, so we rarely used the chute for its intended purpose. That was Mom's department. She'd scrounge around under our beds and on our closet floor and shove armfuls of her most-dreaded chore down that little hole. (Kathy, our model sibling, had a little hamper in her room, but we boys pretty much used the “available space” approach.)
Mom hated doing the laundry just about as much as we hated hanging up our clothes, and unfortunately, the chute became a case of "Out of sight; out of mind.” Day after day, she made clothes disappear down the chute without actually facing the pile of work waiting in the basement. (The laundry chute, by the way, was no where near the laundry room itself, which was under the kitchen at the opposite end of the small house. So unless she chose to walk to the far side, she could avoid the pile indefinitely.)

Sometimes in a busy spell, laundry day would be completely forgotten, and the pile of clothes downstairs became so high that my brothers and I could play in it much as we would a hay loft. We thought nothing of the fact that we were romping around in each other dirty things. After all, the stuff wasn't THAT dirty (usually) and there is, in fact, a pleasant lived-in smell from mostly cotton things--towels and sheets and shirts and such--that have been wrapped around a family. For some reason our neighborhood friends found our laundry "hay stack" a far less inviting place to play. At any rate, it was typically after we boys made a fine mess of the pile and clothes were strewn all over the basement, that Mom remembered she was a week or two behind.

Laundry is perhaps a Mom's most thankless job (compared to meals, for instance, which are audibly appreciated). To make matters worse, this was before clothes were "wrinkle free," and doing the laundry also meant ironing most of the items that came out of the dryer (or off the line as Dad preferred). Mom had a pop bottle with a sprinkle-cork full of water that she used to dampen shirts and dresses. She'd first sprinkle, roll, and stack each item in a pyramid on her old Duncan Phyfe, and then she'd spend hours downstairs ironing until one-by-one the rolled things hung crisply overhead on hangers.
Poor Mom. Keeping up with the six of us was sometimes more than she could manage. As kids, we never seemed to mind, but unfortunately (at least when it came to laundry) we also never seemed to help—not until we were teens and started caring about what we wore. So by the time we owned the property and were in the process of building a new home we pretty much did our own laundry as needed, process that usually began with us digging through the pile of clothes under the chute just like when we were little. Only then did we begin to realize how gracious and grueling it was the Mom’s of the world to do their whole family’s laundry week after week.

Sometime after the 1950's, laundry chutes were no longer included in home design. (They were deemed a fire hazard in that they allow a basement blaze quick access to the upper floors, a fact my brother Dave later learned in the summer of 2007.) But growing up, we thought our clothes chute (like the milk chute by the back door) was a marvelous opening to dimensions just beyond our reach.

For nine years, my brothers and I shared the bedroom to the right of the laundry chute, and it is in that room that our story picks up in Chapter 22-B "Three Peas in a Pod."
This chapter was revised late Tuesday night, April 14, 2009.


Anonymous quilly said...

My nephews used to drop their little parachuted army guys through the third floor door of the laundry bin and stick their heads in to watch the plastic GI Joes float to the basement. Once they'd all landed safely in the laundry, the boys would run down all the stairs and retrieve them.

One day I caught the older boy holding the younger boy by the feet while the rest of him was in the laundry shoot. "Lower!" He yelled. "I can't reach yet!" I hauled the child up -- much to his disgust. It seems a parachute had snagged on a rough piece of wood and poor ol' Joe was handing in limbo.

This particular day there was NO LAUNDRY in the basement, so I dropped an apple down the chute to show the boys what their heads would look like if they tried that again. The apple also had the benefit of dislodging Joe -- and after that my sister was always finding bits of fruit in the laundry, because the boys wanted to see it splat.

14/4/09 2:57 AM  
Blogger the walking man said...

That is too funny quilly!

Tom...you have described to a T my house. 'Cept the laundry chute is in the bathroom, (second door in the hub next to the closet.)

We just started using it for laundry again, don't ask me why, I am not in charge of such things but we also use it to route the hose and cord that we use to pump gray laundry water up to the first floor to use for flushing the toilet.

It seems that laundry chutes have never been for "just" laundry.

14/4/09 4:18 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I used to wish I could fit in our laundry chute (as I could our milk chute), but it was narrower than the one in the picture (which I do think my brother could have put me in like your nephews did).
I had one of the plastic parachute guys and I did try it out in the laundry chute, but the parachute would not open.

Am I write? I suspect your chute is narrower than the one in the picture, too. Ours fit between the studs of the wall so I'm guessing it was about 3.5 by 15 inches. The one in my brother Dave's house ran to the basement beside the chimney(Mt. Clemens circa 1910) was bigger, and it was how his house fire got so quickly to the second story of the house.)

14/4/09 4:46 AM  
Anonymous Christal said...

Wow, I am amazed at how the memories of childhood came rushing back with this post of yours.... My lil sister was around 4 and a dare devil of sorts, she climed right inside... she was gonna slide on down! Needless to say the Fire department had to come and Dad and Mom were NOT happy!

14/4/09 11:00 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I love your creativity and ability to entertain yourself with whatever is available. The Laundry Chute provided many hours of entertainment and fun for you and your brothers. That is such a lost art. My time spent with the preschool lately reinforces this. The students don't know how to play and have to be taught...too many DVD's and video games.

I hope to catch up on your previous chapters. I have a few days free this week. What happened to retirement? I miss my blogging friends. God has a plan and I feel like He is using me and my retirement right now...I just need to be patient. Happy Easter to you and your family...you are a blessing to me!

14/4/09 11:22 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Wow! You and Quilly's kin were even more adventurous me and mine when it came to the chute.

It's been ages! So glad to see your husband made it safely home from Iraq. Hope you're feeling better soon.

I know you've been swamped. Glad to see you in the neighborhood.

My brother Dave has actually given a lesson to his middle school students on the very topic of imaginative play for the same reasons you mention. I really don't think we educators have begun to assess the unintended consequences of "technology" and virtual reality as it pertains to the lost arts of play. That would be an interesting research topic, but short of that I think our anecdotal observation is spot on: There is a direct correlation between decreased "imaginative play" and "media overload."

14/4/09 11:32 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Spammers not welcome!

8/5/09 7:11 AM  
Anonymous momprenuerplus9 said...

Great story! I found your blog as I was writing my own modern day laundry chute story and I was trying to find the correct spelling (shoot vrs chute). I have 9 children and my two 2 y/o's just recently discovered our laundry chute...the rest is written in my blog!
I can totally relate to your Mom!

14/11/09 2:17 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Hello guest Mom,
Don't feel bad. I had to look it up when I wrote it, too. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

14/11/09 11:03 PM  

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