It’s laundry day afternoon, and my mother and her sister are folding sheets. They each hold one end of the sheet, fold it lengthwise in half, and then in quarters. In my eternal quest for adventure, I enter the room, see the sheet held aloft like a bridge, and run shrieking under it. I turn and make another pass as my mother and aunt wave their arms up and down, making the sheet billow over me, which whips me into a frenzy of laughter and more shrieking until my mother decrees that it’s time to stop. But experience has taught me that where one sheet is being folded there is likely a second one, so I hang around, hoping for more.
Laundry day again. Years have passed, and this time I am my mother’s helper. Folding sheets with her is a kind of foxtrot, highly choreographed and with her in the lead. We fold the sheet in half, in quarters, and finally in eighths, at which point she gives me a nod and we both give it a tug to get rid of any wrinkles. I have to make sure I tug at the same exact time as she does and hold on to the sheet firmly, or it will fly out of my hands and touch the floor, which my mother hates. After the tugging, I step towards my mother and hand her my end of the sheet. The responsibility for the two final folds lies with her, as does the coda of stacking and stowing it in the closet.
Laundry day again, and now I’m in charge. But I’m married and there is no other woman in the house to help with the folding, so my daughters never know the joys of running under sheets. I still fold them faithfully, though without the benefit of that masterful tug. Also, I now have to deal with that American invention, the fitted bottom sheet, which offers some advantages while one is in bed, but detracts from the aesthetic pleasure of a stack of sheets folded as neatly and precisely as puff pastry dough.
After years of meekly folding sheets and pillowcases and doing my level best with fitted bottom sheets, I switched to duvets, whose covers offer their own difficulties and rewards. One hot summer afternoon, struggling with a load of bedding warm from the dryer, I was suddenly seized by a kind of madness. I grabbed a plastic trash bag from the kitchen, scrunched one of those annoying bottom sheets into a ball, and dropped it into the bag. I then proceeded to scrunch and roll two duvet covers and four king-size pillowcases and jam them into the bag, which I then stowed in a corner of the bedroom closet.
What I want to know is, am I the only reasonably civilized person who scrunches and rolls her bedding instead of piously folding it and stacking it on a shelf?
A similar evolution took place with my husband’s underwear. In my early married days, awash in housewifely fervor, I would shake out each undershirt, lay it face down on the bed, fold back the sleeves, then fold the garment in thirds and stack it in his drawer. But time passed, and somehow I went from folding undershirts and ironing (yes, ironing) handkerchiefs to rolling the undershirts more or less sloppily and folding the handkerchiefs un-ironed. And then one day I found myself grabbing fourteen undershirts and fourteen handkerchiefs out of the dryer and stuffing them helter-skelter into the drawer (I did put the handkerchiefs in a corner of the drawer—I’m not a total savage).
Did my husband repine? Not a bit, and neither did anybody else, as far as I know. But hearing a friend recently describe how she folds and stacks her spouse’s underwear threw a pall of remorse over my slatternly laundry practices.
Still, I must own to a real exhilaration about all that carefree rolling and scrunching and bunging into bags and drawers, and these days I walk away from my laundry chores with a feeling not unlike the wild abandon I felt as a child, running and shrieking under my mother’s flapping sheets.