I never knew her name. I only knew her as the laundress lady. She took in laundry from those who were willing to pay to have someone else do their laundry versus doing it themselves.
How is that even a job I often wondered to myself. I wondered a lot about this lady.. everything about her was a mystery to me. I reasoned that anyone would have to be a very busy person to pay her to wash, dry and fold their dirty laundry.
The question I found more intriguing was why her? Who was she, why would she choose this job over all others? Laundering through the hot summer months in a noisy laundromat enduring the endless cycle of changing dirty laundry into clean, fresh & neatly folded can not be the career anyone one would aspire to. So why her…what path lead her to this profession? This and many more such question marinated in my mind throughout my formative years. I never had the courage to even enter the Laundromat on the corner of Allston and Magazine street where she worked let alone ask her name and why she chose to be a Laundress Lady. I think the mystery of it all was more exciting.
I remember the first time I saw her. I had stopped to wait for cars to pass by before crossing to shop for milk at Cumberland Farms. She’d stepped outside the hot laundromat and stood staring up at the cool blue sky, stretching her arms out wide as if preparing to take flight.
She was a classic beauty, tall, fit, and vivacious. I stood staring transfixed wishing I was a person so busy that I would have need of her services. Then reality broke the moment at the thought of her having to handle my underwear and with that horrible image taking place in my mind, I moved quickly across the street. But the laundress lady stay in my imagination throughout the day. The best way to describe what I felt is thunder-bolted or love at 1st sight.
I’d always been a runner growing up and the bridge to bridge loops along the Charles River were my favorite. On any given day crowds of runners, walkers, bikers and tourists track these pathways. Something about the Charles draws people to it …The song “Dirty Water” by the Standells captures the essence of it…..
Yeah, down by the river- Down by the banks of the river Charles – That’s where you’ll find me
Along with lovers, muggers, and thieves – Well, I love that dirty water – Oh, Boston, you’re my home
One afternoon I was cruising along the river running between the Cottage Farm Bridge (BU Bridge) and the MIT Bridge (Massachusetts Ave) and I spotted the Laundress Lady on a cruiser style bike coming towards me. I picked up the pace, not sure why exactly other than to impress her I suspect. As she approached I could see her smile and as we passed she said “hello” which took me by surprise. Many steps later, I blurted out an adolescently awkward “hi” knowing it was much too late.
As I ran alone I began to wonder ….did she catch me staring at her the other day? OMG…how embarrassing… she caught me and probably knows what I was thinking… What was I thinking? I don’t remember thinking exactly as much as I remember feeling. I’m going to have change my run routine and to start shopping for milk at Stop and Shop now ….this is so embarrassing. But somehow whatever my schedule happened to be we always seemed to cross each others paths and exchange hello’s.
Sometime later that summer I stopped seeing the Laundress Lady. I became curious and mustered enough courage to pass by the outside of the laundromat and peek through the window. I could see her working at the folding counter but noticed that she had her arm in a sling supporting a cast. Deep waves of sympathy and curiosity flooded my mind. How could I be feeling such strong emotions for someone I barely even knew…. I made it my business to find out what had happen to her…
Freddies Coffee shop was next door to the laundromat and that is where I had coffee and a donut almost every morning on my way during the school. Everyone knew that If there was something you wanted to know about the neighborhood you had choices Freddies Coffee shop was the best but Frank the barber was the next best place to go. Because Freddies was adjacent to the laundromat and I didn’t need a haircut, I took my chances at Freddies. It didn’t take me long to get the story out of one of the regulars Billy Stafford. I worked for him as a painter during the summers and he and I were pals. Billy told me she collided with someone along the river way which resulted in her broken arm. He told me to be weary of those kooks out there along the river they are all high on something…. He also added that she lived in one of the houses behind the laundromat and then became curious about my interest in her ….
He backed off after either seeing my face turning red as a stop sign or my lightning quick pivot quickly to make him back off. I realized then that my curiosity was more than just curiosity. I also realized I was more comfortable with the unknown than with the known. The unknown granted more freedom to my imagination whereas, the known only lead to something less than what I could conjure in my mind. Sometimes a story idea is like a corn kernel… I can have it, see it, wonder about it, but once heat is applied ..it pops and then it’s done. I suppose that’s why I never entered the heat of that laundromat… I wasn’t ready for it to my feelings for the Laundress Lady to end.
I never knew her name, but what I do recall was how beautiful she was and how she made me feel… and sometimes that’s enough for any kid dealing with love at first sight.
Thanks for reading…