Laundromat Girl

A small hand clutching a magazine appeared in front of the page of the book I was reading.  Caught up in the story as I was, it startled me a little.  “Read.” A tiny blonde haired girl told me.

 Taking the magazine I could see there wasn’t much worth reading, it was mostly pictures in advertisements, and gently I told her that.  She wasn’t having anything of it.  “Read.”  She repeated.

 So I read.  Flipping through pages I read headlines, describing the photos, laughing at stockinged feet perched delicately on outstretched hands.  They were very silly pictures, she agreed.

 From across the laundromat her father called out her name demanding she come back over there.  With a grin and a twinkle in her eye, she giggled “no,” got down from the chair and ran over to the magazine rack to take out a new magazine.

 Father came over to the stand and carried her, kicking and yelling, back to the table where momma was folding the newly dried clothes.  Smiling I went back to my book, with memories of a not very long ago time flooding my mind.  The little girl now twirling pirouettes in front of her dad, blonde curls bouncing to music only she could hear echoed my own little girl whose spontaneous back walkovers in similar situations elicited smiles from strangers. 

 Once upon a time, many years ago, I was a tomboy.  When I was small it was the 1960s, and my father insisted on buying me frilly dresses to make me more girly; I was no bigger than the laundromat girl when my dad wound up running down the street after an Easter hat I’d been wearing that had blown off in a chilly Ottawa wind.  That’s one of my earliest memories, a filament of nothing in a mountain of life.

 My sister asked me recently why I had gotten my tongue stuck on a church handrail – I told her there was a really pretty icicle just begging to be licked.  She remembered the priest running out with hot water to free me and all the blood when I yanked it off finally; she asked me why I would do such a thing to which I replied, “I was 3 and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  That’s all.”  Now 50, my sister bought me a comical magnetic decal of a guy with his tongue stuck on a pole.  It resides on my refrigerator as a reminder that even after all these years a tiny bit of that three year old girl lives on.

 Lost in my chapter, laundry still swirling in that great big dryer, the bouncy blonde returned with two magazines in hand.  “Read!”  She told me, more emphatic this time.  She held one magazine and I the other, and this one had much more interesting pictures.  There was a story about puzzles and magnificent pictures that came from them when they were done.  I didn’t read the article to her, instead, like I did with my daughter when she was small – I made up a story to go with the pictures.  “Aren’t they wonderful?”  I asked her.  She grinned.

 We were laughing about foxes on the prairies when momma yelled from her piles of laundry, demanding daughter come back.  Dad looked at me, half dubious, half nervous and insisted she come back.  Mom promised a treat and off she went as quickly as our great big black lab does at the sound of a Tim Horton’s doughnut bag.  I put down my magazine and went back to reading.

 Two or three paragraphs later, I was absorbed in Bruges, 1931 when I heard a disgruntled whining and mom saying, “There’s treats at home, we’re almost done.”  My mommy radar went up – this little girl must be their first.  It doesn’t take too many times offering something that isn’t there to learn it’s not a good idea to say something like that.  I tried never to do that, having had a dad who in happier moments would promise the moon and not remember he’d said that – like the violin I so wanted in the window of the music store in Billings Bridge – I promised myself I would never do it but sometimes I slipped up.  Life’s like that.  As an adult, you think: meh, okay.  As a kid, it’s the end of the world almost.  I have never forgotten that feeling.

 I dreaded McDonald’s commercials when my kids were small, especially with my son who tended take things literally when they advertised endlessly for happy meal toys.  Since he didn’t take no for an answer, at least not nicely, I tried to avoid them if there was something he especially liked.  Still I can’t help laughing when I think of the time when he was a toddler and my daughter, 5 years older and I were standing in line at a 401 Mickey D’s somewhere between Toronto and Ottawa.  At the time I was determined enough to try traveling from TO to OT with two small kids by myself, and the traffic was awful.  All of us needing a bathroom break and something to eat, we stopped. So did everyone else cursing the traffic.  While in the line up my tiny boy noticed a stand with a display of all the toys for the happy meals inside.  Excitedly he pointed them out to me – daughter and I told him there was no specific toy he could claim, it would have to be a surprise, and he was good with that.  What he wasn’t good with was the very long line up.

 Daughter was too young to send her off to a table with brother in tow, so I insisted they stay in line with me.  Slowly we inched up, daughter amusing son for some of it, me carrying him until he got too squirmy to hold in my arms.  Letting him go he wasn’t too impressed to still be three or four people from food.  As he did his toddler complaining I noticed a lady in the line beside me, all dolled up in a fur coat and jewels – no doubt going to a wedding or something, clearly unimpressed with my children.  She eyed me up and down, glaring at one and the other (daughter was laughing at my son’s silly antics) and I told my children we were almost there, settle down please.  She turned away.  Phew.

 The line inched closer when I heard people loudly whispering around me.  We were one person away from the goal when I glanced over at the befurred lady who for some reason was staring at me with an expression of horror.  I looked down to see son standing there in his glory, pants in one hand, underwear in the other, stark naked.  Okay, son, I said, time to get dressed, hurriedly putting his pants back on.  We were served quickly after that and the whole time I smiled, holding my laughter until we got back to the car.  Son, I will always thank you for doing what, in my faraway three year old mind, I so dearly wanted to do.

 The preschooler in the laundromat was crying, demanding her treat.  I glanced at my drying to see if it was still turning. It was. Mother told daughter to stop – loudly. Father looked at me with concern.  He needn’t.  Long ago I promised I would never, ever say anything to parents of a crying child in a public place.  I’ve had more than my fair share of people telling me to get my kids under control, even though there was a medical reason why for it, more than once.

 I’ll never forget my daughter being horrified at something I said when she was a teenager:  “Mommm!”  She exclaimed and I laughed.  My circle had turned, as it always does. 

 In 1994 my dad got cancer; make him laugh he said, and I did even though my heart was breaking.  Still, in the darkness, he brought me his light when he was with me in Toronto at the scary old hospital he’d been sent to for a major operation.  He was painfully thin. In his room the night before a stalwart nurse came in and demanded a sample. “What sample?” my dad replied and she explained he had to give her a urine sample.  She brusquely told him he needed to give her a bottle, he told her there was none, and she exclaimed, “Well I’ll get you one!”

 My dad, grinning, said, “Well, if you’re getting me bottle, there better be scotch in it!” 

 The nurse’s expression is one I’ll always treasure; when she slammed the door my dad and I broke out laughing in a way we were never able to experience again.  In that one moment, I saw the twinkle of the little boy inside.

 Long live the little child within.

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(c) Catherine M. Harris, 2013.  All rights reserved.

Republication in any form must be on the express permission of the owner, Catherine M. Harris.

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