Friday, April 29, 2011

The Waterville Bag Lady, Summer 1988

I suppose the title of this post contains a pejorative term. My apologies right up front to any readers whose consciences are more tender than is mine.

Today while I was looking for images of famous paintings to use for my Poems and Paintings blog, I stumbled upon a post on Natalija Creates, titled The Black Sack. (The blog author doesn't appear to have her posts individually archived, but scroll down to October 6, if you want to read it.)  The Black Sack brought back to me a funny memory and inspired my thoughts for today.  Not really deep thoughts, mind you, but hopefully pleasanly diverting.

When I was 19, I spent the summer in Waterville, WA.  Although I spent my first six years in a little tiny town of Withrow, half an hour or so from Waterville, God saw fit to move me to the more urbanized Puget Sound area for the remaining years of my childhood.  This abrupt move left me with a heart that pined for things rural.  I wanted to know small town America.  I wanted to know the relatives who lived such a different life than my suburban Puyallup experience.  I wanted to ride horses and drive a wheat truck to the elevator.   So Aunt Elinor helped me to arrange a summer in Waterville.

As it turned out, I never did get to drive a wheat truck.  But I did get to climb up into the top of a wheat truck as it slowly drove along beside the combine. I got to drink in the aroma of the fresh wheat as it tumbled out of the doohickey thing.  It was a glorious fragrance.  Almost as good as a crispy loaf of bread fresh from the oven.

I got to drive a Caterpillar style tractor pulling a roller, while helping my Cousin Paul build an earth dam.  Unlike the land here, which is so flat the farmers must create lowspots to direct the standing water off the fields, landowners near Waterville must use dams and terraces.  Although they don't get much rain there, the melting snows each spring would otherwise gradually pull all the soil down the coulees into the Columbia River.  And so they dam and terrace.

I got to work for my Cousin Chip at Uncle Chris's Texaco, filling up customer's tanks and washing their windows.   I met many tourists who were passing through along US Hwy 2.  It was fun to visit with people who were enjoying their road trips and visiting distant places.  Or sometimes places not-so-distant. 

It was fun to meet local people who would say, "You must be Alfred's girl?"  Or, "You may not know me, but I knew you when you were knee high to a grasshopper."  Or, "Does anyone still call you Snickels?"

Only people from Waterville, who knew Alfred's girl when she was knee high to a grasshopper.

Best of all it was fun to get to know a little better, all my Aunts and Uncles and Cousins and Second Cousins and other Various and Assorted Relations.

During that summer, I lived in a little apartment that had 1950s furniture and white metal kitchen cupboards.  It was very cool. 

But it didn't have laundry facilities, so I would haul my laundry around the corner to the laundro-mat.  I was accustomed to hauling laundry and paying for washing, having lived in a dorm for many years of school and in an apartment for a couple years after that.  But as any laundro-mat user could probably attest, the difficulty comes with knowing what to wear while doing laundry.  Not that there is a certain laundro-mat trendiness against which one must measure one's attire.  But really, when you want all your clothes to be clean, what do you wear to wash them.  You might only do one load each of light and dark.  And you really, really want all your clothes clean when you're done.   You can't very well hang out in the buff while waiting for your laundry (no doubt reading the Watchtower Society mags that inhabit every laundro-mat I've ever been privileged to make us of).

One fashion option is to do a dark load one day, while wearing light clothes; and then do a light load another day while wearing dark clothes.  Another option is to wear something totally gross that you'd never need to wear any other time, and do both loads at the same time. 

I recall one particular occasion when I chose the second method.  And here's where I'll segue back to the Black Sack post.  I chose a faded black T-shirt and a straight black skirt.  The black skirt was really not a gross item.  But it was something I didn't use for working at the Texaco or driving a Caterpillar style tractor, so I didn't need to wash it that particular day. 

The skirt was really very cool.  It was a vintage number I had picked up on a dime, so it was a bit of a prized possession.  It was straight and black and hit just above the knees.  The fabric was a brocade with a leaf design, a bit satiny alternating with a more matte finish.  I really liked that skirt.  But it was, perhaps, a little dressy for the laundro-mat. 

I remember flopping my hair up into what today my daughters would call a sloppy bun.  It seems to be quite the thing now.  But during those former days of tidier hairstyles, it might have been a little unsightly. 

I grabbed my bundle of clothes and headed around the corner to pop the dirty stuff in the wash.  I must have had to cross a street, too, because I remember waiting at the corner for a minute, letting the cars pass.  But perhaps I had just stopped to enjoy the fresh air, dressed in my "doing wash" get up.  I don't really remember.  But I do remember waiting at the corner.

Later that week, my cousin Kelly and I were talking.  I don't remember how it came up, but she mentioned seeing this funny looking lady dressed in an ugly black dress.  When I asked a little further about when and where, we determined that this funny looking lady was me, in my laundro-mat attire, carrying my bundle of clothes.

"I thought it was a bag lady, Mary!" 

Yes, we got a good laugh out of that one.  It still brings a smile to my face today.

The moral of the story: Be careful when you choose to wear black.  Perhaps it's only because, as the author of the Natalija Creates, The Black Sack, post claims, you don't feel like presenting any particular fashion statement.  It might also be because you are headed out to do wash. 

But either way, it might lead others to the mistaken impression that you are an itinerant bag lady wandering the sleepy streets of home town America.

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