Janey is our laundress.
She was my Great Grandma Nanny's laundress during the depression, when my great grandpa was a bankruptcy lawyer. Then Janey was my grandma's laundress, and now she also works for my grandma's three kids. Here's Janey's schedule:


Nanny on Monday, Aunt Judy on Tuesday, Grandma on Wednesday, Uncle Jay on Thursday, and my house on Friday. If we have a big party, Janey helps set up and she serves, but she doesn't clean up. We have to get other people to do that. When she comes to the house, we all kiss her hello, but not until she gets to the kitchen, which is right next to the laundry room. If you try to kiss her right when she walks in the front door, she'll push you aside.
Sometimes I help Janey. She taught me to iron shirts so that the crease is straight down the arm. She taught me to serve from the right and clear from the left. She taught me to put the finger bowl above the butter knife. "Why do we set finger bowls when no one uses them?" I ask her. She says it's because good people have them at the table, and we don't want our guests thinking bad of us. Her grandpa was a slave, in Virginia. She doesn't know any stories, though. I ask her to make one up, so she can tell me, but she says stories are too powerful to just make up.

So I ask her to tell me a story about when she was my age. She tells me when she was my age, her mother worked for Nanny. But Janey's mother got sick, and couldn't go to work any more, so when Janey was just a little older than me, she took over her mother's job.

"Did you play with Grandma sometimes?"

"Oh no. But I did her laundry, and kept her room straightened."

"When you got home from school?"

"No. I never went to school."

"Didn't your parents make you?"

"No Honey, they needed me to work."

I think about Janey missing recess every day because she had to do laundry. I feel sorry for her because her parents were so mean. The next Thursday, I come home after school and I wash all our dirty clothes. Then I iron the shirts, which takes a really long time, because I'm not as fast as Janey. I eat dinner in the laundry room so I can keep ironing, and get peanut butter on the iron, and then there's peanut butter on some shirts, so I rewash those shirts, and I stay up until midnight waiting for them to wash and dry so I can iron those, too.

In the morning, after Mom and Dad go to work, and before Janey gets to our house, I bring all the clean laundry up to the front hall so Janey can see it right away. I line up the shirts in one pile, and pants in another, just like Janey does. And when she walks in the door, she says, "Honey, what's this?"

"I did all the laundry for you so you can go out and play today. Well, you don't have to play. You can just do whatever you want. I did all the laundry myself."

Janey bends down and gives me a huge hug and a kiss, right there in the front hall.

When I get home from school, there are piles of clothes on each of our beds, just like always, and I can see Janey reironed everything.

On My Fifteenth Birthday | Home