The Purple Flower and the Laundromat
posted on 28 April 2017
Last Saturday around noon, I turned onto a narrow street near my home in Fort Worth, but had to pull over almost immediately. I had happened onto the beginning of the March for Science that was headed down the same street in the other direction.
But it was hardly an imposition, because I had in fact been curious about the size and makeup of the crowd. People walked past for the next ten minutes, about a thousand of them, by later estimates. They were young and old, of all races, carrying signs and pushing baby strollers. The throng was peaceful, happy, joyful seeming. Many smiled and said hello to me through my open car window.
Then one woman took a beautiful, fragrant purple flower from a bouquet she carried and handed it to me through the window.
“Something for your trouble,” she said.
The next day, a beautiful Sunday morning, I headed for the laundromat. Our dryer at home has been on the fritz, so for a few weeks, I’ve taken our clothes to the Quick Wash on Vickery Street. In my first few trips, I had been preoccupied and maybe feeling a little imposed upon. I prepared an explanation for why I was hanging out at Quick Wash, in case I ran into someone I knew.
But on Sunday I was in a more reflective mood, I guess. Instead of feeling embarrassed or imposed upon, I made a point of noticing others who were quietly doing their laundry with me.
The middle-aged Hispanic man in the crisp straw cowboy hat.
The young African American couple, he in a skull cap, she in a do-rag.
The younger Hispanic guy in a Cubs ballcap.
The young white woman, with a red-haired boy about three.
The young white guy with a little girl about the same age.
The young mother cleaned up after herself, carefully wiping down the washing machine and folding table when she was done. The young father stepped outside with his daughter to smoke. His eyes were troubled.
Why were those people there on that Sunday morning? Did any of them wonder the same about me? Were they happy?
And though not a word passed among us, I was glad to be one of them as we plugged in our quarters into the washers and tossed sheets of fabric softener with our clothes in the dryers. There was something true about the experience of that place, people from all walks of life coming together to celebrate a ritual of renewal—making clothes clean again. For that hour on Vickery Street, we were all equal, all one.
As I hauled my dry clothes back to my car, it occurred to me that joining the ritual at the laundromat on a beautiful Sunday morning was, in fact, a privilege.