Family

A Clean Finish

Animation by Natalie Matthews-Ramo of a washing machine through the years.
Natalie Matthews-Ramo

Today, with an XL load of gratitude, we remember our beloved washing machine.

We bought you just before our first son was born. This week, the week you were wheeled out of our basement, that son graduates from college. When we bought you at Sears 21 years ago, they were the largest retailer in America. Now they’re No. 23, below Dollar Tree. Your label even says Sears & Roebuck, an old-fashioned partnership now absent from the company’s branding. Your own partnerships with Dryer No. 1 (electric) and Dryer No. 2 (gas) ended when they unceremoniously crapped out way sooner than you ever did. Dryer No. 3 remains in your absence, but as you know has already required the sort of service call that makes one ask the big questions.

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Unlike you, Kenmore Model 110! Through the years, I recall two modest repairs (a belt or something?) amid the otherwise uninterrupted hum of your steady performance. In different laundry rooms you stood—at first behind the accordion door of an apartment’s laundry niche, and once in the dining room of that big old house we rented. What could we do? It was the only place they could put the hookup. You carried it off, wobbling slightly under the high ceilings, with nary a complaint.

You gently washed baby clothes for our three boys who came boom, boom, [long pause] boom. Splattered bibs, sheets sullied by stomach flu, tiny pants with mud ground into the knees—you refreshed them all. In your teens, when many appliances give up the ghost, you were merely hitting your stride with Little League uniforms, soccer kits, school uniforms, ice hockey gear. Even lacrosse shorts, for a sport the youngest one just picked up.

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Plenty of teen boy fashion passed through your turbine, too. Remember the meticulously chosen T-shirts from Hollister cloying with Axe body spray? Then there were the black button-downs ninth-graders insist on wearing (with white ties) to Homecoming, and a daisy chain of novelty socks—argyle, Superman, the pair festooned with bacon strips.

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Of course, you washed the adult clothes, too, but we asked much less of you; teams of scientists have been unable to explain how three children can generate exponentially more laundry than a pair of adults. Perhaps we grown-ups understood that there was a limit to what even you could give. We took the big comforter and the sleeping bags to the laundromat.

You washed gum and ink pens and enough coins to fill a treasury. You sent innumerable socks to the place where lost socks go—or should we blame the dryers? I’m on your side, Model 110. But then we’ve always had a special bond, even though my husband has done an equal amount of laundry over the years. Not that he didn’t care when you expired. He howled about us having to spend the money on a new machine, but I think he was just making his way through the well-known stages of grief. He flatly refused to shop for your replacement (denial).

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I guess we both thought you might keep spinning forever, year after year. Even as you started to show your age, we stayed as loyal to you as you had been to us. We looked the other way when my son’s Homer Simpson pajama pants came out entirely too wet. And on nights when our high school–aged sons were out at football games and backyard bonfires, your spin cycle reverberated through the quiet house like a jet engine powering up for a long flight.

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I wish I could have said a more personal goodbye, but the delivery guys failed to show between 10 and noon. By the time I got back, you were gone. All they left behind was the discarded plastic wrapping from a package of flexible hose.

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And the new washer, of course.

I wonder if you saw one another as you were wheeled out and the new washer was wheeled in. I hope you took it as a nod to your legacy that we replaced you with another Model 110, or more accurately a top-loading, high efficiency, low-water Model 110. Oh, how it clicks and whirrs and chimes a show-offy, electronic purrrring! every time it powers on. The manual seemed to know where I was emotionally and included a page called “What’s new under the lid?” A lot. For all of us.

There’s a “washplate” where the gyrating agitator used to be. I don’t want to make you feel bad, but the new 110 has automatic load size–sensing technology. The manual discourages it, but a medium-size woman could sit inside the drum of our new washer, it’s so huge. In the section called “Normal Sounds You Can Expect,” I learned that it’s OK if, during a cycle, the washing machine goes totally quiet. It’s thinking.

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Not that you weren’t a thinker yourself. You certainly had time for it, all those nights alone in the dark. Sometimes, at the peak of household chaos, we might start a load of wash and then utterly forget about it. You kept our clothes safe until we pulled them out, sniffed the mildew, and washed them again. You expired mid-cycle on a Saturday night, doing what you loved. I’m glad I didn’t overload you on that final wash and don’t even blame you that I had to hand-wring your last load of whites and wet-vac out the water that wouldn’t drain.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like our new Model 110. But I like it in a cautious way, the same way I might feel about a new person my son is dating. Who knows how long it will last? The flash of high technology rarely beats simple, well-engineered machinery. You and I communicated just fine without a lighted digital display, but did I tell you this one has 12 different error codes? Twelve! There’s even a code to tell you there’s something wrong with the error code system. We never got in a mess like that with just a couple of knobs and a toggle, now did we?

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Right now, you can probably tell I feel a little “Ofb”—the code for an off-balance load. I’m absorbing all the changes, I guess. (When I stop to think about it, you’re probably going through some big changes yourself!) Around here, the dirty clothes keep piling up, though not as many as before. Pretty soon, this will be an empty nest, so the new Model 110 will never have it as hard as you did. It could be the heavy scent of this new high-efficiency detergent I had to buy, but I’m misting up a little. Farewell, our first and favorite washing machine. You were really loud and often inefficient, just like family. And just like family, we gave you the clothes off our backs—and you always had ours.

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