This is the other piece I submitted in the writing competition:
The Laundry God
In my utility room - just over there by the sink and held in the tiny gap twixt broom cupboard and wall - is a small black and white photograph. It is of my father.The picture was taken some time ago in the early 1980s and marks his retirement. It’s an informal shot; after a lifetime’s teaching he’s casually dressed, perhaps in anticipation of leisurely days ahead. The local newspaper printed it alongside some words about years of loyal service, the love of a good woman and happy families – the usual platitudes. We didn’t really need to read it. We knew our Dad.
He was to enjoy a good few years of retirement; widowed he seemed to discover a new sense of freedom and independence. He saw his grandchildren grow up and became a dear friend as well as a parent to us, his own children, too.
He died. We mourned. It was on one of the house-clearing sorties in the dark days that followed that I found the picture amongst a lifetime’s ephemera and stuffed it for safe-keeping into the back pocket of my jeans. It emerged only slightly crumpled and narrowly missed a cycle in the washing machine. I smoothed out a crease or two and wedged it out of harm’s way behind the pipes of our basement laundry and got on with life. My guilt at putting my recently deceased father’s photograph behind a cold water pipe gradually diminished as he, overlooking the daily laundry attained the status of Household God.
We moved on about 5 years ago. I packed up methodically – the very model of organisation. Room by room, like with like; into the box of washing powders, soap and Stain Devils went my father. He emerged 100 miles down the road, slightly more care worn but so sweetly scented. In the flurry of unpacking I found him a new niche and tucked him up where he is to be found today.
He smiles down at me from here, his kind face as creased and lined as the paper it is printed on. He is my Laundry God. ‘O spare me from shrinkage and fugitive colours’ I beseech as I sort whites from coloureds or indulge in the rare ceremony of hand-washing.
Perhaps he deserves a more venerated home than the laundry. I remind myself that ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’. He would see the joke.