Many times economic circumstances strongly influence behavior. For example, in the early 1980s, my company bought clay tile from a Mexican tile manufacturer owned by my friend Arturo Martinez, who lived in Irapuato, Mexico. He and his wife employed two maids, teenage girls who lived in their house in a small, interior room, charged with caring for their three children and doing housekeeping and cooking chores.
Arturo and his wife had one car for the two of them. On the other hand, my family, living in Arizona with a similar income, had no domestic help, but we were a two-car family. Labor was cheap and cars were expensive in Mexico, just the opposite of the situation in the United States.
By the same token, what economic situation did the economics of the United States Postal Service — or the Post Office Department, as it was then known — play in the role of laundering of clothes?
Well, because the cost of mailing clothes was relatively inexpensive in comparison with the cost of having laundry done by any outside provider that I knew of, the post office was an integral partner in my clean-clothes supply line when I was in attendance at N.C. State College from 1951 through 1955.
I would generally go home every third or fourth weekend, usually hitchhiking the 46-mile distance. (Back then, hitchhiking was a safe, economical and expeditious way for male college students to travel.) Although dirty clothes always traveled with me in my trips to Wilson and clean clothes were in my weekend luggage returning to Raleigh, the supply of dirties always seemed to outrun the supply of cleans.
The solution? Every couple of weeks or so, I mailed home a laundry case of dirty clothes, which Mother washed and mailed back to me. The case was made of sturdy fiberboard in two open-top sections that nested together, fastened with woven webbing permanently attached to one of the sections. A reversible address tag slid into the tag holder. This system worked out well before the days of laundromats and in the absence of on-campus laundry service.
Well, I suppose we’ve come a long way during the last 60 to 70 years in regard to laundry. Back then, doing a load of clothes was a project, a job requiring full-time attention to what was being done. Now it’s just put the clothes in the machine, add detergent, set the timer, and push the button. Wait forty minutes, put the clothes in the dryer, set the timer, and push the button. Wait an hour, remove the clothes.
Henry Croom is an 83-year-old former Wilsonian. He graduated from Charles L. Coon High School in 1951 and N. C. State in 1955. He lives in Scottsdale, Arizona and occasionally writes of his boyhood recollections of growing up in Wilson. This is the final installment of a seven-column series on “laundry,” although he does wander away from that subject in a few places. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.