Alexis loved having baths. She loved getting dirty, but she loved getting clean afterwards. Usually getting dirty was done with her father or her friends, and getting clean was a special private time with her mother. Genevieve might have passed the housekeeping and cooking off to others, but when it came to her little girl, she was like a mother wolf. Though Kelly would have liked to be more hands-on with the care and maintenance of his daughter, Genevieve reserved such things to herself when she was at home on the farm.
On this day the four-year-old had decided that the compost heap where the farmhands piled the scrapings from the barn floor was a great place to play with her Tonka Truck. By the time she had returned to the house, she was quite brown, from the top of her once blonde head to the tips of her once pink toes.
“Oh, Alexis!” Eileen cried when she saw Alexis trying to open the screen door to the kitchen. “You stay right where you are while I go get your mother.” Eileen rushed to the bottom of the stairs and called up to the studio, “Mrs. Archie, you better get down here to see what your daughter has been up to.” Eileen was glad for once that Genevieve reserved bathing the child to herself. Normally Eileen loved taking care of Alexis, since she had only borne boys.
“I am on my way,” Genevieve called from the studio, followed by the scrape of her chair across the floor, and the sound of her heels on the hardwood planks of the upper hallway.
Eileen, assured that reinforcement was coming, hurried back to the kitchen and saw that Alexis was still trying to open the door, though her slimy hand kept slipping on the smooth surface of the door handle. “Alexis you stay out on the porch until your mother comes for you,” said Eileen, not wanting the grubby child in her clean kitchen.
Alexis stopped trying to turn the tricky doorknob, and waited patiently for her mother, knowing that her mother was going to make sure she got a bath and a fresh change of clothes. Though she enjoyed playing in the compost heap, once her mind was no longer occupied with building her imaginary city, she didn’t much like the smell of herself.
“Oh, Alexis!” her mother cried when she saw her little brown girl, standing outside the kitchen door.
“Here you go Mrs. Archie,” said Eileen handing Genevieve a bed sheet to wrap the child in, to transport her to the bath without strewing debris though the house. Genevieve took the proffered sheet and went out to pursue Alexis, who seeing the sheet decided it called for a game of chase.
“Oh you little imp!” called out Genevieve, fondly as she chased Alexis across the back yard toward the barn. Alexis who really didn’t want to delay the bath for too much longer and didn’t try very hard to out distance her mother. Catching her wiggly daughter up in the sheet said Genevieve, “Let’s go get you clean.”
Alexis thought the procession to the bath was fun, as her mother carried her upstairs, followed by Eileen giving advice on how to get the little one gold and pink again. With Alexis standing in the tub, her mother washed her down with the shower to remove most of the grime, while Eileen headed downstairs with Alexis’ clothes wrapped in the sheet.
Eileen wasn’t sure if she could salvage the clothes, but decided to give the Archies’ brand new washing machine a test with them. She wasn’t too sure about the new machine and was afraid that it wouldn’t do as good a job as the Speed Queen with its built-in wringer. The idea of spinning water out of the clothes didn’t seem very effective to Eileen, who had loved the old round machine. She had loved the way it wrung out clothes, leaving them just damp enough to iron. Few things ever had to be taken out to the clothesline, but the towels and blue jeans. There was nothing wrong with the old machine, but nothing would stop Mr. Archie from buying the General Electric Laundromat model, when he saw it in the showroom at Massey’s hardware.
“What a name, it’s not really the type of machine that they’ve got at that Laundromat over near the new development,” said Eileen to herself, comfortable in the knowledge that no one was around to hear her talk to herself. “Goodness, he was so disappointed when Massey’s didn’t have it in yellow to match the kitchen appliances,” she said, shaking her head, not understanding Kelly’s worry about the color, since the washing machine was in the mudroom.
Eileen, not really wanting the washing machine to do a good job, shoved the bundle into the top of the machine, added the soap and remembered to hook up the water pipe on the sink spigot before starting it. She stared at the new machine, missing the old one. She didn’t even mind that the old one had to be filled by hand, since she felt that leaving the machine hooked up to the faucet wasted a lot of water. She walked away from the gurgling machine; sure it would fail at this job, and wondering if the old machine was still out in the storage shed. “It would be nice to get it back.”
“What would be nice Eileen?” asked Kelly, following her into the kitchen, from the mudroom.
“Oh, Mr. Archie, you gave me a fright,” said Eileen. “I was just musing that it would be nice if all the filth washes out of Alexis’ clothes. She was out in the compost pile again. Last time she got that dirty, we had to throw her shirt out.”
“I just put new steps outside the mudroom door, so that everyone can come in that way now. We can leave our dirty shoes and wet raincoats in there as we come through. I think you should keep the backyard door latched until everyone gets used to using the mudroom to come in. Don’t worry about Alexis’ clothes; the new machine should do a better job of cleaning them. Oh! That reminds me. I was wondering if you would like to have the hands haul that old machine down to your house. I know you like it better than the one you have. I am just going to get a drink of tea, before going back and hammering the new steps into place,” said Kelly, as he went to the refrigerator to get the pitcher of sweet tea Eileen always made sure was there.
“I would love to have it,” Eileen answered, suddenly feeling well disposed toward the machine gurgling away in the mudroom, and headed back up to help with Alexis.
Before the load of wash finished, successfully saving Alexis’ clothes and insuring Eileen got custody of the older machine, Alexis was sitting on the seat of the toilet in her mother’s bathroom, engulfed in her mother’s soft white robe, as Genevieve carefully combed tangles out of Alexis’ long clean hair. Genevieve had a spray bottle filled with lemon juice and water that she sprayed on Alexis’ hair, to loosen the tangles. It was a remedy that her own mother had used; it had never crossed her mind that the paleness of Alexis locks came from the lemon juice. As Genevieve worked, Eileen was busy rinsing down the tub and rearranging the bottles and things that Genevieve had disarrayed.
“Oh, Mrs. Archie! Alexis bath sponge has lost its pattern,” said Eileen, holding up the sponge Genevieve had brought back from New York on her last trip. Genevieve liked it because she could slip a bar of soap into the sponge’s pocket, and let Alexis help soap herself without dropping the slick bar. Alexis had liked it because the pattern was a cartoon octopus.
“Oh, dear!” said Genevieve sadly, not realizing that Alexis was picking up on the sadness in her voice.
“It O K mommy. I still like spung.” Alexis assured her mother.
“I know baby!” said Genevieve, and to Eileen, “It just bothers me that things that are supposed to last, don’t and the things that are meant to be thrown away, are so sturdy.”
“You are still thinking about that pitcher, aren’t you?” asked Eileen referring to the night before when Kelly had picked up a bottle of catsup and accidentally tapped the ice-tea pitcher, causing the pitcher to shatter and the bottle to be unmarred.
“Yes, I could see it if it were some fancy delicate pitcher, but it was meant for daily use,” said Genevieve, still peeved.
That night before heading up to bed Genevieve turned to her husband and asked, “Have you noticed that Eileen has stopped dropping hints against the new washer and dryer?”
“Well, I don’t think she has broken down and used the new dryer yet. She thinks it is a fire hazard, but she likes the new washer just fine now,” said Kelly, smiling at himself.
“What is that smile for?” asked Genevieve? “What did you do?”
“Oh, I just gave Eileen the old washing machine. She loved it a lot, but she will love it even more in her own home,” said Kelly.
“Oh, Kelly, you are a master manipulator,” said Genevieve. “Let’s go upstairs and make sure Alexis is in bed and not playing, before we turn in.”