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Holier Than Thou

December 6, 2013

My mother went to work in the Almadén bottling plant in Los Gatos, California, when I was eleven. This occurred at a time when my grandmother’s life was slowing down and she had little to do. I don’t know all the details, but Mom and Grandma made an arrangement for Grandma to do our laundry. I doubt Mom paid for this service; Grandma probably did it out of love and was happy to have something to keep her busy.


Whatever the arrangement, it worked well for a few years. Grandma lived nearby and Mom or Dad would pick up our laundry once a week after work. This might have been Grandma’s real payoff because she loved company and always had coffee and freshly baked treats ready for whoever picked up our laundry. Sometimes Dad would be late coming home for dinner because he’d been drinking coffee with her and forgot the time.


One laundry incident has stuck in my mind all these years. This time Mom had picked up the laundry after work. Back home, she was removing the freshly washed and ironed clothes from the laundry basket when she found something that made her cry. Seeing a parent cry is always traumatic and I couldn’t help sliding up to her to find out what was wrong.


She held up a pair of Dad’s old briefs, which I managed to recognize as the rag Dad used to wipe his hands on when he worked on our car. The briefs had been little more than a collection of holes and had been demoted to the status of garage rag. How they ended up in our laundry basket remains a mystery.


As it turned out, Mom’s tears were tears of love—Grandma hadn’t known these briefs were a rag and had given them the Betsy Ross treatment. Although my mother couldn’t thread a needle and didn’t sew, my grandmother was an excellent seamstress and sold embroidery during the Depression to help put food on the table. Dad’s old underwear had been restored and preserved like the Shroud of Turin. Some of the holes had been carefully darned and fragments of other fabrics had been stitched over holes creating a patchwork quilt effect, just the thing for a Biblical Joseph to wear beneath his Coat of Many Colors. It must have taken hours to repair the damage to that old rag.


Dad’s restored underwear won a reprieve from being used as a garage rag although he  never again wore them. They remained neatly folded in his top drawer until the day he died.    



Love it!
By: Cranky on December 6, 2013
Wow. That must have took her hours to do. Great story.
By: David Walston on December 6, 2013
Another illustration of how society has changed. Nowadays you wouldn't even use them for a garage rag, just toss them away. Though sometimes I put them in a bag to put in a donation box, which I guess they cut those up into rags mostly.
By: PT Dilloway on December 6, 2013
Very admirable of her. It reminds me of the old Yankee saying, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." It's an unknown virtue in today's throw-away world.
By: Scott Cody Park on December 6, 2013
a labor of love, there...
By: TexWisGirl on December 6, 2013
What a great story! Now I feel guilty about the bra I threw away yesterday :)
By: The Bug on December 6, 2013
What a beautiful story, Stephen, and as always, you tell it so well. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 6, 2013
You are quite the story teller, my friend!!
By: fishducky on December 6, 2013
Now that's love. So sweet.
By: Hilary on December 6, 2013
Another sweet (and funny) memory. I would have framed that underwear.
By: Mitchell is Moving on December 6, 2013
A reminder of family love. Thank you for this beautiful story on a stormy winter day, it warmed my heart.
By: mimi on December 6, 2013
now that is the sweetest story ever! You have the best family stories ever!
By: Kathe W. on December 6, 2013
oh that is a sad and beautiful story. bless
By: Fran on December 6, 2013
It's amazing such a touching story could come from a pair of holey old briefs.
By: Lexa Cain on December 6, 2013
Lovely story, I can see my grandmother doing the same thing. She taught me to sew and I still prefer hand stitches to the machine. She would buy thrift store dresses and recreate them into beautiful garments - her and my mother both always dressed beautifully, and all because they made their own clothes! Sewing is an art! Thanks for sharing!
By: Yolanda Renee on December 6, 2013
I understand the tears. I'm starting to have some too. A precious story, Stephen. Have a nice weekend. xoRobyn
By: on December 6, 2013
Terrific story, Stephen.
By: Catalyst/Bruce on December 6, 2013
Labors of love are the most wonderful giftsand cannot be replicated in any store. Great story!!
By: Tabor on December 6, 2013
That's so sweet! We lived next door to my dad's parents. My grandma made dresses for my sister and cousin and me all the time, with special ones at Easter. No underwear patching. But she also made every family member a pair of those knitted bootie-type house slippers every winter. The fun was in seeing what color yarn you got. Those things were great for running down the tile hall and sliding.
By: Val on December 6, 2013
Wonderful memory and beautiful story.
By: Tom Cochrun on December 6, 2013
Another inspiring story from the Chatterbox stable.
By: Bryan Jones on December 7, 2013
Great story, I wish I had a grandma like you had. Sounds like a loving woman. I guess men used to use old briefs as rags, I know people of my previous generation who do that, and think nothing of using underwear to wipe down windows or something, heck, a rag is a rag.
By: CiCi on December 7, 2013
oh my, this is a glorious story of love and family. Thanks so much, you did it again. Inspiration, tears and a smile. Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on December 7, 2013
This is a great Christmas story. I'm sure more than you remember this one.
By: red on December 7, 2013
That is such a sweet, sweet story. Grandma's just win the award for unconditional love.
By: Bouncin Barb on December 7, 2013
At our house, old underwear is repurposed as rags, too, but it never makes it back to the laundry basket. This story reminds me of my mother - she used to repair holey underwear, as well as iron underwear.
By: Pixel Peeper on December 7, 2013
What a wonderful story!
By: Eva Gallant on December 7, 2013
Loving frugality
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 7, 2013
Makes ME want to cry. I hope nobody's around....
By: Al Penwasser on December 7, 2013
That's a great story, and reminds me of my grandmother.
By: Katy on December 7, 2013
Aha! So your mother is human in spite of what you've led us to believe! :) This is such a great story and - wow - that last line got me good.
By: jenny_o on December 7, 2013
Another wonderful story from you Stephen. That's what you call a real grandma. The ones who use to stitch, sew, mend and put things right. Back in the day, things weren't thrown into the bin because they looked bad. They were washed and mended time and time again until it literally was no more. Those underpants should have been framed and put up on a wall.
By: Rum Punch Drunk on December 8, 2013
Hello- I don't visit you nearly enough My wordsmith friend. But when I do you always make me smile. What a lovely story. Have a warm and lovely holiday! Mimi Collage Pirate (and Pirate Girl, too!)
By: Mimi Foxmorton on December 8, 2013
A very heart warming story!
By: John on December 11, 2013
You are a lucky man to come from people that take care of each other like that. WOW! Was that a paternal or maternal grandmother? It seems that both of your parents enjoyed her. What a blessing.
By: Cheryl P. on December 11, 2013

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