FOLDING UNDERWEAR

For a professor, working on lectures can become a little tedious after a few hours, as can any task that does not bring pleasure, and so I took a break from a lecture about Linear Programming to remove my clean clothes from the dryer. After hanging up the pants and shirts, I proceeded to roll my socks (yes IÕm a roller) and fold the underwear before putting it away. While doing so, I had the sudden realization that, while most things in my life have changed over the years, folding underwear remains one of the few consistencies.

Not only has the process of folding underwear been consistent, but the underwear itself hasnÕt changed any that I can recall – at least not menÕs underwear. After 47 years of folding it, you would think that doing so one more time wouldnÕt bring back a lot of memories. But it did.

To be honest, I have not really been folding underwear for 47 years. I was married for 16 of those years, during which my wife faithfully did my laundry and underwear folding. I probably should feel some guilt about that, but for most of our marriage she didnÕt work outside the home, so it became an assumed part of her life as a wife, just as it was with my mom and dad. But I have faithfully folded underwear for the last 23 years, and for more than a few years prior to my marriage.

As I was folding my underwear this time, I thought about the complaints that my wife use to have about all of my undershirts being inside out. I guess they all got that way when I pulled them off at night. She did not like having to turn them right side out every time she did the laundry. Like crab lice, small things can become big issues, and the inside-out underwear issue finally festered into an ultimatum. I had better start turning them right side out after taking them off because she was no longer going to do it. I never did – probably because it is not something I think much about when IÕm putting my undershirts on or taking them off. They are white on both sides and look pretty much the same whether inside out or not. I suppose if I didnÕt wear a shirt over them, I might give a damn, but thatÕs not the case.

I thought back to the summer of 1995 when I was working as a wrangler at a ranch in Colorado. We had more male staff than there was space in the bunkhouse, and I was the last wrangler to arrive, so they put a bunk in the laundry room where I slept every night. Both the male and female staff (about 17 in all) used that laundry room, so it was often being used when I was trying to sleep. We wranglers were supposed to be tough, so I couldnÕt complain about the sound of a washer or dryer without losing some of my wrangler image.

One of the wranglers, Pam, did some laundry late one night and left her stuff to dry -- returning to the girlsÕ house for the night. When I awoke the next morning I took one of her bras out of the dryer and hoisted it up the ranch flagpole that was out by the county road. It flew in the breeze all day and became the topic of interest on a hayride that passed it that evening. The following morning I found my horse wearing it – which tells you something about Pam.

That same summer I had some underwear that I had purchased in 1976 from the base exchange just prior to getting out of the Air Force. Things were a lot cheaper at the B.X., and so I stocked up on some things that I knew wouldnÕt go out of style. That pretty much limited my purchases to a lot of underwear. Although the underwear was still new when I opened that last pack for my summer as a wrangler, it was 19 years old. And on more than one occasion I reminded some of the young staff that I had underwear older than them.

Another memory was of 1993 when I had lived with a significant other for a few years. She had a long commute and worked longer hours than I did, so I assumed the role of doing the laundry and folding her underwear as well as mine. I never complained about hers being inside out, and I thought about this as I folded my underwear. I vividly recalled the last time I folded her underwear. It was early in February of 1993. A month earlier she had called off our engagement and wedding, and she was planning to move out of our house while I was away on a trip. My mother had passed away, and I was leaving the next morning for Ohio to help my sister make arrangements for my motherÕs funeral. I had packed and was doing some last minute laundry while she was sleeping. And as I sat on the sofa in our family room folding her underwear one last time, I started crying. I still miss folding her underwear.

So folding underwear can be a routine and mundane chore, or it can be a rather emotional trip down memory lane. I prefer it to be the latter. And I like the fact that it remains a stable, familiar and unchanged part of my life.