After my mother passed away, I found an old Tupperware box among her belongings. It sits on the shelf in the hall closet, and it’s filled with memories of my childhood. There’s a Ziploc bag holding a tiny pink dress with crisp pleats and dainty green flowers and another bag holding a knit sweater small enough to fit on a baby doll. It’s white with pink trim and my first name is emblazoned on the left side, woven into the pattern with pink block lettering; my maiden name is on the right. The majority of the space in the box is taken up by a fur coat made of 100% rabbit fur. Fur literally flies into the air if you try to pick it up.
There are photos of baby-me wearing the pink dress, nearly swallowed up by its size on my tiny, malnourished body. I was too small to remember that, and I don’t remember ever wearing the tiny sweater either. But the fur coat is a different story. I remember wearing that to elementary school, even though I live in one of the warmest regions in the world.
But these pieces of clothing are much more than textiles and garments.
When I wore that fur coat through the hallways of my small-town elementary school, I felt downright fancy. I remember my friends reaching out to touch the fur and marveling over the softness of it. But more than that, I remember how proud my mom was to help me put it on in the mornings. She had told me, “I never had anything like this growing up. I’m so glad you get to.”
My mom passed away in 2017, and long after saying goodbye, memories of her still live within the threads of that tiny dress and sweater and on the strands of fur in that vintage coat.
I bring this up to tell you about a new television show called The Laundry Guy, starring Patric Richardson, a self-proclaimed “laundry evangelist.” The show’s description reads, “Laundry expert Patric Richardson listens to clients’ meaningful stories behind irreplaceable pieces, from wedding dresses and baby blankets to stuffed animals and vintage coats, and then carefully restores the items to mint condition.”
In the second episode of The Laundry Guy, Patric shares that his love for laundry came from his grandmother. She taught him that when you do laundry, “you do it because you love someone and you want to take care of them.” He was in the middle of restoring a knitted blanket and said that he hoped to make the owner of the blanket “feel like her grandmother loves her and is taking care of her when she looks at the blanket.”
In almost every episode of The Laundry Guy, a client will bring out some beloved piece of fabric, whether it be a sofa cushion or a denim suit, and ask for Patric to work his magic in restoring its former glory. One of the client’s said, while wiping away tears, “I know this is so silly. It’s just a wedding dress.”
There’s a worthwhile argument in the world to become minimalist—to stop hoarding and “have less,” and as I look around at all the things crowding the room I’m sitting in, I understand it. I feel that desire to clear the clutter. But there is always that thing—that shirt, that stuffed animal, that picture—that we don’t want to let go of because it is much more than just the object you see before you. It is tied to memories and attached to places in the heart that we still explore when we trip upon them.
One episode of the series focuses on the restoration of a leisure jacket that was originally made in the 70s or 80s. As the client tells the story of the jacket, she shares that right after going through a divorce, she grabbed a duffel bag and filled it with the things she would take with her. She said that the jacket was attached to joy and good times, that the jacket made the cut. And Patric said, “This jacket is like your cocoon and your butterfly.”
After my husband’s grandfather passed away, someone gifted his daughter (my mother-in-law) a pillow made out of his old shirts. That pillow sits on an antique loveseat in the foyer of their home. It’s unique in appearance and in meaning, a great conversation starter and surely something that will never be thrown away.
I think the inherent dignity of the human person is so great that each person has the ability to change the value of the things they touch. It’s why the Catholic Church has second- and third-class relics. It’s not because of the intrinsic value of the thing but the intrinsic value of the person who possessed or touched the item.
More often than not, the things that clients bring to Patric are heirlooms—a denim disco suit, a homemade couch, a wedding dress with green accents created by weaving a ribbon in and out of the neckline. And just as the life of a person enriches the value of the items they owned while living, the death of the person changes it too.
Whatever a person’s beliefs, everyone feels the impact of death. We mourn and carry our grief, but we also place greater value on items after the death of their owners. Think of the literature and artwork that has skyrocketed in monetary value after the death of the author or the artist. It’s an incredible phenomenon.
In the Laundry Guy, the client’s often are left grinning or weeping with joy after their pieces have been restored. That restoration brings them hope, reminds them of memories long past, and, ultimately, recalls shared love and communion. Hearts are softened and traditions are preserved. One of my favorite moments in any episode is when a client is surprised by their grief. It reminds me of the line from Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky I am, having something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
The box of my childhood clothing is stored in the same closet wherein my wedding dress hangs. The dress has not been touched since my wedding day almost fourteen years ago. I’m still holding onto it in the hopes that perhaps one of my daughters will want to use it in some way—either for their wedding day or refashioned as a veil for a profession of vows in religious life. I know that when I get that dress back out, to preserve it or to give it away, it means that saying “goodbye” has to happen, both to the wedding dress and to my daughter’s current state in life. Allowing things to be made anew means saying goodbye to the way things were of old.
Those stained and tattered garments are wrapped around memories that long to be resurrected. They hold love that surpasses fires, smoky disco halls, divorce, and even death. Because every human heart knows the value of communion and tradition; and The Laundry Guy shows us how a simple piece of clothing can become a vessel of hope—an unexpected Easter morning after death has taken its toll. God desires to proclaim his love in every corner of our lives, even the washing machine.