Coveting Quarters

Twenty-five is my favorite number.

It’s half of 50, one fourth of 100, 5 x 5 and the letters for mine and my brother’s first initials (B=2, E=5).

It’s also what you have to put in the washers at the Laundromat. Eight of them, to be precise. Two dollars a load. And you can’t have other change that equals two dollars. No, you must have quarters.

It amazes me how attached I’ve become to those little coins. I squirrel them away in a big pill bottle full of our laundry money. I count them at least three times before heading to the Laundromat. And every time I forget and hand one over as change at the grocery store, I feel a little voice inside me screaming.

My quarter! Why did I just use my quarter? I have two dimes and a nickel to use instead. Oh please, nice cashier lady, would you please trade me back my quarter?

I want to ask. But I don’t. Because that would just be sad.

Even though I spent four years behind a cash register, and if someone had asked me to trade back their quarter for laundry money, I would have understood. Sometimes I wonder how many quarters I put into my drawer that the customer was secretly wishing to trade back.

Like the other day at Dollar General – I had just finished loading the laundry and went to buy toilet paper. Getting out of the car, I realized I had left my wallet at home. All I had was that precious roll of quarters.

Toilet paper or quarters. Toilet paper or quarters. I am sad to say I actually deliberated about this for several minutes. Ultimately, the thought of that one last square clinging to the roll in the bathroom drove me inside.

The total was 1.26 (I had found the cheapest package in the store), and as I handed over six quarters I felt like I was committing a crime. Six whole quarters!! I actually felt joy when the cashier found a penny and handed back one of my precious coins.

When I got back to the apartment and explained my terrible mistake, the mister’s first question was not, “Why were you driving without a license?” It was, “Do we have any quarters left?!”

I’ve heard it said that “Only two things in life are certain: death and taxes.” One of my favorite newspaper columnists, Lenore Skomal, added laundry to that list and I am learning to agree.

It will likely be several years yet before I am released from the task of loading our laundry baskets into the back seat, carrying everything into the laundry building and returning every 45 minutes until the clothes have been cleaned, transferred to the dryers and pronounced finished. Someday. . . I can have my own washer and dryer.

Oh how I long for the days of my mother’s washing machine. There it sits, in its own little room off the kitchen, with its many fancy cycle buttons glowing softly in the dark. Temperature settings, fabric settings, load size settings, timer settings, stain removal settings. . .

I only have two settings: cold and hot. And they take the same number of quarters.

I try to remind myself that at least I don’t have to walk to the river and battle the alligators to scrub our clothes clean. But all I can ever think is that at least those women don’t have to pump quarters into the riverbank.

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