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American History
The Laundry Detail


       Mona stood quietly before the house mother. Everything at Chilocco was strange and new to her. The kindly woman was quietly sitting at her desk with papers in her hand.

       “Your detail will be the laundry, Mona. You will work for one-half day, every day.

        If the woman had said, “you will now fly to England on a broom,” it wouldn't have meant any more to her. She was thinking, “What laundry and where is it.”

       As if to read her mind the gentle woman quickly explained. “Mary here will walk over there with you, exactly to  where you will work.”

       “Mary,  take Mona to her job at the laundry. Introduce her to Mrs. Grinnell, please?”

       The two girls leisurely ambled across the campus in a short time. They followed the loop around the central oval until the power plant was in sight. The large building housing the power plant and the laundry looked to be a more newly built structure. The tall smoke stack on the back side was what identified it.

       When the girls walked through the doors into the very large room, an acrid smell of bleach was strong in the air. On the right against the walls were large tumblers of stainless-steal. Mona had never seen such large washing machines.  In the very center of the room were great rollers turning. At one end two girls busily straightening and put sheets in between the rollers. On the side closest to them two more girls were catching the sheets and in a studied quick method they had obviously developed.  The sheets the two folded almost as fast as they came out of the machine.

      Along one wall was a bevy of pressing machines. The lids on them popped up and down making a staccato sound as the girls used them. One of the areas held machines designed for one particular job. These were in a circle. One girl was in the middle and surrounded by the machines. She had one shirt on a collar machine, another for the back, yet another for the front, and one for the sleeve. The dozens of shirts she had finished were lined up on hangers beside her.  With the kind instructor helping her Mona went right to work.

       The work detail was changed every semester unless the student wished to stay. Before the semester was up Mona had learned every part of the laundry. Her last time spent there was at a window watching out over the large room to see if everything was going along as it should. Mona only made one mistake while she worked at the laundry and this was to neglect to turn on the steam  for the large rollers doing the sheets. It didn't take long for her to catch her error though. The sheets coming out of the rollers were still wet and cold and that told the tale.  One of the girls, who had made this her regular vocation, caught the mistake. She, in two steps, slid over to the switch and turned it on. The girl was Navajo and could speak very little English but she seemed to understand Mona's thank you. The girl smiled and went on with her work.


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