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A few months ago, when we were still gathering for worship, we sat in church celebrating our granddaughter Annie’s baptism. The priest poured water generously over her little head.

He spoke. ”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

As I listened to his talk of the washing away of sins, my mind wandered.

While growing up on the farm, I knew Monday was wash day. When we remodeled our house, we repurposed our former kitchen as a “utility room,” and one corner housed the wringer washing machine.

Washing took most of the morning. Mom started with whites, moved on to colors, then towels, and finally my dad’s dirty, smelly overalls. Most of the time, while Mom ran the washing machine, I played outdoors waiting for my time to help.

When Mom came out with a load for the clothesline, I stood on a stool and helped hang up the clothes. Mom had taught me just where to put the pins on the seams of shirts and the ends of towels. I loved the clean, fresh smell of wet shirts.

The part I liked best about washday, however, came after the overalls. All week the rough concrete sidewalk running from the front of our house to the driveway gathered bits of manure from Dad’s boots, mud from my play boots and bits of grass and garbage from Trixie, our rat terrier’s wandering paws. By wash day, it was filthy. And since Mom believed in “Dutch clean,” Monday’s wash day schedule included the sidewalk.

Instead of just draining the water, Mom dipped her bucket into the washing machine tub and brought it to the sidewalk. I waited outside with a broom. Warm summer days were the best. I could go barefoot! Mom came out with a bucket from that last wash and I stood on the sidewalk as she poured it over my feet. The suds splashed around over my toes and washed away all that mud and grime on the sidewalk. On cool days I stood in my play boots.

My job came next: I grabbed the broom and scrubbed until the next bucket came. Then I scrubbed again. We kept this up until the sidewalk was clean. At the end, Mom threw clean water on my feet.

I loved scrubbing the sidewalk, and for, just a bit, the sidewalk shone. Unfortunately, by coffeetime, Dad had tracked mud on the clean concrete and Trixie had left all sorts of tracks from mysterious places. But I knew that sidewalk had been clean for a little while and so had my feet.

A gentle murmur of laughter brought me back to Annie’s baptism. I focused just in time to see her reach for the priest’s glasses. I can easily imagine sweet Annie washed more dazzling than snow and learning to walk in the “newness of life.”

I know, however, that I will not be sweet consistently. More “dazzling than snow” doesn’t seem to describe me. Like the dirty concrete of our old sidewalk, I have bumps and ridges that collect muddy footprints, grass, and debris from all over the yard of my life. I need that scrub down with soapy water. Even though I have no chance of staying clean and pure, I need weekly scrubs and sudsy splashes.

After each renewal, I am still bumpy concrete. I say a morning prayer and ask God for a clean heart. Before noon, debris is already collecting in my bumps and ridges. No matter. I will be washed clean again. Washday is my gift from God.

Helen Luhrs

An Iowa woman to the core, Helen Luhrs is a recently retired high school teacher who lives in the country near Knoxville, Iowa. Helen and Lee have four married daughters, six grandchildren, a graceful prairie, and a square foot garden.

7 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    I don’t know why I found this so powerfully moving and joyful. I can guess.

  • Thank you for this. Your images remind me of my uncle’s farmhouse. It was complete with a washing machine with rollers on the side. I remember the lectures about not getting my fingers near them.

    Thank you for this look back and the deep thoughts about our own cleansing.

  • Mark says:

    Thank you! I can almost smell it – the outdoors, clean clothes drying in the sun, ozone, bleach (?), sure, even manure. After a short trip to the store this morning I was disinfecting purchases, wallet, credit card, keys, door handles, steering wheel – the smell not nearly so enjoyable, but the smell of clean nevertheless. Thanks for unleashing the power of that word: clean. How do we take it in? I do think there are pitfalls in pushing it too far as baseline for how we’re doing. But it is basic in the glossary of our faith. I’m brought back to Jesus words: You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Jn 15.3. Thanks again for a good start to the day.

  • Sophie M Mathonnet-Vanderwell says:

    Loved your post Helen! So evocative…so beautiful!

  • Willa Brown says:

    Having grown up on a farm your Monday wash day post brought back so many memories. Beautiful connections between sidewalk washing, baptism washing, and our need for “weekly scrubs”.

  • Gloria A Stronks says:

    Not only was Monday wash day on my Minnesota farm. At 7:00 a.m. the party-line phone rang with the same woman each Monday announcing that her wash was already all on the line. Thank you for the memory.

  • Beth Rinsema says:

    How well I remember Monday wash day. It was different than yours – having lived in the suburbs and having the convenience of a washer and dryer. But my mother still hung the clothes out on the line! And I remember most clearly the sheets with the fresh washed, fresh breezed smell. Thank you for the beautiful, earthy images. They captured the truth of baptism. I also like to think of the breeze as the Spirit – renewing, refreshing, empowering!

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