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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dirty Washing

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Forever told never to wash our dirty laundry out in public, my sib’s and I were better schooled than to ever discuss our private home life to strangers -  “Stranger’s” being everyone outside our immediate family.

But I found it a strange expression all the same, seeing as how our dirty laundry always ended up being washed in public.

Every other Saturday I lugged our family wash to the coin-operated “Laundrymatt”, and barring rain, staggered back with the wet load, too, which Ma then pegged out across the road for all and sundry to see.

Much as I didn’t like the Laundrymatt, (there was usually a queue for the machines, and the grown-up’s there often cut in before their turn, bumping me right back to the end of it), I felt even worse hard done by having to stand watch over it dry.  Part of my duties involved retrieving the load in should it rain, as well as to keep an alert eye out for any passing clothes-bandits.  Embarrassingly, these were usually kids, and ones I knew, who saw it as a great game to have me chase them through the streets, attempting to wrestle my Da’s long-john’s from out of their thieving mitts as we went.

Yes, this irony of us literally always washing our family laundry out in public hardly escaped me.  Taught to mistrust everyone, growing up in a house filled with secrets, I took to leading two separate lives -  the one I knew at home, and the other more carefree one, the life I created for myself outside of it.

Used to more freedom than was wise, I rarely returned home before dark – invariably latching onto a school-friend to invite me round for tea, I’d later usually drop by the public library, poring over my homework, or losing myself in a book until closing time.  If it was summer and still light, I’d often catch a bus, didn’t matter to where, and pretending I’d lost my fare home, throw myself at the mercy of the Conductor to allow me to ride free.  Surprisingly, this worked well far more often than not, and I soon acquired a sound knowledge of the many outlying boroughs surrounding my neighbourhood.

This routine saw me well in my first year of moving up to the posh school, but regrettably, regardless of how hard I applied myself, my performance there only ever came out as being consistently and hugely average.  There was only one area left where I occasionally shone, however, to my greatest good-fortune, it happened to be in the self same class in which the wondrous Ms. Brown held lesson – English Literature and Composition.

Bear in mind, teacher’s to me were not to be trusted,  “stranger’s”, they were apt to pry into matters which, as far as my parents were concerned, lay firmly out of bounds.  Although her approval delighted me, I kept my responses muted.  Distancing myself to keeping my head down, I spoke only when spoken to, delighted yet wary, I preferred to keep my worship from a distance.  And worship her I did.  She singled me out for praise, always drew me out in class, and should we pass each other in the corridor, she never failed to hail me with an encouraging word.

This may have been Ms. Brown’s first teaching post, certainly she was young.  She didn’t wear the intimidating black cloaks which most of the others did, and she wore her frizzy, waist-long, strawberry-blond haystack hair loose and wild.  Seriously over-weight, she favoured wearing Caftan’s, and held a passion for Shakespeare, poetry, humour, FOOD (oh God, did she love food!), honesty, her cats, grand piano concerts, plays, and every single other thing which might bring joy to her world.  Christine Brown held an insatiable appetite for life, one she happily and unconditionally spread, if ever there was a one born to teach, it was her.  Her enthusiasm lit up the skies.

She decided I should have a reading list (perhaps my trips to the library were not quite the secret I liked to think?), and brought in her own books for me to read.  Only one at a time.  Once read, she would give me another.  This reading selection blew my socks off.  I doubt many teachers would recommend Electra, Physician heal thyself, or Rosemary’s Baby to a twelve year old.  She gave me credence of maturity to understand and digest the subjects at hand, she never spoke down to me as most adults were wont to do, and most importantly, she respected there were areas of my life I couldn't yet, or perhaps ever, allow her entry into, - but she let me know it would be quite safe to trust her should I ever feel ready and willing to. 

I think Ms. Brown saw a lot beyond that which I let her see.      

She paid for my first trip to a theatre, telling me that booking a group allowed her concessions for a free seat.  A white lie to save my dignity, knowing I had no hope of coming up with the money, she paid for me herself, refusing I miss out.  That performance mesmerised me, I had no idea such a world existed.  The entire two acts had my mouth a-gape.

“You think this is good?  Ha!  Just wait ‘til I take you to see the Ballet..”

And she did.  I virtually died and went to heaven watching Swan lake.

Afterwards, the entire group of us all piled back to her flat for hamburgers and chips.  Rumour is, she got suspended over that, though she denied it.  I do know she eventually left under some breaking-the-rules cloud, and it completely ripped my heart clean from my chest, leaving this wide, gaping hole in it's place.  Years passed for it to heal.

See, I had been so very, very close to confiding in her.  I think I was just about ready.  


I wonder where you are now, Christine Brown?  I sure hope you know what an enormous, lasting impact you had on my life.

63 comments:

Pat Tillett said...

Thanks for posting this great story from your childhood. Isn't it a shame that teachers like her are the exception, rather than the rule?
I'm sorry to say I never ran across one like her.
Hope you're having a great weekend!

Leslie: said...

Oh I have goose bumps reading this! I wonder if I ever had an impact on any of my students of even a smidgeon of the impact Ms Brown had on you.

mythopolis said...

Really good thought-provoking writing. You have spoken of this teacher before. Christine Brown reminds me of my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Simms. I will get to her in a minute, but first....dirty laundry.I spent lotsa time with grandparents in Manhattan. A sixth floor walk-up flat. The backmost room was the kitchen. Out the window there, attached to the fire escape was a clothesline on a pulley that went across the alley to some other flat. They shared that line. If you looked up and down from that window, everyone's laundry was done this way.

Ms. Simms: I was a total slacker in the 5th grade, mostly drawing doodles in my notebook. Instead of punishing me, she assigned me to the chalkboard in the back of the room, and gave me colored chalks. She asked me to do murals for each season; each holiday. I have spent the last 30 years of my life as an artist. Thanks to Ms. Simms. I'm sure she must be dead by now, but God bless her!

tattytiara said...

She sounds truly amazing, and it's wonderful to hear a person capable of such impact appreciated by one of the students she worked with.

HulaBuns said...

Wow! Such a great tribute to someone who touched your life in such a profound way. Christine Brown does sound like an exceptional teacher/person. We can all hope to touch just one person's life in such a way. :)

secret agent woman said...

I had a few such teachers and I credit them with much of what is good in my life.

Dirty laundry - ever strike you that much of blogging is about that?

Mushy said...

Teacher, leave them kids alone! Unless you're actually a teacher.

Them's some big girl panties hanging there!

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

lovely story..u should try and google her...

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Oh, Carol...you make me cry...I wish Ms.Brown had not been let go...and that you could have confided in her...and that she could know what an impact on your life she made...I'm so thankful for her!!! I'm so glad she saw the jewel that you are!!! Loved this memory...you are a natural story-teller!!! So gifted! Love, Janine XO

Lori said...

How wonderful that you had such a teacher and yet how sad that she went away before you confided in her. I can relate all too well with this story. I too, hid my secrets from those at school and had just one teacher that I ever came close to trusting.

What a beautifully written post. I am really thankful that I had this opportunity to read it! Thank you!

Hope you and yours are having a happy weekend. :)

chewy said...

Are those your bloomers hanging on the line? (grabbing one and running)

Lucky for you to have had a caring cultured role model. She opened your eyes to other worlds beyond the Laundrymatt.

chewy said...

Blogger liked my comment so much it posted it 5 times.

simon said...

ahaha I had a chuckle. I still hang our washing with the "smalls" hidden on the ind=side of the clothes line...

Kate said...

I say air the dirty laundry. The sun disinfects, you know.
Loved the story of your teacher. You have a way with words, Shrinky. Great to read your blog!

Barb said...

I am not Christine Brown, but as a retired teacher, I can only hope someone remembers me as fondly. A lovely tribute.

mrsnesbitt said...

Like Leslie I often wonder what impression I left on my pupils? A favourable one I hope lol! Dxxx

Just getting ready for a tootle! Stamps packed! lol!

Shrinky said...

Hi Pat, I'm saddened to hear that Pat, every child deserves someone like Ms. Brown in their life.

Oh Leslie, knowing what I do of you, I feel pretty certain you played "Ms. Brown" in more than one child's life - count on it!

Dan, you made me smile at the description of the pulley-line at your grandparents home - I know the exact type - the tenament block I was born in, and lived at until I was 5, had the exact same arrangement! Ms. Simms recognised a good talent to nurture, didn't she? Amazing the impact one good teacher can have on the life of their charges, isn't it?

Shrinky said...

Tatty, as I've said before, she truly proved my saving grace - I shall always be grateful to her.

Hi Hulabuns, great to see you in here! Yes, I was so blessed to have known her, she was a remarkable lady.

Hello Secret Agent, I think you may have a valid point there (smile)..

Aren't they just, Mushy? (Laughing)

I've thought about it, Jackie, but it is such a common name, and I am pretty sure she is married by now - still, it might be worth a shot, eh?

Aw Janine, my loss was most likely someone else's gain - perhaps her work with me was done, and she had other children in more need of her gifts?

Shrinky said...

hello Lori, oh my, isn't it amazing how many of us there are out there? One thing is for sure, whatever forged you, you've come through a truly authentic, compassionate person - most things tend to happen for a reason, eh?

I think it deserved to be posted five times too (chuckle)! You could well be right, without Ms. Brown's gentle influence, my eyes may never have been opened to the finer things in life. Hey, hang on, where are you going with my Granny's bloomers?? Come back here, you thieving varmnit, you!!!

Haha, Simon, that reminds me of our (much over-seen) small garden in Putney - I used to cringe if hubby ever pegged the washing out, 'cos despite my nagging, he never remembered to hide my knickers under something else!

Akelamalu said...

Ms Brown sounds like a wonderful teacher - a true vocation for her.

Have you tried to find her on Facebook? That would be really interesting if you were to find her. I'm sure she'd love to know what a wonderful impact she made on your formative years. :)

Shrinky said...

Oh Kate, I love it when you make my toes curl (blush)! And yes, the air needs to circulate dirty laundry, if not, it continues to moulder..

Barb, I am sure there are many Christine Browns out there, yourself included!

Hi Denise, with your zest and enthusiasm? I am sure you impacted many lives! Oh, (rubbing my hands) sounds like Sweet Sam has another fine treat in store.. hope you have a wonderful day out hon, I look forward to hearing all about it soon (grin).

Jinksy said...

The world need more born teachers like this one, and less beurocratic red tape. Have you see the latest TV programmes about Gareth Malone, BBC2 Thursday? He's certainly a born teacher if ever there was one...

TechnoBabe said...

OMG I am so grateful for your sake that there was a Christine Brown in your life at all, for however long she was plunked down in your dismal life. She opened up new things to your thirsty mind and hungry heart. Bless her, wherever she is. Wonderful writing, dear friend, your sharing real stories is a blessing for me.

Jay Simser said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog and allowing me to find and link to your wonderful blog. I am sorry you found the Sunday Funnies so depressing perhaps I shall put "Funnies" in quotes.

Heff said...

I LOVE the "laundrymatt" !!!


It's the only place you can STILL find a Pac-Man machine !!

Grayquill said...

This would be my first time here for a visit and I can see Ms. Brown did not waste her efforts. Great post! I suppose everyone has family secrets and somehow I guess they think that keeping them hidden will make them not real. Pride sure can get in the way of living healthy.

Grayquill said...

My Ms. Brown was Mrs. Iverson. I remember as an Angel with Wrinkles.
http://www.grayquillmusings.com/2009/07/angel-with-wrinkles.html

The Blue Zoo said...

I love these posts from your childhood.

She sounds truly amazing. You were lucky to have her.

*iTkUpiLLi* said...

Great pic! :)

G-Man said...

I had a few of those...
Loved your story Shrinky.

Joanna Jenkins said...

For some reason, your blog is all in jibberish symbols today and I can't read it-- But the granny panties are a hoot!
xo jj

Shen said...

What an absolutely wonderful post. You were so lucky to have someone like this in your corner. I remember a few teachers and counselors I idolized, but none who were willing to step over the boundaries my parents so diligently wrapped me in.

Anna said...

Shrinky that is beautiful tribute to Ms. Brown, and she was a teacher every student could wish for. We didn't have nearly something like that. I attended elementary school in Europe (where I grew up), and it was like an army. No wonder my husband cannot keep up with my exact timing, lol. Thanks for sharing this story, and it would be nice to find her one day. BTW thanks for dropping by my story blob Shrinky. Anna :)

Shrinky said...

Hi Akelamalu, funny you should mention that, I tried to Google her today, but had no joy - I'm pretty sure she has married and changed her name by now.

Oh TechnoBabe, what a lovely thing to say! Our past is what makes us who we are, and I am so glad Christine Brown was a part of mine.

Hello Jay, how good to see you in here! Oh dear, that was my mis-placed attempt at humour, please don't take it to heart..

Heff, you have GAMES to play in yours?? My how things have changed!

Grayquill, I am so glad you stopped by - welcome aboard. Thanks for that link, it's a beautiful, if poignant post. I'm glad you also found your own Christine Brown.

No Jinksy, I can't say that I have heard of that programme, but you have me curious now, I'll be sure to tune in to it, thanks!

Yes, Blue Zoo, I was very lucky to have known her. (Smile)

Thanks *iTkUpiLLi*

You did, G-Man? Ah, I'm glad to hear it! And thanks for those kind words.

Oh JJ, I can't think why that happened (grrrrrr), but thanks for stopping by, anyway!

Hello Shen, I am so pleased to meet you, and thanks for the lovely words. I am so sorry you didn't have the benefit of a caring mentor as you grew up, I am certain it would have improved your young life considerably (hugs).

Hi Anna, I had no idea you were educated in Europe, I'd love to know where? I do know the French educational system is very different to ours - to my eyes I find it rather harsh, to say the least!

laughingwolf said...

great mentors are hard to come by...

Shrinky said...

They are indeed, Laughingwolf.

Land of shimp said...

Aw, Shrinky :-) As a fellow veteran of ye olde bad childhood, this post made me smile more than it made me sniffle. I'm so glad you had someone in your life who basically showed you there was a different way to be, to live. That people could be very kind.

One of the things I've always liked about you, and your posts -- and this was a particularly good one, Shrinky, so emotionally evocative -- is that somewhere in all of that you found the determination to simply have a nicer, happier, better life.

I'm so glad you did. You're wonderful, and gusty.

Oh, and by the way? I had several friends who went to teach English in Japan, and had a terrible problem with grown men stealing their underwear if left out unattended on a line to dry! Every woman there knew to keep a close eye on their underthings. Eek.

Shrinky said...

Alane, where the hell have you been, girl? I've been on the verge of rounding up a search party to scout for you! (Hugs) Eeeee, you've been missed! Ah, one thing I've noticed about veteran's like us, is we sure know how to appreciate the good when it falls, and it seems to have come out alright for the both of us, moving on, huh? (Smile)

Margaret Benbow said...

Teachers like Christine Brown, who warm up a child's life and make all the difference, are as close as we will get to angels on earth. I'm so glad you knew her and that she saw the fine, intelligent person you were and are.

Shrinky said...

Oh Margaret, you gone and brought a lump to my throat, you! I think Christine Brown probably went on to open a lot of hope and possibility into many other lives, as well as mine. And yes, she is certainly as close to an Angel that I've ever met.

Sabi Sunshine said...

seems like I was in India haha how are you doing?
Have a wonderful week !

Love
Sunshine

Kristina Hughes said...

Another amazing story - quite a read. My Ms Brown came in the form of Mr Thomas - my English Lit teacher. I loved him with all my heart and thought he was talking directly to me when he quoted Wordsworth's " How strange that all the terrors, pains and early miseries, Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused within my mind, should e'er have borne a part, and that a needful part, in making up the calm existence that is mine when I am worthy of myself"!! In my 13 year old mind he was the only one who understood what I'd been through.

I wrote this quote down and found it in a box recently. My mum had written - probably when I was a hideous and uncontrollable 16 year old - "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child". How I laughed when I found this.

xxxxx

Brian Miller said...

she is awesome...and just the teachers we need more of...mine was darlene callahan (freshman and senior) english...sheopened my mind to so much and challenged me in ways no other teacher ever did...i wonder where she is as well...hmm...

Casdok said...

Very heart warming.

Shrinky said...

Cheers, Casdok.

billy pilgrim said...

the world would be a better place with more clothes lines and fewer dryers.

Shrinky said...

Yes, CJ, er, I mean Billy.. (wink)!

Shrinky said...

Hi Sabi, thanks! Hope your week is good too.

Oh Kristina, that is so funny! I may steal your mum's idea, and do likewise to one of my daughter's (laughing). Ah, the passions of adolecence, eh? I had a crush on my French teacher, he was SUCH a flirt, all us girls were mad over him!

Shrinky said...

Hi Brian, sounds as though we were both very blessed to have found such remarkable teachers, eh? Young minds are so very impressionable, I shall always be grateful for the positive imprint Christine left on mine.

Fen said...

Is it wrong I want to try those massive undies on just to see if they come up under my armpits!
Gorgeous story.

Skunkfeathers said...

My wizened one was a high school English teacher; Angelica (Angie) White. Besides being a looker, she was exceptionally bright and took the time to look for that which we weren't smart enough to discern.

She saw in me a talent for writing, one that I didn't note (at the time, I hated writing papers), and urged me to find an outlet for it.

It took me some years to recognize her wisdom, and even then, I never made it into the kind of thing that perhaps she thought I could.

But my blog is as much a hat-tip to her, as anyone.

Though, she'd still be annoyed at my misused commas, uncaught typos, run-on sentences, dangling participles, split infinitives....

;-)

Shrinky said...

Fen (laughing), great minds think alike!

Aw Skunk, Angelica as in "Angel", eh? Sounds to me she had the perception and insight to recognise a promising talent, when she saw one. I'm sure she'd be delighted to know you finally found your way back to your writing again.

Nick said...

My mum would always hang the washing on the clothes line to dry. But now, when I look at our neighbor's damp, dangling size 50+ underwear, that's more than I want to know about him.

Shrinky said...

Oh Nick, maybe we should introduce him to the lady who owns those bloomers, hanging in the above pic? Might make a match made in heaven..!

deb said...

there is a lot here I want to comment on,
but I'll thank the heavens for Ms. Brown being there for you.

I had one or two of them myself as well..

Parabolic Muse said...

OH! Brilliant!! Yes, the teacher who disappeared, but remains, the teacher who, no matter how I begged her not to, got married! I was only eight, and she was moving away!! And I, with a life of secrets, too!

Fabulous. bravo.

that girl said...

i <3 this story. so beautiful. i will never forget this.

Shrinky said...

Hi deb, her entering my life opened my eyes to a whoile new world out there, I can't tell you what a postive influence she was.

Shrinky said...

Oh Chris (hugs), it's such a lottery which family a child is born into, isn't it? I sure hope you found another Christine Brown along the way.

Hey That Girl, what a lovely thing to say (big smiles) - aww, thank you for that!

Phivos Nicolaides said...

The laundry looks ok!!

Bathwater said...

It is a great joy to be a positive influence on someones life. Whether as a teacher or a friend, often they don't even know how they have shaped the other.

Middle Child said...

Thats just so beautiful - some teachers inspire but too many are disinterested - teqaching should have the same prestige as doctoring...because they are responsible for the imagination, and the future lives of those they teach - an inspired teacher is gold

Gaston Studio said...

Excellent post and I so agree with Middle Child that teachers are meant to inspire and guide, just like your Miss Brown did. Oh, and we called it "airing our dirty laundry", lol.

Jane