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Sharon Randall: Stain removal for the soul

Have you ever taken something that seemed ruined and made it good as new?

I was 7 years old, helping my grandmother do the wash on her old wringer washer.

By “helping,” I mean I watched her work. She never let me near the wringer. It had mangled a few of her fingers, and she was not about to let it do that to me.

The washer sat on a back porch that was encased, like many Southern porches, in wire screening to let in the breeze and keep out the mosquitoes.

I loved that porch.

The previous evening, I’d sat on its worn plank floor bundled up in a quilt, watching a storm roll in over the mountains. My mother would never let me do that. But my grandmother, on her watch, liked to indulge me.

What else are grandmothers for?

The storm passed in the night, but the cloudless summer day smelled sweet with the promise of more rain. We hoped to get the wash on the line before the next storm rolled in.

While loading the washer, my grandmother found a dress that appeared to be ruined, caked with mud. She gave me a look.

“Sorry,” I said. “It was an accident. I sat in the creek.”

“Well,” she sighed, “accidents happen. We’ll get it clean.”

Then she pulled out a scrub board and showed me how to get creek mud out of a dress.

We took turns scrubbing. And soon the sound of our scrubbing began to sing a fine tune, a four-part harmony with the creek and the birds and the wind in the trees. The angels sang backup and we sang with them.

I don’t recall the words. But I wish you could’ve heard us.

Finally, after a few minutes of singing and knuckle-numbing work, my dress was transformed from “ruined” to “good as new.”

With that, I became a believer in the power of scrubbing. And I have been scrubbing ever since.

As a child, I scrubbed the red dirt that I played in each day off my feet and knees and elbows. In my teens, I scrubbed my face to avoid breakouts.

And then, as a young mother, I scrubbed everything in sight: Faces and hands, tops and bottoms, tubs and toilets, dishes and floors. If it moved or didn’t move, I scrubbed it.

Cleaning products became my closest friends. Like my grandmother’s scrub board, they could transform ruined to good as new. But I can’t say I ever heard them sing.

My children are grown now with children of their own. They often visit and sleep over on occasion, and I love to indulge them.

But my scrubbing needs are infinitely simpler. I still scrub tubs and toilets, dishes and floors, and a few faces and hands of the grands before we sit down to eat. If I’m lucky, I might even get to give one of them a bath and hear them ask, “Nana, why don’t you have any bath toys? What do you do when you take a bath?”

But these days I mostly scrub myself. I scrub my face before bed so I won’t need to scrub makeup off my pillow case.

And I scrub my hair twice a week so it doesn’t fall flat and make me look like bloodhound.

My husband and I trade off doing laundry, but I handle stain-removal. He says I’m better at it. Fine. I soak and spray and scrub each stain until it goes away. If it doesn’t go away, I keep at it.

Sometimes I sing. Singing helps, I think, not just with scrubbing, but with lots of things. I can’t get rid of every spot, but I do what I can.

I like to start each day with clean clothes and a clean soul. Clothes need scrubbing once in a while, but the soul longs to forgive and be forgiven.

The most powerful stain remover is an apology. It requires no scrubbing, just a few magic words that if spoken from the heart can mend a ruined relationship good as new: “I am sorry” and “I forgive you.”

If you say those words and mean them, your soul will sing. Listen to it closely.

You might hear angels singing backup.

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, or www.sharonrandall.com.

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