All the sunny, blue sky weather we’ve had for the past few days vanished last night. We woke up yesterday to heavy gray skies, and rain. The perfect day to wear my new raincoat, a spiffy black Ann Taylor coat I bought for $15 at my favorite thrift store last week. Except I had taken it to the dry cleaners on Friday and hadn’t picked it up yet.
I wanted that raincoat, I needed it. Sometimes, on a rainy day, or a day that promises to be exhausting, or a bland, unexciting Tuesday, even having one new thing to wear can put a jump in my step, and make me feel better. The dry cleaners is only about 7 minutes tops from our house, on a good day, and if the traffic light at the top of our street hasn’t just turned red. Still, with how difficult it is each day to get L. out of the house—the mad dash our mornings always seem to be—it didn’t seem likely we’d have time to run over there before school. Miracle of all miracles, though, we somehow managed to leave the house ten minutes earlier than we usually do; the ten minutes that I needed to make the errand happen, even with the stubborn traffic light.
There’s something soothing about a dry cleaners on an early, rainy morning. As L. and I stood under the fluorescent lights, and I chatted with the pretty young woman who works there, I noticed how enthralled L. was by the whole place. I had never, I realized, taken him into a dry cleaners before—at least not in many, many years. The young woman, catching L.'s interest, explained how the mechanical racks moved and I could tell L. was itching to get behind the counter, to look up close at the machinery. She pushed the button that swung the racks around, and I could see L.'s mind at work, already making a mental note to include that same mechanical process in one of his latest inventions.
Then, out of the blue, I had a memory: I remembered how taken I had been, as a child, with the dry cleaners. I saw myself at L.’s age, standing next to my mother, watching the petite Asian lady who ran the dry cleaners back home punch the rubber button, sending the long line of shrouded clothing marching down toward us, like straight-backed plastic-clad ghosts. Through a child’s eyes what had probably seemed so mundane and routine to the Asian lady, and to my mom, I'm sure, seemed magical--every part of it--to me; right then and there I remember thinking how great it would be to work there, at a dry cleaners, and be the one who got to punch the button, or snoop at everyone’s clothes, and imagine the people who lived inside of them.
I don't think I've ever told anyone that I once had a dream to be a dry cleaner. It was one of many flash-in-the-pan, here-one-day, gone-the-next dreams that all small children have. But I had forgotten about it myself, until yesterday. I marveled, not for the first time, how much of ourselves we can discover again through our own children. They are like doors into our pasts, offering us glimpses of who we were, or how we thought, all those years ago when the simplest most marvelous pleasure in the world was an unexpected trip to the dry cleaners.
But maybe I haven't changed so much, I thought, as I slipped on my freshly cleaned raincoat, the fabric crinkling nicely around me. I hope I never lose sight of the magic in the precious and simple things: a rainy morning, my child's hand in mine, the swoosh of the windshield wipers against the glass, a favorite song on the radio, a new raincoat.