She found, quite by accident, that her old washing machine made money. At first there was an occasional nickel or penny on the bottom of the speckled blue tub when she finished taking out socks and blue jeans. “Strange,” she told herself. “I know I checked the pockets.”
Then she began to find quarters and, once, after doing a load of bathroom throw rugs, she found two 1974 Kennedy half dollars.
At first she put the coins on top of the dryer in a chipped ashtray painted with bright green stick-like palm trees with the word Mexico painted around the edge. When that was full she poured them into an old blue Mason jar. They clanged against the glass almost musically. That, too, was soon full and quite heavy.
From the Mason jar, she transferred them into an empty detergent box on the floor next to the old washing machine. Then she lovingly wiped the top and sides of the machine with a solution of warm water and Murphy’s oil soap. The machine was the bright spot in the corner of the dingy basement.
The more laundry she did, the more money she found. She began to change bed sheets twice a week and curtains twice a month. She even made her children change their clothes twice a day.
Once, as an experiment, she ran the machine through an entire cycle without any laundry in it. All the machine yielded was a small, unfamiliar coin that she finally identified as a British half-pence.
Into the detergent box it went, also. By now the sides of the box were bulging. She was unable to lift it. So handful by handful, she transferred all the coins into a scrub bucket and covered them with a layer of old dust rags. She pushed the bucket, inch by heavy inch, under the laundry tub and made a mental note to buy another scrub bucket. Then she looked through the house for more laundry to do but there was none.
So she went next door to visit her widowed neighbor, old Mrs. Brown. She took with her a half dozen raisin oatmeal cookies, Mrs. Brown’s favorite, and stayed a bit for a cup of tea. Earl Gray with lemon. Mrs. Brown looked exceedingly tired and feeble. When she offered to do the old lady’s laundry, Mrs. Brown was so very grateful.
That load of laundry yielded a 1924 twenty dollar gold coin. Curious, she took it to a coin deal for evaluation. He told her it had a MS 65 grade and offered her a large amount of money for it, which she refused. She also refused any payment from Mrs. Brown when she carried the clean clothes back to her. Mrs. Brown gave her the name of another widow over on Stewart Street who might also appreciate help with her laundry.
The washing machine labored from morning to night as the number of people who needed help grew longer. The house had an ever present aroma of warm soap, the constant chug-chug of the motor and an underlying rhythmic sound of water swishing back and forth.
That is, until one very chilly morning, all swishing stopped. A load of sheets from Mrs. Martin over on Maple Avenue lay motionless and soggy. The machine had just quit.
The repairman said it couldn’t be fixed. “It’s too old. They don’t make parts for it any more. Too bad, really” he said. “They were great washers in their day. Don’t make them like that anymore.”
“Can’t you at least try?” she asked. “I’ll pay you extra.” But he couldn’t.
She yanked the heavy sheets from the washer, splashing water over her shoes and onto the gray cement floor. She wrung them out, one by one, as much as she could before throwing them into the dryer.
It took a long time for the sheets to dry but after she pulled them out several dollar bills lay in the bottom of the dryer.