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Cleaning the Lavoir

Updated on March 20, 2013
The lavoir
The lavoir
The path to the lavoir
The path to the lavoir

The Lavoir - the village's abandoned washing place

"Come on, Marybeth", my cousin urged. I was already hungry and wanting lunch. But the tiny kitchen was all business with my Aunt rushing back and forth between the gas stove and the small cutting board. I could hear the hiss of the propane heating the water on the stove and keeping the pilot lit for dishes after lunch.

Aunt Norrine and Uncle Jean had taken me down to Centuri Port where we shopped for fresh fish and crates of peaches. I wanted one, now. But Juliette was standing at the door with an impatient look.

"Grab that pail with the brushes," she ordered. I found it and ran out the door into the stone allyway.

I was 10 and Juliette was 13. We'd seen each other only twice before my trip to France. As I'd posed for pictures in St. Cloud before we left, I'd tried hard to hide the tears escaping as I smiled big for the camera. Who were these weird people and why were my parents leaving me with them for the whole Summer? I thought about this as I walked silently with Juliette in the lead.

The cicadas were loud and it was hot. I loved the short tunnel I had to walk through to get to the lavoirs. It was cold and my breath echoed in between my steps. The street was steep and I had much shorter legs than my giant cousin's.

We turned and I ran ahead, climbing up the stairs to the wild opening on the edge of the villiage. I had to show Juliette I was just as sportif as her.

The Lavoirs was a sort of scrubby area, almost like a villiage square. But you could tell that noone came here any more because the grass had grown high. At the far end of the place was a towering wall of rock that looked like it had been scooped out, like a mellon. The edge of the rock hung over the perimiter of the open space and fig-de-barbarie and macki hung over the edge of the rock. I stopped and crooked my neck up to see, jaw open, eyes wondering. I didn't even notice Juliette had gotten ahead of me.

Built into the rock was a sort of faucet with a spicket that came straight out of the rock. Water dripped out of this spicket and landed in a bowl, also carbed out of the rock. This whole thing was in a sort of house-shaped carving with a little clay man balanced near the roof. On each side of this was a square basin where water from the spicket and bowl went.

Then, on the left side, ther was a large square basin where the water went after that. This basin was big and was almost like a small swimming pool.

I'd been here before as it was my job to get the water for meals from the spicket. But I was always amazed when I saw this.

"What are we going to do?" I asked as I ran across the uneven stones and sand.

"We're going to wash it out." I looked deep into the big basin and screwed up my face. "Ewww! Why do we need to wash it?" The basin had green hair that looked longer than mine, floating back and forth in the water.

"So we can wash our clothes here, silly!"

"Wash our clothes here?"

"Of course, were else do you suppose we'll get our clothes clean?"

I thought about this. A washer machine seemed like a reasonable answer but I hadn't seen one in the house. So I guessed that was not the way we'd get our laundry done.

I looked in the water again, "eccccchhhhh" I said again.

"Come on," Juliette said. " hand me one of those brushes and you take the other."

Then, we climbed in. I'd been so hot that I was happy to get into the water, except for the green hair. But the water was so cold I would have jumped out again except that the green hair was slippery and - splash - down I went.

I had rarely seen Juliette laugh. But as I scrambled to get up and out of the basin she was doubled over in laughter. My head hurt from the cold water - like when you get ice cream headache and I was breathing like I'd been running for an hour.

A part of me wanted to cry, but I held it in an pretended to laugh along with Juliette.

"You go work on the little basins and I'll do this," Juliette finally said as she got her breath back.

"Ok," I said in my bravest voice.

So I took my big floor brush and started scrubbing the stone under the water. I couldn't scrub long before I had to take my hands out and hop around in the sunshine for a bit. But soon I got one done and started working on the other.

A little frog caught my eye. It was tiny and clinging to the side of the spicket. I looked closely and saw it had little suction cups on the ends of its toes. This wasn't like any frog I'd ever seen so I hopped around until I caught it and ran over to Juliette.

"look, look, " I said. "I caught a frog. Look, it's so cool with funny toes and everything!" She smiled and acknowledged my find. It was clear that 13 was too old for frogs but I was so excited that I didn't care.

"You should put it back, Mary Bet, and get back to work."

"I know," I said reluctantly putting the green creature back into a basin, watching it swim to the side and crawl up the wall.

I started scrubbing again but kept my eye on the frog. Everytime it went to far away, I caught it and put it back into the water, watching it swim and climb out again.

"So this is where the villiage comes to wash their clothes?" I asked out of the silence.

"They used to. The ladies would all come on the same day and talk and gossip here."

"How come they don't come here any more?"

"They all have washer machines now," Julliette said, the "duh" implied.

I thought, well how come WE don't have one, DUH? But didn't say it.

Pretty soon Juliette yelled, "come help me take the plug out"

I put my brush down, said good bye to the frog and ran over. "What plug?

Juliette motioned to the end of the big basin. Toward the corner on the bottom was a tight fitting plug. She got back in and hit it with a rock and I tried to pull from the outside. After about 10 mins, I pulled it out, falling on my butt and nearly rolling out of the clearing. Then, the green water with all it's algea started spraying all over me.

I jumped up and ran, "yuuuuucck! Grosssss!"

This time we both laughed until our stomachs hurt. After about 15 mins, all the basins were empty. So we both climbed into the big one again and scrubbed the rest of the green stuff off the sides and bottom where Juliette hadn't been able to get.

"go fill the bucket MaryBet, and then we'll wash this stuff down the hole."

I climbed out and stood at the spicket while the plastic bucket slowly filled up. While I waited, I looked around the corner for my frog but he was gone.

I carried the full bucket over and handed it to Juliette. She swooshed it all around and got most of the green stuff headed toward the hole. I filled the bucket again twice and then it was all clean. Juliette plugged the hole up again and I watched as the water started trickling from the small basin to the big one. It would take forever to fill everything, I thought.

"We should go back to the house for lunch," Juliette said to me. I looked at her and then me; our shorts and t-shirts were all green and wet. yick! I guess we'd be back to wash them later, here at the lavoir.


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    • mbwalz profile image

      MaryBeth Walz 2 years ago from Maine

      Thank you Indian. It was a very interesting life experience!

    • profile image

      Indian 2 years ago

      Well done to think of somiehtng like that

    • mbwalz profile image

      MaryBeth Walz 6 years ago from Maine

      Thank you Becky!

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 6 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      This is awesome. I will definitely reading more.

    • mbwalz profile image

      MaryBeth Walz 6 years ago from Maine

      AmaTainted, Thank you! Yes, it was a real one, as well as the other stories I've written about France. I was very fortunate to have relatives there!

    • AmaTainted profile image

      Amanda 6 years ago from Texas

      o this sounds like so much fun, regardless of the work involved! i hope its a real childhood memory...