The OK Laundry at Herb Lake
Told by Dulcie Taylor to Linda Butler (a number of years ago)
Mah Yen, who was in his seventies, opened a laundry in Herb Lake in the town square next to Al Foreacre’s Butcher Shop.
Mah went to the lake every morning to fill his water pails from the town dock, then struggled up the small hill with a pail of water in each hand using a yoke around his neck for balance.
When he returned home, he lit a fire in his wood burning stove and heated the water in pots, then got out his rubbing board to scrub the dirty clothes with lye soap in the warm water. He rinsed the clothes and hung them outside on a clothesline to dry.
He kept three or four “sad” irons on top of his stove, which were made of steel. Once they were hot from the stove, he slipped a wooden handle into one of them and ironed the dried clothes until the iron cooled, then return it to the stove to re-heat and put the handle into another hot iron, and continued ironing. Mah’s laundry business was labor-intensive as he did not have a washing machine, running water or electricity, and he charged very little for his labor.
My parents owned the hotel in Herb Lake and sometimes I took dirty laundry to Mah’s shop for the miners who stayed at the hotel. When I came to see him, Mah would pause in his work and speak to me for a few minutes. He enjoyed chatting and was always friendly.
One day he said: “I am going to give you something.” And he reached into a cloth bag and produced some horrid looking dried things.
He said: “You eat them, very good.” His children in China had sent them to him as a special treat and he wanted to share them with me. He demonstrated how to remove the shell before eating the inside.
I was used to the strange smells from the bottles of medicines and herbs that Mah had on his shelves, but I was skeptical about the shriveled round things he held out to me. As I took them from him, I smelled them and they had an unusual odor. I thanked Mah politely and said that I would try them later. I put them into my pocket to sample on the way home. If I didn’t like them, I would throw them into the bushes.
After I left Mah’s, I looked at one of the strange objects and gingerly removed the outer shell to sample the inside. To my surprise it tasted good. Later I learned that his gift was dried lychee nuts.