29: The Lab Coat

29: The Lab Coat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

The Lab Coat

Cleanliness is next to impossible.

~Author Unknown

During my childhood, the topic my mother and I most disagreed upon was the length of time an article of clothing could be worn before being washed. Mom thought a pair of jeans should only be worn for a maximum of eight hours before being consigned to the wash. I preferred to wear them till the back of my knees started itching.

In hindsight, I was probably responsible for her premature graying. But these differences of opinion were nothing compared to the time I brought my chemistry lab coat home. This garment had seen continuous service for over a year of weekly lab experiments. Standard treatment was to roll it up and stuff it into the locker, only to be unrolled the next week. It had never been cleaned. Assorted organic and inorganic chemicals were deposited on it, interspersed here and there with regular old-fashioned grime.

One day my locker door jammed so I had to take the lab coat home with me. My mother was appalled when she saw it. Initially, she refused to let that coat enter the house. She announced that she had not seen such levels of filthiness even in her oldest floor mops. Finally, after some cajoling, she allowed the offending garment into the house. The condition was that she be allowed to wash it. I tried to dissuade her, but to no avail.

So she went about her mission as diligently as she did anything she undertook. She brought all her (considerable) laundry skills to the task, soaking it multiple times in the strongest detergent she could find. She washed it by hand, not trusting a machine to do the job half as well. After a few hours, it was a tired but proud mother who brought the coat to me, nicely ironed, almost as white as it was the day it was bought.

The only problem was that there was only half a coat left. The bottom half was in tatters, and I realized that the multiple layers of grime had another function—that of binding the threads together. Without it, the threads had simply given up and dissolved. Even the pocket, with its double lining had a thumb-sized hole right through it.

The next day in the lab, I put on the coat, ruing my decision to take it home. The boy at the next table took one look at it and smirked. “Couldn’t make it past your mom, could you?”

~Sandeep Sreedharan

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