These last few weeks of the year have been full of happy days. The children and grandchildren came together at the old homestead, every bed was full including the crib, and every bathroom was in high demand. Then suddenly, they were all gone and I was left with piles of sheets and towels to wash.

There was something inevitable about the fact that my washing machine picked that moment to spin its last. I had had a feeling that there was a problem the last few times I ran the machine because of the high-pitched whine it kept making. I chose to ignore the noise, the same way I tend to ignore a little pain in my tooth. But, just like my tooth, which often pays me back for my negligence by demanding a root canal, my washer changed the whine to a scream and then, in the middle of a load, unwilling to suffer anymore, it died. I looked on the bright side. I could finally get a new washing machine.

I don't even know how old my machine was. I had inherited it from the previous owners of our house, so it was at least 13 years old and probably more. It was a simple model with no bells or whistles. It just kept washing my clothes, boring and reliable. It was the one machine I have ever owned that refused to quit.

I've dreamt of a sleek new front-loading machine that saves wear and tear on the clothes, and soap and water, too. But as long as Old Faithful hung on, I was stuck in the laundry dark ages. I didn't spare a moment of mourning for the old model once it broke down, especially with all of those overflowing laundry baskets.

I went online thinking that the Internet would give me an easy answer as to which brand of washer I should buy. Either I'm not a good researcher, or there are no easy answers, even at Google. I found tons of information, and tons of opinions by random people, but no authoritative or definitive recommendations except from Consumer Reports who wanted me to subscribe. I did, however, get an idea of prices and questions to ask. I had thought I would go to one of the big discount chains, but I took the easy way out and headed over to my local appliance store.

The guy who helped me knew everything. Better yet, he told me what brand Consumer Reports recommends without my even have to pay for a subscription. And best of all, it was one of the cheapest front-loaders on the floor. It was even more of a bargain because I was happy with white. It seems that most people today want silver, or maroon, or turquoise, or something equally decorative. (I don't care what color it is, there is nothing decorative about a washing machine.)

I bought the washer. While I was at it, I bought the dryer, too, thinking (and hoping) the demise of my old one was also imminent. It actually functioned worse than the old washing machine. Though it had various heat settings, what it actually had was either hot, or hotter. Still, it took hours for the clothes to dry.

When we buy new things we expect them to be substantially better than what they replace. How else can we console ourselves for spending all that money? We want the new car to get better mileage, or have better traction in snow, or at least more cup holders. We want the new computer to be faster, lighter, easier to use. We want the new TV to have an amazing picture that makes us feel as if we are actually at the football game.

I wanted my new washer and dryer to get my clothes really clean in very little time and dry them quickly with a minimum of wrinkles, but I was also secretly hoping that the new machines would transform my life by making me enjoy doing laundry.

Delivery was punctual and went smoothly. My new machines were quite good-looking -- tall, handsome, with twinkling lights, silver buttons, and windows in the front. They sit on pedestals making loading and unloading a breeze and providing a convenient folding surface on the top. The washer and dryer were certainly attractive, but I put in my virgin load with trepidation. Would this machine be all that I wanted it to be?

The digital panel said that the wash was going to take almost an hour. Did my old machine take that long to do a wash? I didn't know because it had no minute countdown. Had I made a mistake?

When the load was finished (I watched the last few minutes count down on the digital panel), I marveled at how easy it was to put the wet things in the dryer and how simple the dryer was to operate. I put another load in the washer. Before I knew it, my clothes were dry. Easy to remove, easy to fold. My heart lifted. I had not made a mistake. I was in laundry heaven.

I couldn't stop putting in loads. How would my machines do on whites? Sheets? Delicates? I should have been working, or making dinner, but I kept doing laundry. I gazed into the window of the washer, mesmerized by my towels swishing around. As each load finished, my machines called me with a gentle beep.

I had been worried that I would have buyer's remorse. The world is full of disappointments and perhaps I had expected too much from a washer and dryer. But I got more than I wished for. Of course the machines have their faults. They stick out into the room quite a bit. They require special detergent. The washer door can't be opened mid-cycle to throw in a forgotten dish towel. No one's perfect.

These little quirks just add to their appeal. My new washer and dryer are no longer just machines; they are my friends.

When my husband got home for dinner I dragged him to the laundry room to meet Fred and Ethel. He thought they were quite good-looking.