Thursday, January 16, 2020
I lived in a subdivision once and clotheslines weren't allowed, as only hooligans and hillbillies use them, you know. You couldn't even hang a beach towel off of your porch or paint your front door the color you wanted. I quickly moved away from the Stepford Subdivision, never to return.
A washer is a must. Even as much as I love old machinery I have no desire to run my clothes through a wringer like Grandma Gullikson. But to pull in a big batch of sheets from the line, kissed by the sun with the warm scent of summer on them, there is no fabric softener scent that can match that. There's something quietly satisfying about taking things that are dirty, the clothing of the people you love, and rendering them clean, a ritual of care that feminists would probably vilify me for actually liking. But holding the clothing of someone you love, something that bears their scent, their labors, and then carefully getting it ready for them to wear again, has an intimacy of its own.
The clothes would hang, with the linens, dresses and dress shirts, the modest nightwear, the men's briefs and big "Granny panties" that we wore, ones that did not peak out of low slung jeans but only the Sears Catalog. There was our Sunday best, to be appropriately scratchy for young ones in the pew to squirm around as Father Erickson talked of Genesis and Exodus and fathers therein who dared talk face to face with God.
While I played, Mom would iron everything, including the sheets, from the hand-embroidered ones of the '50s to the harvest gold striped ones from the late '60s and '70s. She'd use a wine bottle that had a cap that allowed for water to be sprinkled out in lieu of a steam iron as if subtly blessing the sheets. There was almost a zen-like ritual to it, much as I feel when I reload, a series of defined movements, done in proper order with the right amount of physical force and the elements that comprise the process.
I'm sure she missed the challenges, but after 18 years as an LEO, she found greater satisfaction in maintaining order in a house of redheads and occasionally fishing someone's toy out of the toilet. Everything she did, she did with care and attention to detail, even after she got so sick, her days filled with weariness and, I suspect, pain.
I remember her as well, dealing with Big Bro's and Dad's filthy and smelly fishing garb, simply smiling a patient smile and handling them as delicately as vestments. She worked away, a patient smile on her face, the birds on the lines and in the trees, singing a hymn of praise as she labored for love.
While the clothes fluttered on the summer line like the last valiant leaves of the year, we'd run and play. If we fell down, we got up, if we skinned a knee, we washed it off with the hose, running in and out of the hanging sheets, bright red heads flashing in and through them like birds. We did so with a zest for breathing that is wrung out of most people by the time they're 40, playing as if we were eternal and in that moment, we were, there in the open clean air, away from the walls of dust and shadow and sickness.
We understood early one, that some things do NOT wash out.
The clothesline eventually came down. I don't recall when actually. It was about the time Big Bro went off to the Navy, to submarine school. I wanted to go with him, we did everything together, but I had a few years of school left. All I could do was stand there as a line that no longer held his shirts stood like a barren flag pole and the vehicle in which we'd had so many adventures, drove off towards his future. I watched as long and as hard as I could, thinking that old blue panel van would turn around. But the red tail lights just got further away and closer and closer together until my last memory was a small single spot of red that made my eyes weep as if I had dared to stare into the sun.
As I hang up a button-down dress shirt, I think back to those days of my childhood, as my Mom did the same things for those she loved. As I work, I talk face to face with God as He helps me with the biggest puzzles of all. As the wind flutters through the fabric, around me come the sound of birds, perched on lines of their own, rejoicing without fail, their ceaseless, silver voices singing as if they are eternal, and for this moment may very well be. - LBJ