Hanging laundry helps her hang on to memories

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When my sun porch was built this past summer, I reluctantly sacrificed my much-loved clothesline. Made from abbreviated, creosote-covered power poles and six sturdy lines, the clothesline, according to one of my neighbors, had worked for more than 50 years. Unfortunately, it was smack-dab in the middle of where the new porch needed to be, and I had no choice but to let it succumb to the contractor’s chain saw.

I’m very fond of my sun porch and the view it affords. Yet, I find myself grieving the loss of that clothesline, even when the dipping temperatures of winter give me reason to pause and make a run for the dryer, instead of lugging a basket of wet laundry out the kitchen door to the backyard.

On a mid-January morning when I wrote this column, the ground here in West Bath was unfrozen; and luckily for me, I’ve recently been offered kind assistance with the construction of a new clothesline that won’t obstruct my view, but can still be admired from the window over the kitchen sink.

Once again, I’ll look out on the satisfying scene of sheets and colorful clothes bobbing and flapping in the breeze. Of course, I don’t intend to wait for spring to start putting out the wash. I delight in gambling on the effects of global warming and the few hours of drying power the weak winter sun affords to infuse my laundry with the essence of outdoors.

The chore of hanging laundry in winter brings back childhood memories of more rugged, much colder winters when my mother, who owned a clothes dryer for most of my growing-up years, still insisted on trudging through the deep snow to the clothesline at the edge of the apple orchard.

Maybe it was her frugal nature that motivated her to carry the heavy, wet clothes out into the cold, in an attempt to save on the electric bill. Perhaps her time knocking the icicles off the lines before pinning the wet clothes on them with practiced, reddened hands enabled her to grab a few minutes for herself away from four rambunctious children.

Most afternoons, closure for the task my mother started in the morning fell to me. When I arrived home from school just before twilight, Mom watched for me to pass by the big living room window on my weary walk from the bus stop. She opened the front door and called to me to please bring in the laundry. I came ’round to the kitchen door, handed off my books and received the laundry basket, as well as a warm kiss on my chilly cheek. I then stepped into the deep bootprints my mother made in the snow much earlier in the day, and pinched the clothespins open with my mittened hands to release the frozen fabric.

As I lifted my arms high to keep the clean sheets from touching the ground, I breathed in the fragrances of balsam and pine trees brought by the north wind that continually crashed and swirled against winter’s icy clutches.

After shedding my coat and boots, I helped Mom fold the sheets into thirds and draped them over dining room chairs placed over the floor registers. As the sheets began to thaw, becoming slightly soggy before drying altogether, the warm air from our oil furnace drifted through the house, emitting their fresh perfume.

The undershirts, towels and other assorted items still retained the smell of outdoors even after a brief go-round in the dryer. I continued my assigned chore by folding everything neatly and putting it all where it belonged.

After the supper dishes and homework were done, I climbed the stairs behind Mom, both of us burdened with layers of white sheets, pillowcases and aired blankets. As we made our way from room to room making up beds, I looked forward to sweet dreams, all the while cradled in the comfort of bedding caressed by a thousand snowflakes and kissed by the mellow sun of winter.

Karen Schneider is a freelance writer living in West Bath. She may be reached by e-mail at iwrite@suscom-maine.net.

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