There’s something about a clothesline

If you have moved even once in your life, you know that it takes just a certain injection of you to make the new house a home.
Some say that you haven’t moved in until you’ve hung the pictures. Others say the house is not yours until you’ve painted your own pallet on to the walls.
For me, it’s a clothesline. I absolutely must have a clothesline.
There’s something about a clothesline—a unique yet purposeful quality that nothing else seems to come close to. A clothesline makes me feel honourable as if merely having one removes some of the burden from the environment.
A clothesline captures all the best fragrances from the wind and infuses it into the fabric, especially the sheets, that snap and strain in the wind, wanting to take flight.
A clothesline transforms a house from ambiguity to ownership, to belonging, to the place I call my own. And a clothesline is a link to the past, to remembering, to all things perfect and pure.
My childhood clothesline was stretched between two “Ts” beside the big white spruce tree. It was a little bit of a trek from the backdoor but that never daunted my mother.
She hung out laundry winter and summer, biting cold and intolerable heat. And my clearest picture of her is while I am stretched out in the grass while she hummed and hung her sheets—her hair pulled back under a red bandana, her black shorts and very white legs, and a look of happy contentment.
It is that image that I conjure up each time I hang sheets and towels and T-shirts and socks.
In the winter, she retrieved the frozen sheets from the clothesline, sheets like cardboard, and draped them over chairs to soften and thaw into something extraordinary. Then she tucked me into bed and shook those same sheets out and let them settle down on to me in a magical kind of way while I closed my eyes and breathed in their magnificent aroma.
My mother never had a clothes dryer, didn’t want one, and never complained about her choice—happy to let the wind carry the moisture away.
I have hung clotheslines in almost every place I’ve lived, and I’ve lived a lot of places. I’ve hung upside down out barn windows to screw in a hook to hold my clothesline pulley. I’ve leaned ladders up against the least stable structures on which to string a line.
My last home, I had Laurie climb up a tree and balance holding on with one hand while screwing in a hook with the other.
Now that’s devotion.
I recently built what most likely will be my last clothesline. Not because I’ve one foot in the grave, though none of us really know, but because I just don’t think I’ll create another or at least it seems unlikely.
Laurie, my right arm girl, helped me. David dug the first hole, swiftly and deftly to the perfect depth (credit where credit due). Then Laurie and I dug the other four-foot hole that came up short, wrestled with the stones, massaged our aching wrists, then hoisted the too-long four-by-four posts into the holes while keeping tension on the clothesline already wrapped round the pulley.
It looked awkwardly tall, my confidence about the choice waning slightly under the criticism of a certain bystander who thought it better resembled a flagpole than a clothesline.
Then came the clothesline platform (because it turns out it was a bit too tall), using my new miter saw and cordless drill, and the feeling of utter contentment.
As I extended my sheets out to catch the breeze, I heard them snap and strain. I thought of my mother, her joyful humming still hanging on the breeze in my memory. And how I wish it hadn’t passed so quickly.
I knew, knew as I pulled my knees up in the grass all those years ago, watching the bees in the dandelions, knew that I wouldn’t forget those moments of laundry and sunshine and my mother’s clothesline.
I miss my mother.
wendistewart@live.ca

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