The Joy of Laundry

Finally a day on which I could stand in my backyard with the first item of clothes in my hands and some clothes pins in my teeth! A day when I could take in a deep breath of warm air, and not even try to keep from grinning like a fool. You see, Mother Nature has been in a bit of a mood disorder here in New Jersey this Spring. Seems like every day brings an unexpected shift in the weather, from freezing to broiling, and back again. The upshot has been a delay in one of my favorite warm weather rituals, the laundry.Wait, what? I can almost hear the collective cyber-gasp. You did in fact read both the title and the introduction correctly. You see, I don’t mean just doing the laundry any old way. When the warm weather arrives, I relish the day when I unplug the dryer and go au natural. (Not that kind of au natural! Heavens, I don’t live in a nudist colony. I can’t believe I just wrote that, though what with the interwebs’ penchant for all sorts of odd fetishy things I am not a bit surprised that you slipped into the gutter on that.)

Laundry is probably not the first thing called to mind by most folks when their thoughts turn to warmer days. I guess I am just a little different. Spring is time for me to dig up the clothespins and head outside to check on how my clothes lines–yes, clothes lines, about a half dozen of them–have weathered the winter. Time to unearth the gizmo my aunt gave me for hanging the socks and undies. Time to empty the clothes baskets of the winter clothes that always seem to live there for long periods of time. About now, more than a few of you may be surmising that I need to have my head examined. Let me explain.

You Just Keep Me Hanging On

I admit that I wasn’t what you’d call keen on the idea at first. You know the old saw: Necessity is the mother of invention. Necessity pushed me to it. In May just a couple of years ago, I found myself both laid off and short on cash. Rather than get into a desperate race, I decided for the first time since the age of fourteen to take a summer off , enjoy a fuss free time of lazy days with my children, and hang on to the cash I’d put by for summer camp. Why squander it on child care I no longer needed? When you’re a single mom with two kids anything that might help pinch a penny is fair game. It seemed counter-productive to run the air conditioner to cool the house, only to heat it up by using the dryer when it was hot enough outside to melt your flip flops. The one place it wasn’t hot was my back yard, which is so heavily shaded by towering maple trees that even the grass won’t grow there. So for under ten bucks I bought some cord and clothespins and set to work.

I really thought it was going to be a huge pain and suck up way too much time. What the heck! It seemed I suddenly had time to spare. Cash to pay the electric bill, not so much. In addition, I had a fairly strong hippie-chick-earth-mother-tree-hugging vibe going. I would be doing my part to save the Earth! I would reduce my carbon footprint! I would let the wind and sun do my drying for me! Save the Whales! Peace, love, and laundry! (Oh, brother. Was I ever on a roll!)

Out of the washer came the first load, and I headed outside. There, I promptly crash landed into a puddle of memories that made me smile so hard I practically got a cramp in my face. When I was about ten, my mother and I stayed in her family home in Ireland for the better part of a year. My Granny was ill. My mother, a professional registered nurse, was “home” to take care of her. This was not in the early 1900s. We were well past mid-century and rounding home for Y2K. However, it was extremely rural Ireland. We still had chickens and fresh eggs out back. The washing machine ran on electric to agitate the clothes, but as God is my witness you had to take them out and run them through the wringer before setting them in the basket and heading out to the line. This was Ireland after all, so the line was either in the barn where it was dry or, on a rare fine day, out in the glorious sun and crisp breeze. We did actually try to time it so we could get all the wash done on a fine day. Occasionally it just doesn’t go the way you plan. (Who knew there was also a life lesson mixed up with the socks?)

The first memory to surface was a vivid flashback to standing next to my mother holding the rust-flecked tin box brim full of wooden clothespins, worn smooth and brown from years of use, as we talked and laughed while carrying out this most mundane of chores. The summer I began my little love affair with line-dried laundry, memories of my mother were more likely to make me crash land in a puddle of tears. I wasn’t ten any more, and my beloved mother was dying bit by painful bit from Alzheimer’s. There in the quiet of my yard, I had for the first time in a long time a sweet memory which hung suspended all around me, like a spider web spangled with diamond dew drops in morning sunlight.

It was peaceful in the yard that morning as I took time to absorb the beauty around me in honor of my mother. The mulberry tree attracted scores of birds. Their assorted twittering was surprisingly loud in the still morning. Since the day shift in a hospital starts at seven, my mom was out the door by six. As the days grew longer and the sun rose over the New York skyline ever earlier, the day would eventually come that my mother would arrive home from work with news. “Spring is here!” she would announce. “As I walked through the parking lot all the little birds were up and singing. I was so glad to hear them.” As the sunlight filtered through the leaves and the damp laundry smelled more fresh than any Yankee Candle could hope to duplicate, one memory lead to the next. Church bells rang the Westminster Chimes pattern, sparking other memories of college days when the same notes sang across the courtyard. Somehow a mundane task had managed to turn into one that filled my heart with a simple, but profound moment of joy.

Kathleen Ronan is a writer and a nurse.

7 thoughts on “The Joy of Laundry

  1. And now you’ve conjured a memory for me. I used to love helping my mother hang laundry on the line. Why I don’t know, but I did. Thanks for my morning smile.

  2. I have never hung laundry and now I feel sorry about that! Maybe it’s time to throw up a line and get my stuff out there in the sun 🙂 Lovely story, lovely sentiment.

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