About three or four years ago, I started hanging our clothes outside to dry from early spring through late fall. We did it originally to help “green” our lifestyle, though admittedly, it is kind of a pale green initiative around here, since I partially use line drying to offset my love of air conditioning in our hot, humid Carolina summers. 🙂
There’s a lot I like about the practice– a necessary awareness of the weather, a loud, hot, electrically-powered task replaced by a quiet, meditative, free one, less wear and tear on our clothes. I’ve gotten less squeamish about shaking little clinging bugs off the towels, but I’ve never gotten over the bleaching and speed drying properties of a day of intense sunshine.
But one of the best gifts of this household habit came to me early, when I first pulled a stiff washcloth from the line, and it felt oddly familiar. The rough texture, the hard folding. . . later that day, it came to me, “They feel like Grandma’s washcloths!”
Of course they did. Of course she line dried her laundry, cooked everything from scratch, grew the brightest flowers with the fertilizer produced nearby in the chicken coop. And I was transported to the bathroom of her southwestern Virginia farmhouse, saw again the stack of mismatched stiffened washcloths, or washrags, as she would have called them. Felt their sandpapery texture like the one I’d folded into my own basket that afternoon.
She’s been gone from this world for many years. I’m raising my boys in the burbs, far from the valley where her pale green farmhouse stood. Time erodes, each circle round the sun, and there is not much but a handful of moments, sensory memories deeper than thought, and they’re what I have left. The quilt she made me when I was a baby. The recalled warm-scented satisfaction of sitting down at her Formica kitchen table to a Saturday lunch. The remembered taste of her long-simmered pinto beans, a savory comfort I’ve never again found and certainly never mastered myself. The miraculous brown curve of a gathered egg in the hand of my suburban child self.
And now, the feel of a clothespin between my fingers and the coarseness of sun-baked terrycloth, and me, moving on down the line.