Picture of Janet


A Proper Clothesline

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My brother suggested it first, but in the long standing way he and I have come to acknowledge good ideas, I am going to claim it. It just seemed fitting that if you are working on an old 1930’s house and trying to be part of a farm, it’s sensible to have a clothesline. So, as fate would have it, a friend of mine happened to have one, in the back yard of an old house that she was renovating. She didn’t know I wanted one, she just knew I wanted to see what she was doing to the old house as she experimented. But there you go, as I walked into the back yard, a big old oak gracing the back fence, blocking the view of the warehouse that had sprang up behind the house, was a perfectly made, quite usable, old-as-me, clothesline. 

Now you know the kind I am talking about. Made of pipe, welded to a T, there are holes bored into the cross pipe so that wire or sturdy line can be strung. A good place is found to set those two poles deep into the ground, as far apart from each other as your yard and the line will allow, buried to the depth that the weight of wet sheets and towels, damp jeans and t-shirts won’t show a strain. But once you have them secured just right, your laundry can bake and sway in any breeze that filters through, secured to the clothesline with spring loaded wooden pins. Line dried clothes have character. Long before there were fabric softeners and fancy soaps, freshly washed clothes dried hanging on lines and in the process developed a stiffness that was surprising. Crisp and rigid, line dried jeans would lightly chafe when you slipped them on, something I didn’t like as a child. But it’s the sheets where the difference really comes. Oh my, how fresh and sweet they smell, when late at night, you lay your head down on pillow cases and sheets that seem to hold sunlight captive in that crinkly state. If the sun has a smell surely it’s those sun dried sheets that carry its essence. 

Josh and I took the first trip over to get the poles, armed with a shovel. I had a fleeting moment where I considered we might be underarmed and undermanned but ignored the niggling doubt. We attacked the pole closest to the house which turned out to be closest to the entangling roots of a huge old elm tree. The first spade full of dirt hit hardpacked clay and fibrous root and with each shovel full, the return got less. Hardened from Iraqi sun and soldier toil, Josh began to look at me with that look. The one that said, you might have the heart to do this Mom, but we need more brawn. After an hour and a half, Josh’s lithe body dripping with sweat, I acquiesced, assuring Josh that all we needed was a few more implements and John. We left. 

On the second trip over, the recruitment of sons counted two and half of that crew began expressing considerable doubt not only about the chances of digging up the poles but even declaring they might not be worth the effort. As every Mother can, I ignored the son’s logic. We were armed to the teeth with implements, picks and hoes, multiple shovels and even a crowbar or two, but something they didn’t know, I was also armed with critical information I didn’t have the first time. You see, my initial plan, which we all seemed to think best, was to dig all around the pole, increasing the size of the hole equally, eventually digging to the bottom. And then I talked to my brother. “Janet,” he said, “all you need is to dig the hole out to the side of the pole, equal only in width to the concrete surrounding it and down to the bottom. That’s all the dirt you need to move. That, and make up your mind to quit thinking and just do it ‘till it’s done.”

We took turns and between bruised knuckles, accumulating blisters and unabated voiced displeasure at how unreasonable the venture was, we extracted the first pole. I was proud. The sons looked decidedly unconvinced.  Eyeing the other one, even Josh’s furtive looks in my direction made me think he was considering joining the chorus of ‘give up”. They both started touting the merits of buying the materials and welding our own. Didn’t matter that we didn’t have a welder, we could buy one. Or better yet they said, cut this second one off at ground level and then weld another piece on the bottom. Oh my, I thought. Braun is good, but wisdom has its place. When they got tired, I took up the pick ax, trying to mimic the rhythmic movement of another son I had seen split wood. My back aching from unfamiliar strain and the going slow, I could feel doubt creeping into my own resolve. About that time, with a few more swings, I pushed the pole towards the sideways hole and it leaned squarely towards it. With a few more brawny pushes it was ready to be pulled up. We had them both. We got in the truck, and as visions of billowing sheets dancing on strung aluminum clothesline filled my head, I heard John mumble, “Well, I’m not going to hang anything on them.”

There are things that we do whose value comes to light only when we have time to think back on them. My sons like to tell some crazy stories on their old mom, from when they were kids and I took them on strange ventures that made no sense. Time has put the right turn on those events as they lovingly tease me about them now.  I suspect that in years to come, this story too might be shared around, this story of clothesline poles. Perhaps when they do and perhaps when their heads rest on crisp pillow cases dried on a clothesline and have capture the smell of sun, I hope they remember. Never give up.

Happy Monday.

Quote for the day: It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.  ~Albert Einstein

Bible verse for the day: I can do everything through him that gives me strength. ~Philippians 4:13

November 3, 2008

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