This particular story is not intended as a "woe is me" type of post. It's just strong memories that came rushing back to me when I watched Calypso hanging laundry yesterday. I merely share it as a snapshot of particular moments and a somewhat meandering route to Da Count this week.
It's a cool Saturday in October and I have just turned 7. I've carried up the wash basket full of wet clothes from the basement and now I inch along the wash line as I pin up each piece of clothing. It's a chilly day. The wet clothes and cold air make my fingers sting. I have a rhythm. Take a piece from the basket, 2 clothespins from the bag, step up on the wooden box to reach the line, pin the clothes, step down and shuffle the box before retrieving the next wet article. Mommy told me how to do it before I came out here. In between the shuffles I bring my fingers to my mouth so my breath can warm them.
This is all at my new house in town. We just moved here from a big house in the country where we had a vegetable garden as big as this sad excuse for a yard. At my old house I only had to keep my room clean and help in the garden. Helping in the garden was a game not work. My room was only mine. It was pretty. I didn't share it with my brother and it was warm and didn't have graffiti on the walls like my new room. What kind of stupid boys with stupid parents draw all over the walls like they did at this house before we came here? Now my room is cold, there is no electricity or heat in it. I hear the neighbor girl play her loud music on the other side of the wall when I try to sleep. I listen to my brother toss in his bed on the other side of the curtain that divides the room we share.
I hang another shirt as I see the girl who lives across the alley do cartwheels in her yard while her daddy applauds. My mommy is inside the house on the couch. She is not allowed to do any work because she has blood clots in her legs. When I asked if the blood clots meant she would die she said it was a possibility. I need to be a big girl and do more jobs in the house so Mommy can rest and get well. I step off my box again and kick it along the ground to the next spot. Stupid box. The box is about 2 feet long and a foot wide with a divider going lengthwise inside it. It's painted pale green. It's what Daddy built when I asked for a doll house. Only none of my dolls could ever fit into it even when I bent them like they were sitting. He went away not long after he gave it to me. Then we moved. Then Mommy got sick. Now my "doll house" is what I stand on so I can reach the wash line to hang wet clothes in the cold at an ugly house so Mommy can get better and not die while a neighbor girl performs before her adoring father. I hang the last piece, put the box in the basket, and drag it inside.
Months later when it is Spring Daddy picks my brother and me up for a Sunday visit. We go to the new house where he lives with his girlfriend. I am following him up the walk next to the wash line at this new house. There are strange lacy things hanging on the line. I stare at them and try to figure out what they are. Finally I ask. Daddy says they are his girlfriend's panties. I ask why they are ripped and he hustles me along but doesn't answer. I ask her later if she will get new panties soon because the ones on the line are all ripped right up the middle. She giggles and tells me they aren't ripped, they are crotchless. Daddy gets angry. I'm very confused.
Over the years of childhood, adolescence, early marriage and parenthood I hang countless loads of laundry on the line. There is some sort of zen-like serenity in hanging it slowly, filling the line and ordering the clothes from largest to smallest, snapping towels to fluff up the fibers, following the rhythm. It's a peaceful and precise ritual. At night when I slide between fresh sheets that smell of outdoors I inhale the peace. I'd never consider living somewhere that doesn't allow wash lines.
Calypso tells me she needs to do her laundry. I remind her that since the weather is warm and dry we use the wash line instead of the dryer to save the electricity. She says, "Ok." I've gone into my bedroom to put something away. Out of my window I see her slowly fill the line, pants together, then shirts, then undies and socks. I am glad for the peace in our earlier exchange. I am glad for her responsibility. I am glad there are no perplexing garments. I am glad she doesn't need a wooden box and the air is warm.