Monday, March 14, 2005


When I wake up in the morning, I usually get up without delay. But this morning I awoke to a kind of muffled chittering sound. I thought at first it was the heat vent which often does that when it is not adjusted quite right. But when I realized the furnace wasn’t even running, I was really bewildered. And what was most amazing about the sound was I could only hear it when my head was under the blankets. It sounded like a conversation of some sort but too muffled to make out the words. But it sounded like "Two cheats due to win."

Unable to find the source of the sound, I climbed out of bed, gave up on the puzzle and went about my day. Monday is my day for stripping beds and laundering bedding so that was the first thing I did. I stripped the beds and put the bedding in the washer. Then off to the kitchen for toast and coffee. As I sat at the table sipping my coffee, the sun was too bright, too cheery, too inviting, so with coffee in hand I stepped out on the deck. What a beautiful day with its surplus of sunshine and only a few lazy scattered clouds floating in a awesomely beautiful blue sky. After a long winter, this is weather ready to be dedicated to something worthwhile with its special abilities to warm, dry, heal, and comfort. And yes, the wind is cool, but still it feels so good. As if breathing life and vitality into the day.

Right now the yard is wet. There are plenty of puddles, plenty of mud, but at the same time there is no snow. And without the snow I feel that if I am not out in this kind of weather sunning myself with the dogs, then something should be. And so I began to think. What can I position in a sunny spot that will truly benefit from this wonderful abundance of sunshine and delightfully fresh breeze?

I could think of nothing. I have sprouted some garlic bulbs but I’m quite sure they will not be happy to be out in this wind. Same with a few other plants that I have begging to be moved outside after being shut-in all winter. I came back in the house feeling like I had been given a special gift, a longed for gift, and now I had no practical use for it. To extract joy from this gift, it is critical for me to find a practical use for it. But the ground is still too frozen to dig in the dirt, too soggy to clean up dog poopies, too muddy to want to tramp around just for the sake of doing something outside.

So feeling somewhat disappointed, I returned to the house and went downstairs to move the laundry to the dryer. But as I piled those wet sheets and pillowcases in the basket, I heard that same chittering conversation I had heard in my bed earlier. Unintelligible, but now seeming to come from the laundry basket. Must be the wicker of the basket contracting and expanding due to the wet laundry, I reasoned, although that hardly made any sense to me.

And then it hit me. I could make practical use of this day. I was already about to heave the laundry into the dryer when instead I turned and heaved it back into the basket. Chitter, chitter, chitter. And again the pentameter, the rhythm, the fuzzy phonetics, and muffled enunciation have me thinking "Two cheats due to win." How stupid. I shook my head to clear such nonsense from my brain and turned back to the task at hand. With clothesbasket in hand, I bounded up the stairs, slipped on my rubbers, and headed for the clothesline. As I pinned those sheets to the line I felt the full joy of my day. As I removed items from the basket again that annoying chittering sound now fragmented and slower "due to win, cheats, due to win, win, win, cheats". The sound tapered off, at least I think it did, but I couldn’t be sure because as I hung each item on the line, two sheets flapped and snapped in the breeze in a voice that drowned out the other sound.

Carefully snipping those clothes to the line put me in a kind of reverie. . I grinned at the sound of two birds nearby that were definitely discussing housebuilding (I could just tell by the tone of their voices chirps). That led me to thinking about a long-ago-almost-forgotten nursery rhyme. Do you remember? The one about ‘the maid was in the garden, hanging out some clothes. Along came a blackbird and snipped off her nose’. I couldn’t help chuckling as I thought about how funny those birds would think that joke was if I could just communicate those words to them. It would definitely be the knee wing-slapper of the day. And then I thought about the special things about hanging laundry out in the air that our present generation will never know.

Have you had the experience of climbing into a bed made with bedding that was dried in the fresh air and sun? Nightmares never happen in a bed with air-dried bedding. It awakens romance, clears one’s mind, and strokes the flesh with a special tenderness of touch. In truth, all those manufacturers of softening sheets and potions are working at recreating that smell but they are as far off as violets are from sulphur gases.

Now I’ve heard some complain that clothes off the line are stiff, wrinkled, and scratchy. But that just isn’t true. Not as long as there is no soap residue in them, not as long as they are shaken good before hanging, not as long as there is a brisk cool wind like today, and not as long as there is the kind of gentle sun this day offered. My bedding came off the line white, bright, soft, smooth, and as fresh-smelling as any fragrant rose petal.

So for sake of those who may never know these wonders I want to tell you a few other things about the romance of clothes and clotheslines. You may never see it again but lucky was she who had a house equipped with a tiny narrow door just off the kitchen that one could open to access their clothesline. Here a double stranded line on a pulley magically rotated into the house for clipping laundry onto it and then with a twist of the wrist slipped out the door and high up in the sky to flip and billow blue-white towels and sheets in the wind. I think any thoroughly modern house should still have one of them.

And the really fascinating thing about drying laundry outside that few people know or even believe but I swear it is true is that prior to dryers, laundry was hung outside even in the coldest weather. But here there was a bit of a risk. If the clothes froze rock-hard, which they often did, they had to be removed cautiously from the line because they would break. Yes, I said break. These clothes were not carried to the house in the basket. They were embraced gently and carried in like firewood and stacked on the table. The corner of a sheet would easily break and separate if bent back when frozen stiff.

So some might ask, "Why hang clothes outside in that kind of weather?" Well, the truth is that once those clothes were frozen on the line for a period of time, they did dry somewhat. Not completely, but enough that they would dry at room temperature in a hour or two rather than the two days they had to hang in the kitchen or basement on a wooden clotheshorse sweating up the windows and making the house feel depressingly dank. And in the winter, that outdoor smell on those sheets was even sweeter, fresher, and more fragrant than it was in the summer.

But to return to my original thoughts, I now have fragrant sheets on my bed. And I think I have figured out what that annoying chittering sound was – it was those same sheets complaining about a return to a paradise that they have not known for too long. Reflecting now I understand what the chant was. It wasn’t "Two cheats due to win." It was…"Two sheets to the wind. Two sheets to the wind." Of course that is what they were saying. What else am I to think as the laundry basket is now silent and my bed is silent even under the covers. The sound has halted.

So now what do I want you to do with all this uncommon enlightenment? Well I do want you to do something, but if you live in an exhaust-fume-ridden environment or among industrial smoke-stacks, don’t even bother. Just get out some fortified home-made wine and drink yourself into a stupor. And then when you’re two sheets to the wind, just stagger off to bed. But if, on the other hand, you live in the country or the outer fringes of suburbia I want you to wet a pillowcase and hang it outside on a stick, a bush, or a rail. Get it out there by nine in the morning and leave it there until suppertime. Now tuck it under your cheek when you go to bed.

Inhale deeply. Do you feel the romance? The joy of living? The presence of sunshine and gardens and moonbeams? This is a magical therapy that can’t be found in lavender soap, cranberry candles, or any other clone of nature. Here is a magic that penetrates much deeper than the surface of your cheek. While stroking your flesh, and flooding your olfactory senses with a profuse fragrance, it seeps into your psyche and provides joy, hope, and an unexpected calmness – a sweet sense of all the many blessings of the day despite the harrowing pace of life.


Blogger Colleen said...

You are so right Roberta, that is something I have missed. I used to love the smell of sheets after being hung out on the line. I have been nagging my husband for two summers now to put the clothes line back up, this year I hope it will happen. I remember too the frozen clothes being brought in from the line and seeing my grandfathers long johns standing up in the corner by themselves.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi Colleen. Thanks for stopping in. Oh, 'tis a beautiful smell - that laundry! Hope you succeed in getting that closeline up. Wouldn't want to have to use one every day, but having the option to do so is really nice.

1:29 PM  

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