A storm came in the night—bright jagged lightning, thunder rumbling and crashing in response. I hugged the covers closer. Moist air gusted through my open window.
It appeared in a single electric moment—a headless apparition floating by my bedroom door. My throat dry, I retreated to the plaster walls, willing them to shelter me. I was terrified, particularly since I hadn’t really believed in ghosts.
The dark being danced—not coming closer but not leaving either. I wanted to cry out, but I’ve never been a screamer. Fear just kind of locks itself tight on my throat making it difficult to breathe and impossible to scream.
Suddenly, the air was filled with lightning and thunder in unified chorus. With the storm totally present, the room brightened like day. In that moment of illumination, I saw it. I saw it clearly. Daddy’s long johns hung on the inside clothesline, dangling. My ghost. Argh.
Laundry day on the farm was a weekly operation. With seven children, the laundry pile towered; then, Mama would roll out the washer and fill it with scalding water. The washer danced sudsy clothes round and round; then, we would fish them out with wooden spoons and feed them through the ringer. The ringer, like tandem rolling pins, squeezed hard to ensure there would be plenty of ironing to do the next day.
After the clothes were rinsed in the galvanized tub, they would again go through the ringer, then out to the line to dry. Clothesline stretched across the yard from a perch in front of the woodshed to a hydro pole down by the garden. It moved back and forth on gun-metal gray pulleys. Mama told me Grandma’s finger went around one of those pulleys. She didn’t know she’d lost it till she saw it lying on the ground. That was a story to inspire caution in young children.
Clothes and sheets, a clamor of color, flapped in the breeze. A delightful image unless you’re the one doing the work.
In winter, we hung clothes outside, then carried them in to the warm house, stiff like sheets of plywood. They were hung upstairs on lines tied across the big common room. On rainy summer days, we did the same.
Laundry day at my house is much easier. We have efficient machines that do the job in record time with little human energy. My husband has placed himself in charge, with the commandeered help of our sons, but I do my own delicate things myself. I’m not entirely crazy.
Recently, I decided to string a clothesline on the patio of my suburban home. We hang sheets and towels out there to dry. I convinced my husband it would save a few pennies on our electric bill, but that’s just a ruse. It is really a hunger to feel the dampness on my skin and smell the clean; to see the friendly waving on the wind; and to remember childhood days when ghosts would fly.