Ghosts in the Laundry

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A storm came in the night—bright jagged lightning with 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 wringer.  The wringer, 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 wringer, 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.

About apronheadlilly

wife and mother, musician, composer / poet, teacher, and observer of the world, flawed Christ-follower
This entry was posted in Humor, memories, nostalgia, Photography, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Ghosts in the Laundry

  1. David Hall says:

    Great story and excellent use of selective focusing for the photo.

  2. pattisj says:

    Great story about the “ghost.” Our clotheslines didn’t have a pulley. Sounds like that would be a good thing after reading of your grandma’s experience.

  3. Lilly! This was so beautifully written, I found myself reading faster just to find out what it was. I could so see this as a children’s book – maybe not the finger in the pulley part, but the facing fears part – with colorful illustrations!
    Amazing, thanks for sharing.
    I too love to hang things out on my makeshift line – not to conserve energy so much – but to smell the freshness when you take the items off the line! And here in Oklahoma, with our wind, there is no need for ironing as the wind snaps the wrinkles right out of clothes. You just have to be careful how you hang things.

  4. Cheryl says:

    Love the dof … clever composition and appealing shot.

  5. Cheryl says:

    SImilar winter laundry days on the farm … had to ‘stand’ the frozen shirts and pants behind the coal stove (Quebec heater) to thaw, then hang them over chairs to dry.

  6. I remember frozen laundry being brought in to dry over racks, too, and stings of clotheslines through living rooms. I’m so thankful, for the sake of my fingers, that I have an automatic dryer, but we do have a clothesline out back that I use in summer. Nothing like sunshine and fresh breezes.

  7. dorannrule says:

    I’m so glad you did this one about the ghost of your Daddy’s long-johns! Your memories are written so clearly I feel like I was there.

  8. reinkat says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable post! I agree that it would make a fabulous children’s book.
    I loved immediacy of it–I, too, felt like I was there.
    And as a fellow-outdoor-laundry-hanger, I could just smell the fresh air and sunshine on the clean laundry when it comes time to fold them!

  9. This brought back so many memories. I remember my mom doing laundry in the basement with the wringer washer and then hanging the clothes outside to dry. I can still smell the freshness of the laundry dried outdoors.

    • One thing I remember was how ticked mom would get when Dad drove a piece of farm machinery underneath the line and soiled clothes. Not happy. It happened more than once. 🙂

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