The solid “thwack” of the wet pillowcase brought me back more than six decades. To reduce my usage of fossil fuels, I have begun to dry my laundry using energy from the sun rather than from an appliance. The sound of my pillowcase snapping through the air conjured a memory of my mother.
I was a child again, playing beneath the water oak in our backyard. My mother, in her shirtwaist dress, hung laundry on the lines strung between two sturdy “t”-shaped poles at the sunny end of the yard. She snapped a sheet through the air, hung it on the line, and fastened it with clothes pins plucked from the front pocket of her apron. The action was repeated as she stepped along the line.
There was a rhythm to the task, and she seemed to do a solitary dance—a waltz? a two-step? Thwack, pluck, fasten, step. Thwack, pluck, fasten, step. Maybe a fox trot. We eventually bought a modern clothes dryer, but on sunny days, she still liked to dry linens outside. “Sun-dried clothes smell better,” she insisted. “The sun makes whites whiter.”
She taught me about the “French drying fields.” She said to lay wet, white linens on grass in the sun, and the reaction of the sunlight with the chlorophyll in the grass would brighten them. For stubborn stains, she taught me to rub lemon juice and salt into the stain before laying the cloth on the grass. It worked, even on vintage linens left too long in storage.
There are other, serendipitous benefits to drying clothes on a line. My pace and possibly my heart rate slow as I snap and hang the clothes. I feel the warmth of the sun on my back and am conscious of the subtle changes of its position in the sky as one season turns to another.
I am aware of the often over-looked life in my garden—the appearance of the first tiny buds on the Japanese magnolia; a small, late-autumn caterpillar munching on milkweed; a honey bee sucking the last drops of nectar from a blue salvia plant; the translucent casing of an empty monarch chrysalis.
I tune in to the chatter of squirrels, the cries of jays, the harsh caw of the crows. The sight of a migrating humming bird darting through fire-spike plant or a bright red cardinal dining on the berries of a Savannah holly entertains me while I repeat the dance my mother taught me so long ago. As I am part of her, I am also part of my mother, Earth.
“Line dancing” puts me in touch with myself and my world. Why should I be surprised when something that is good for the earth is also good for me?