Just hanging out with the laundry

Ever since my family and I arrived at our beach rental, I've been hanging our clothing out to dry on the laundry line by the kitchen door. It's a discreet little arrangement, this clothesline and poles, hidden from view by a three-sided fence.

The house stands at the end of a dead-end dirt road that even the indigenous wild rabbits have a hard time finding. (We do have enough of them hopping around to keep our dogs perpetually on alert and permanently in the fenced backyard, though.) Far from the madding bunnies, and the air and sun drying clothes.

At first I only hung out the towels and sheets. Then I added the shirts because they billow so nicely. But pretty quickly I had every item of clothing, from outer wear to inner sanctum, waving outside in the summer breeze.

Then I started to get interested in the order I hung them in - you know, white shirts with white shorts, bathing suits with bathing suits, chinos with chinos. Dry-goods apartheid, so to speak. After that, I got into giving every member of the family her or his own personal row.

It's amazing how quickly a chore can morph into an obsession.

No one seemed to notice at first. My husband was happy that I was saving on the cost of electricity, which we pay for in addition to the rental fee. Our kids liked the way their T-shirts and shorts felt (soft) and smelled (summery). Then last week I thought the line looked so pretty I took a picture of it. Without any children or household pets in the foreground. Or the background, either. Just my laundry. Who do I think I am, David Hockney?

Then this morning I decided to stay home and hang laundry rather than go snorkeling with my husband and kids. A bad sign.

When I finally got down to the beach, I found a clothespin stuck to my bathing suit. I'd absentmindedly pinned it there while hanging the day's masterpiece -I mean clean clothes, of course. Plus, I keep trying to work the art of hanging clothes into whatever conversation I am having, with close friends, with total strangers at the food store.

I'm beginning to scare people, I think. They get that wide-eyed look and start to back away slowly, speaking in hushed tones so as not to startle me.

Hey, It's not like I'm obsessing about fabric softener. This is a new/old art form I've discovered, or do I mean stumbled upon? I'm trying to cut back; maybe I'll even use the dryer tomorrow if it rains. But I doubt it. For the time being, I'm hooked.

But let me assure you - let me assure me - that the reason underneath it all is not a desire to be Donna Reed or Betty Crocker or Harriet Nelson. I like hanging laundry because here I have the time to do it.

Back home, on the mainland, I'm the maestro of multitasking. I can keep many appliances going at the same time. The washer, the dryer, the dishwasher, the oven, the computer. I'm a regular one-woman power surge. Time is of the essence every minute of the day.

But here, time means nothing. I've got no deeds to do, no promises to keep. I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep - and in case you didn't notice, I just quoted a line from Simon & Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song" (Feelin' Groovy).

Frankly, I'm feeling downright groovy because the one thing I have a lot of at the moment is time. Time to read and write and walk on the beach and listen to music (and listen, really listen, to my children, not just nod and say "uh-huh" because I have a million and 17 things on my mind and 37,000 things to do before bedtime) and yes, even time to hang the laundry out to dry.

This isn't a job that responds well to pressure. You have to have all the time in the world to do it right. That's why I'm so good at it. And because I've discovered this hidden talent heretofore unused, I don't want to share my laundry-hanging ritual with the rest of the family.

Not that anyone's been clamoring to get in on the action. Not that anyone's even more than vaguely noticed that somehow their clothes are always clean in the morning, no matter how sandy and muddy they got the day before. Not that they ever do.

It's magic. It's motherhood. I'm being redundant.

Soon I'll be back home with my machines, and slowly the rush of modern life will take over again. But right now it's turtle time, and I and my flapping clean clothes are feeling just fine.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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