Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Of laundry and sunshine and washing days

One of the things hanging out the laundry has done - for me, anyhow - is to make me wonder about the vision I always had about our forebears. Back when men were men and women were houseproud, I thought, they always did laundry on Monday. I don't know just where I got this idea - was there a household schedule in Mrs. Beeton's book? - but I sure had it. There was a Baking day, there was a Cleaning day, and there was a Laundry day.

But if hanging out the laundry teaches you anything, it's flexibility. Because if you decide to do the laundry on Monday, it is almost guaranteed that while the sun will shine brightly on Sunday, it will pour on Monday and Tuesday. There is nothing quite so chastening. to those of us who think we have some control over our lives. as hanging out the laundry. Combine that with gardening, and you really know how little you're in charge and how frail your scheduling is. In the northeast, the weather has for the past several weeks been so generally wet and dismal that an English friend of mine recently announced to the world that she wanted to go back to England, where it was drier.

In its own frustrating way, that's one of the joys of hanging out the wash. Nothing I've ever done has put me quite so much in tune with the weather and the changing of the seasons - with the earth in its absoluteness. It's not just whether it's sunny or rainy. Wind has a lot to do with how fast the laundry dries, as well as how soft it is when you take it off the line. So, I discovered today, does the leafiness of the trees: the sheets I hung out a few weeks ago. when the trees were just leafing out, dried in half the time it took today, with all the trees in full leaf and the sunshine that much less penetrating. Then there's the length of the days. It doesn't matter how bright the sun may be in October, there just isn't enough of it to dry the towels in a single day.

And what on earth did our ancestors do in February? Just the thought makes "spring cleaning" suddenly seem like a lot more than a metaphor.

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