Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Warshing Aromatica by Madama Sebastian

My mother would hang her laundry outside in winter.

Half a foot of Pennsylvania snow did not deter Anne from Washday Monday in her ankle boots, subduing half-frozen bed sheets with a precise number and spacing of clothespins. She’d often have one or two extra, emergency pins tucked in the corner of her mouth. From the kitchen window she looked like a poorly dressed Churchill smoking spring-loaded wooden cigars, scowling with focus.

Never did anyone question my mother’s laundry regimen, including my grandmother who was the source of the Masonic-like secrets of bluing and pre-soaking. But, her daughter and my mother, Anne believed that a good defense should not be wasted waiting for a good offense. “Fresh air kills germs!” she’d announce above the wind forgetting that, at no time in memory, had she ever tossed a flu ridden family member into the maw of winter for the same cure.

Boots stomped snow less, Anne would make her way inside to the warm air good enough to breathe but not good enough to dry dads work shirts. She straightaway filled the kitchen sink with cool and then warmer water, dunking her ice-stiff red and white hands in much the same manner that she used to speed-thaw a chicken. Anne’s winter war face had been replaced by a high, healthy pink—her glowing reward for besting winter’s worst in the name of a fresh, clean smell.

It was only later in life that I remembered that smell because it was missing. Headstrong technology and a timesaver generation had machine-dried and drained away the vivid scent of the natural world that my mother had worked so hard to infuse in our daily fabrics.

Unless provoked by reoccurrence, it is not easy to remember a smell. It takes all four remaining senses to engage this fifth one: An August scorched little girl half hearing a bedtime story under crackly-cool sheets. A shivery winter bath and stepping into the hug of my grandmother holding my princess towel cloak. The smell returned, for just a moment, whole and full. I had the fresh air that killed germs next to my skin.

As pleasant a memory as that was, for many years more, I acquiesced. Dryers after the advent of dryer sheets were too easy to use to ignore. I was not a child. It was just a smell. Clotheslines became tacky and even illegal eyesores in some American neighborhoods. And then I moved to India where…

…soaped clothes were hard-slapped on laundry stones or sometimes spun dry, begging for a slow bake finish in the sun. Flag fat saris hung and snapped from every porch and rooftop. Clotheslines were acceptable, innumerable, irreplaceable. The toil of washing inconvenience had returned. With it, outside came inside once more.


Anonymous said...

hi dear


maria said...

oh I love this story! That outisde-hung-laundry-smell is so incredible. I think that is the thing I miss most in winter (I am not as tough as your mom!). There is nothing as amazing as falling asleep with that smell on the sheets.... I love doing laundry outside -it's a sacred experience.

ally12 said...

Just stooping by to say hello my friend..have a great weekend..

Lau Milesi said...

Hello Sunshine, how are you? I loved reading your post. Very interesting. Here in Brazil, the poles were replaced by machines, because of the apartments in big cities.
I love the smell of falling leaves in the fall. And I love your post! Memories and memories.
The mothers are our angels protectors. So are strong and powerful.

I have prizes for you on my blog. If you enjoy can get them. They are to reward bloggers who spread their culture and their ideas.You do this very well.

Kisses from Rio de Janeiro-Brazil.

Lau Milesi said...

Sunshine, the prizes are for your blog. O.K.?
You can get them.
A big hug.

NURA said...

Sunshine and Baba,
thank for visit in S.A and follow me,
I follow back.
nice day,,

CountryDreaming said...

Have only come across an abandoned clothesline here in America way out in the countryside ... oh, unless you count Amish Country. There I've seen the old-fashioned dresses, pants, nightshirts, and underwear flapping in the breeze as though I were living in the 1800's. Have seen clothes being cleaned outside in India only on "The Amazing Race" TV show. When I was a summer school student in Spain, I washed my own clothes with cold water and much rubbing by hand in a boardinghouse sink. Forgot how I dried them. And just dried clothes all over my apartment hanging from racks, chairs, and bathtub pole due to a mishap with the apartment washing machine which thoroughly waterlogged my clothes! Nice meeting you, and thanks for sharing the stories of your experiences here.

AntokZ said...

nice article

Berkunjung dan ditunggu kunjungan baliknya makasih
Salam Blogger

Reiki by shiko said...


How are you!

Always Thank you!

anita said...

Whew. You're back. I went looking for you and kept getting an error message.

Kittie Howard said...

"...dunking her ice-stiff red and white hands in much the same manner that she used to speed-thaw a chicken." OMG! I could so see my grandmother in the kitchen! Thank you, thank you! Your writing style and your memories are treasures. And, I thought you were in India. I adore India and long to return. Write on!

Explore Germany said...

nice story..we always hang our clothes outside when it is summer..not the cold winter in germany is impossible to do it.. happy weekend!

Euroangel said...

just got our washing machine yesterday...I am almost done with our laundry...our washing machine was broke 3 weeks ago and the one we ordered just came yesterday..lot of works..thanks for the visit in one of my sites.

Charlotte said...

I have always loved the clothesline smell, too. If there is a spot for it where I live, I always put one up and try to dry at least a part of my weekly loads. Although usually only in spring, summer, and fall. I use the dryer all the time in the winter. I don't love the smell THAT much!

Valerie said...

I haven't heard "warshing" in years. My dad always used to say it that way and my mother would correct him. He said it that way all the years while I was growing up, but he has seemed to get used to saying "washing" now.

(Found you on Mormon Mommy blogs)

Peter said...

I grew up in India not far from the famous Loyola College in the 1960's. I remember with freshness and clarity even though we had all the comforts of an upper middle class family, my mom hung clothes outside. My wonderful American wife who grew up in MA does the same inspite of machine taking over human beings. And can you believe I refused to allow our children to use calculators in schools so they know to think and calculate mentally. A pertinent question is: Is technology for man or man for technology.

Madama said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Peter. I know right where Loyola is here in Chennai--can't miss it! You bring up a valid point about technology. The pace of the world seems to have sped up as a result and often it is too fast for me.

Cloudia said...

Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral


Clipped Wings said...

I remember clothes lines and clothes pins in mouth. Mom always hung the wash outside when I was a child and I would help her when I got older. I think sometimes in winter part of the laundry was hung on a fold out dryer over the floor furnace. Wonderful story to read.

Red Nomad OZ said...

Nearly every home downunder here in Australia has a clothesline! I use the dryer as a last resort - but I might think twice if I had to deal with a harsh winter!!