Laundry Line

We had one hell of a time with the laundry line last year. The old line, which had been there for at least the previous ten years, gave way with inner rust and sheer old age, and three succeeding arrangements failed miserably. It didn't matter a whole lot after the beginning of August, because what with the drought and the well giving out, we weren't doing laundry at home anyway. But this spring, we got out there with a new line and a proper coupler and finally, finally I can line-dry some laundry. It's late, true. But then again, it was snowing not far from here a couple of weeks ago.

So I washed the bedding and took it out, standing up on the seat of the old picnic table (which, I note, is starting to rot out) and flinging sheets and blankets on the line as Maggie-cat rolled contentedly in the long grass. And as usual, I surveyed my back yard, or what passes for one. The grass, I see, needs cutting. I also see that more Manitoba maples--a junk tree, sign of going back to the wilds--have sprung up in what used to be the well-tended vegetable garden. As usual around here, things are continuing to slide, at least by suburban standards.

I found out last night that my younger niece is starting her PhD in microbiology at M.I.T.--you go, Catherine! Since my own younger kid is struggling with grade 9, I would normally be going into paroxysms of maternal guilt, personal failure, anger, and self-blame, comparing myself to others and feeling like a total flop. But today, the wind and the sun and a week's-worth of hard personal work have left me as whipped-clean as this cheap flannel blanket, blowing as fine and free as these fading blue sheets. It doesn't matter that I put them on the line a little crooked; they'll come out just fine in the end.

We are where we are, my kids and my bloke and me: not successful in this world, but doing well in the ways that matter. It's not (I now understand) excuse-making, but a proper and loving self-acceptance. God knows how we got here, and God knows who we are and what our personal failures and successes have been. God knows that we have had it harder than some and not nearly as hard as others. God knows that we do have real and serious failures and failings, but that we are also precious in God's sight, just as we are.

We (my guys and I) share some things: a sort of decency, which matters a great deal in the world; a sense of fairness and compassion; an acceptance of life as it is, because we've had little choice but to do otherwise. My kids are drug-free and decent people, and both (with all they've been through) bubble with humour. More than that, I can hardly ask.

"Blessed are the poor": it's one of the great central themes of the New Testament. The not-so-poor have the option of so many false gods that aren't available to the rest of us: financial freedom; planning for a comfortable retirement; "the finer things of life"; gentility, refinement--things that in reality merely decorate the walls between those who have and those who have not, walls that the have-nots cannot, and the haves will not, take down. It gets even nastier when the haves blame the have-nots, or even judge, hate and condemn them, for their have-nottery. But it happens. The rich man probably never even noticed Lazarus dying at his gates; he had so many other things to care about. But if he noticed Lazarus at all, I'll bet my white lilacs that he figured it was Lazarus' problem, not his.

And of course being on the have-not end of things can lead one into equal and opposite sins, envy and resentment being the obvious one.... I will try to put my own deep and old resentments out on the clothesline too, but I will be careful to pin them out so poorly that they blow away. I can afford to do that finally, I hope.

Exhaustion, comparative poverty, being overwhelmed, being unable to do it all--these all have forced me to let go of keeping a "nice" back yard, and in exchange for a "nice" back yard, God and nature have given me a beautiful wildness. Being broken leaves a person so much freer sometimes, stripped of all need for pretension or competitiveness.

And so the guilt and sense of being a failure falls away from me, and I can stand here with the laundry, the wind, the scent of lilacs, and a clear blue sky, so thankful to God that I could bust a gusset.

In a little while, I'll go up to the old forestry centre where the township's Arts Council is putting on our third annual arts festival--the Dandelion Festival. I had no part in naming this; it was pure coincidence. Our town has always been looked down on by the city as a rube place, a bit of a joke, a place of good ol' boys in pick-up trucks--as indeed we are, sometimes, although we are very much more than that too. And we've taken that put-down assessment and given it a delicious quarter-twist, and are rejoicing in who we are--dandelionish, with all the upstart glory of those sunburst blooms.

Meanwhile, the lawn still needs mowing. A good thing, too. I need the exercise.

Copyright © 2002 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sun, 02 Jun 2002
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