The Block Island Times

Clothesline kind of day

By Martha Ball | Aug 10, 2013

Yesterday I restrung clothesline. This morning I am struck by the fact I can look out and tell who hung which pieces of damp fabric on the line. Accustomed to the wind, I anchor thinner materials with something heavier to keep them from slip-sliding into a bunch. The sheet I put out is neatly folded over the line, secured by socks to give the pins a stronger grip.

Of course no one in the visiting family thought to bring anything in yesterday afternoon, before evening’s damp descended, and the laundry was still there to meet the dawn, waiting to be dried by the new sun. It has been calm, I can tell, by the towel I draped over the line and left for someone else to pin. No one did, which hardly comes as a surprise, but the towel remained in place through the night, and barely flutters in the slight breeze.

It is a perfect summer morning on Block Island, the sort of day that lives in our collective memory pushing aside the cold wet of June and the humid heat of July. When I awoke the sun was new and low, the grass wet, the east windows covered with condensate, and I got up only to start the coffee before stealing another hour’s sleep. Then I looked out at the laundry and fell into the day remembering I had had plenty of sleep; normally I am the person no one worries about calling late, the one e-mailing out in the middle of the night, which others define more accurately as early morning, answering “What were you doing up at —?” queries a day or two later.

Last night was different, I can tell by the time of the last text from a friend two or three times zones away, enchanted by Sedona which I am horrified to realize I know is the place of Red Rock Crossing and Airport Hill but — with the parochial mind of a New Englander — can place only as being in one of those Four Corners states out west.

It wasn’t even midnight and I was falling asleep to the night music of crickets and soft surf, watching the lights of the city — as my mother called the summer harbor — over my toes, wondering why winter ever has to come.

Today is one of those days that is the source of so many clichés, the sun-like diamonds on the tiny patch of pond I can see though the leafed out trees, the wind from the sea tossing the curtains into the room. I think of the Wyeth painting of sheer panels floating on salt air than of the simple white curtains my mother hung before every summer, replacing the heavier winter drapes, neither of them qualifying for window treatment classification.

It was a rite of late spring, unfolding the loosely woven fabric, lining up the pieces, ruffles facing each other, putting out the tie backs, getting the right number of thumb tacks to hold them in place, trying to find last year’s tack holes on the side of the window casing.

They were the curtains of summer, primly tied back to keep them from floating on the breeze, ones that caught the dust rising from a dirt road, unnoticed until fall’s washing and putting away for another year.

As much as I love the Wyeth painting, for the name as much as the image, the field beyond the open window, and the dark trees and pale ocean, with their bleak overtones, as beautiful as they are, never spoke to me of summer, of these days of sparkling water and blackberries ripening on the vine. I even check the National Gallery description to be sure it is supposed to be summer beyond that farmhouse window.

Now, my curtains are the same the year round, although the open weave ones that hang at the living room windows originally had liners, a nuisance to attach and detach. Finally, I came to an easier solution of just hanging the liners from the old hardware that once held shades, which I never miss. However, I realized too late that the strip of wood, concealed in the bottom hem, was just the right weight for certain tasks; I’d thrown out most of them away. They are to be replaced soon, my old living room windows, and after that happens I will get new hangings, or shades, or, maybe, if I can fine anything so simple anywhere, ones like those old summer shoes.

Window treatments will never happen in my old farmhouse.

They are almost as old as the windows they cover, my living room curtains, and they are beginning to show signs of the distress that are the result of near daily exposure to sunlight. When I last washed them, stunned at how dirty they had become over several summers of open windows and dusty roads, I spread them on the grass, afraid they would tear apart if subjected to the clothesline wind.

There is still enough breeze to move the solid cloth dining room curtains that flank the table where I sit, but not enough to imperil the additional towels I hung without affixing to the line because I could not find the pins.

There is only one clothesline where there used to be five, four between corner posts and a diagonal that best caught the southwest breeze. Half as many poles allow only for a fifth of the lines but that is enough for me and my simple laundry needs.

Suddenly I am remembering there was a fifth pole, set off from one of the corners, with a cross bar from which my father hung swings. The crossbar and the swings are long gone, but the pole is there when I look again, hidden by vegetation and morning shadows and, perhaps most of all, made invisible by fading memory.

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