Ode to the Clothesline

With no warning it died this morning, and it was only 25 years old. My deluxe top-of-the-line 1986 clothes dryer chugalugged, choked, then came to a stop. I was in shock. I had a profound connection with that machine so I needed an hour to grieve. I snapped out of it and lifted the wet sheets out and slopped them into a laundry basket and then to my car. I headed for the High and Dry Laundromat a few blocks away, lugged the heavy basket inside and waited my turn for a washing machine to spin out the water and then kept my eyes open for an empty dryer. A gray metal folding chair beckoned me to sit, so I did while I daydreamed about installing an old-fashioned clothes line in the back yard. What direction should I place it? If it’s the wrong way while wind is blowing the sheets will wind around the line instead of flapping in the breeze. And there are rules about how things are hung. I started reviewing them in my head.

I must never hang laundry outside on Sunday because it just isn’t done.

Before using the line it must be wiped clean with a wet cloth.

Sheets and towels go on the outside lines and underwear hangs out-of-sight on the inside.

Don’t’ use two clothes pins for one item, as one pin can be shared with the next item.

Never leave clothes pins on an empty line because it’s tacky.

If the weather is below zero the clothes will freeze dry and the whites will be whiter.

Before dinner, all laundry must be off the line, folded, and put away.

As these thoughts of a simpler life style flitted through my head I felt self-righteous and honorable. Visions of tribal women washing garments in the creek connected me to my ancestors and I could see them draping wet clothing to dry over bushes and boulders. How strange, feeling bonded to ancient relatives while waiting my turn for an electric clothes dryer.

Drying laundry reminded me of an old-fashioned poem that someone had sent. It stated that the clothesline was a free newspaper because by “reading” the clothesline you could tell what was going on in the neighbor’s house. If the family had been sick with stomach flu there would be extra sheets, nightclothes, and bathrobes hanging there. If they were having company the fancy tablecloths would be flapping in the breeze. If the lines were bare the folks were probably on vacation. If there was no inch to spare they had probably returned. The only stanza I remembered by heart was at the end:

Clotheslines are now of the past for dryers make work less.

What goes on inside a home is now anybody’s guess.

I really miss that way of life. It was a friendly sign

when neighbors knew each other best

by what hung on the line.

“Ma’am, I’m finished. You can have the dryer now.”

A man’s voice snatched me back to the High and Dry Laundromat. I grabbed those sheets and pillow cases, slung them into the dryer and set it on high, glad to be getting this job behind me. The fantasy of installing a clothes line disappeared in a puff of daydreams. I got real and wondered what kind of dryer to buy.

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This is Not an Emergency

“You’ve reached the Los Gatos Fire Department. What is your name and address?”

“Operator, this is NOT an emergency.”

“Oh—okay—how may I help you?”

And that’s how it started. All night long rain hammered the windows and garbage cans clattered down the street. It was unnerving. I needed coffee and came downstairs to the sound of electronic beeping. It frightened me because I had never heard this noise before.  It was from the oven. The display panel flashed  F1 in red letters like a bomb warning.

I said to no one “What should I do?”

I found the oven manual; dialed the 800 number.

“Sorry,” they said, “but we are not open on Sunday.”

Next was the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. “We have a major power outage and are responding only to emergency calls.”

Beeping was not an emergency even though it was driving me mad, and that flashing red F1 was scaring me to death.  I found the Problems Page. There it was in bold letters: F1 and F7. It read: press the off button and hold it for three minutes. If that doesn’t work disconnect the power to the oven.

The heavy cord behind the refrigerator– look for it. I coaxed the fridge out an inch at a time so I could peek behind it. There was no such thing as a cord coming from the oven, but the dust bunnies back there looked like baby rabbits. Then I remembered: the built-in permanent oven connection was in the cupboard under the oven. Yep, there it was. Out in the rain I went to open the breaker box behind a large rosemary bush. I pressed the wet branches aside and opened the panel, found the breakers for the kitchen and dining room and turned them off. Back to the kitchen to see if the beeping had stopped. It had not. It was still screaming at me.

Got my hand pruners, went back out in the rain to cut off some branches; tossed them aside and repeated the power-off-for-three-minute-routine twice again and finally gave up. Neither of my two sons answered their phones, so the police station was my next contact. The dispatcher said, “Call the fire station and here is their number,” and that’s where this story started.

The fire station lady said she would have to send someone out. I said, “Okay, but this is NOT an emergency. Tell them NO SIREN.”

“Mrs. Auchard, I’ll tell them NO SIREN, but they’ll have to come out in a truck.”

The word “truck” fooled me. I imagined a fire station “pickup truck.” But five minutes later the heavy rumble of machinery on the street announced the real thing: a genuine fire engine with no siren. The big thing lumbered to a stop in front of my house and I waved the firemen inside. Two tall young Gods had come to my aid. I explained the problem and one of them spoke up. “Take me to your breaker panel.” I led him to the outdoors and he suggested I stay in out of the rain.

I said, “I’m already wet from going back and forth three times and I want to see how you fix this.” He showed me the main switch that would shut off everything in the house. (Why didn’t I see that thing? I could’ve saved them a trip.) He threw the lever in the opposite direction and it stopped the maddening beep that was causing my Headache from Hades.

Mission Accomplished. But I almost said, “Before you leave, could you guys pull the fridge out all the way so I can vacuum behind it?” I chickened out and said instead, “Could you guys push the fridge back against the wall for me?”

My dirty floor behind the fridge was not an emergency and neither was a maddening, mind numbing beep that couldn’t be shut off. They were trials that tested my preparedness. I was not prepared, so the next thing I must find is where to shut off the gas and water in case a REAL emergency comes my way.

All illustrations are by Betty Auchard.

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