No Laundry on the Line Today

The intersection of clean and dirty is abrupt on a farm. The magic of order on that chaos happens with every laundry basket but the clothesline on a farm announces it like a semaphore on a battleship! The white sheets get brighter in the sun and wind and the rich clean smell permeates the clothes and bedclothes. The Amish farms around here attach one part of their wheeled clotheslines to the upper peak of their barns, while the lower part is on a back porch pillar. The clothes sail over the mud of the barnyard and the rutted muddy driveways.

What the Amish would call English dooryards have paths where the baskets are carried out to a clothesline strung between sturdy poles. The clothes are pinned carefully to the line. On windy farms the cloth is folded over the line and the pins firmly fixed. The composition of whites, then lights, then darks is not an artistic statement but a result of the sorting process. If you have a wringer washer and you are heating water at the stove you will reuse the suds and start with the whites.

Sometimes I would ride with the school bus home with one or another friend, following Creek Road up up up to those good farms with their herds of dairy cattle and their chores. The chores for one friend were a lot like mine and involved meal preparation and cleanup. My other friend slung 80 pound bales of hay and stripped ears of corn with her brothers and sisters in a farm wagon for the cows. I thought that was exciting and romantic of about 5 minutes, till the hard husks started to sand away my skin. I noticed my friend’s hands for the first time, Red and chaffed, torn cuticles.

The mothers were different. One work pretty dresses and cardigans and aprons. The other wore shorts and low white socks and black shoes. The kitchen door of one was at the driveway level. Just outside the back door was a bowl of old milk for the dogs. The family would be in and out of that kitchen door all day long, and the Mom was in the barn working alongside of her husband with the brutal milking schedule, 4:00in the morning, 4:00 in the evening. Everything in that farmhouse seemed chaotic to me. I wanted to get in there and fix things. Let’s make the bed I would say, let’s put away the dishes, let’s get the flour back into the flour bin, let’s throw away the piles of newspapers, let’s do your hair. But my friend knew her house’s rules: the beds had to air, the dishes needed to air dry, the flour bin needed a coat of paint. (Her mother wouldn’t let her wear bangs. I thought my friend should be able to choose how to cut her own hair.) no Grange, no church. I am pretty sure I was the only regular guest in that house. At the end of those long days, though, the Mom would make molasses taffy and popcorn and the Dad would pull out the checker board and I would think it was heaven.

My other friend’s house could have been the site for a photo shoot for ‘Better Homes and Gardens.’ Kitchen table with flowers in the middle. Cabinets gleaming, pillows fluffed. This Mom would read to us at night as we were in our pajamas all lined up on the living room sofa. Her kitchen door opened onto a mud room where barn clothes and boots would come off. No backbreaking barn work for that Mom or her daughter, the just the backbreaking housework of cooking, cleaning, gardening, sewing, planning for Grange or church activities.

There was no way the one would be pushed from the barn by attitudes about women’s work. There was no way the other would tie her mind to that farm and keep her away from art and ideas.

I thought as I began writing you this morning that I would do some sheets and hang them out, but the rain is streaking the windows. I will be content with a trip to the Farmer’s Market. And maybe a couple of books. Call me if you want to come over and play checkers.

Molasses Popcorn Balls from the Farm Journal

1 3/4 cup molasses

2 cups sugar

2/3 cup water

2 teaspoons vinegar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 1/2 quarts salted popped corn

Combine molasses, sugar, water and vinegar. Cook too hard ball stage (250 degrees). Remove from heat; white crystals off pan. Add soda; stir to mix thoroughly. Pour over corn, mixing well. Shape into 2 1/2 inch balls. Makes 10 balls.

I will cut down the recipe I think, and make smaller balls.

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