04 September, 2011


          My dryer broke about four weeks ago.  I was standing at the kitchen counter when I heard a tremendous CLUNK sound emanate from the laundry room.  No scent of smoke, no horribly abrasive sound ensued.  I went on with making dinner.  About two hours later, I reached into the dryer expecting to pull out a dry load, and discovered a soggy mass, tightly coiled in on itself.  All the wash was bound together by the stretchy amorphous legs of my daughter’ tights.
            I turned to my helpmate, my husband.  He is abundantly more talented in understanding the machinations of inanimate items than am I.  Half an hour later, he rendered his verdict.  Call the repairman.
            It took three phone calls to locate a serviceman who would do repairs on a thirty- year old gas dryer.  His name was Bob.  Bob was as helpful and friendly as could be.  He identified the problem and told me he’d order the part.  I explained that I couldn’t go very long without a drier with three children under five – the baby just six months old.  He was sympathetic and left.  The next day, he called me with a good news, bad news story.  He couldn’t get the part, but he had “tinkered” in his shop at home and had managed to get the old one working.  He returned to install it.  I jokingly asked if there was any risk of fire, explosions or gas-related accidents.  He reassured me that there wasn’t by demonstrating how the part was tooled.  When the burner started right up, I was wildly enthusiastic about his demonstration.  Bob kept cautioning me, “I can’t tell you how long this will work…”
            It worked for three loads.
            The gauntlet flung down, my husband decided to really roll up his sleeves.  He puttered and tinkered with staccato commands emitting from the laundry room floor, “Flashlight,” “Screwdriver,” “Turn it on,” “Quick, turn it off!”
The upshot of his ministrations came as a swift whack on the dryer’s side, and the dryer worked.  He showed me exactly where, and how hard, my palm must strike.  I didn’t have the knack.  I tried with my fist, my foot, the palm of first my right, then, my left hand.  Nothing worked.
            We talked about buying a new drier.  We looked at flyers, read reports, all very scientific.  The purchase of a new drier would be an unexpected expense, but not a prohibitive one.  Surprisingly, there was something else going on. Something undefined caused our reluctance.  I was in no hurry to buy a new machine.
            The laundry continued to be generated at an alarming rate  -- the natural consequence of a cleanly family of five.  Since I happen to do the bulk of that household duty, and because I would have to wait for my husband to be available to give the machine a wallop, I resorted to line-drying.  Now I have a friend (who gave us the dryer fifteen years ago) who will only use a dryer under dire circumstances…even when all four of her sons, and mother lived at home with husband and her.  I remember shaking my head in disbelief.  “But Joanne,” I would lament, “You spend all your time centered around washing, hanging, picking, folding, ironing, and putting away laundry – all while keeping an eye on the weather.  How can you manage to fit in your job, the boys’ activities, shopping and meal preparations?”  She would never answer me directly, instead, she would smile knowingly. Rather like the initiated might smile at the uninitiated. 
            I have since joined the ranks of the initiated. 
            At 6:30 in the morning, when I bundle up my son, plop him in the stroller under the clothesline and begin hanging laundry.  I enjoy a stillness and expansiveness people pay therapists to achieve.  At noon, when I pick that first load, and hang the next, I escape from my desk or my household chores for some mid-day sun. The baby likes to be placed directly under the clothes so he can reach for them as the breeze flutters them just beyond his reach.  My young daughters race back and forth in a game of their own imagination.  At 5:50 pm, while I go outside to bring in the last load, I escape from the madness of a hungry family who are nipping at my heels for food.  I am alone among a colorful population that never resists my ministrations.  Later, after dinner, the radio blares the daily news that I completely disregard .  However, I can recite verbatim the forecast for the next day’s weather.  Just before bed, I enter the laundry room to inhale deeply of that wonderful clean, outdoor scent that was so hard-earned.  The fragrance seeps into the fibers of the fabrics of those line-dried sheets and towels.  The box of “outdoor fresh” Bounce fabric softeners sheets lays unused on top of the dryer.
            The downsides do exist in this way of life; chapped fingers, unexpected rain showers, stiff, unforgiving blue jeans.  But for a while, it’s a nice way to slow down life.  I recognize that this step back in time is drawing to a close.  I ordered a dryer and it is due to be delivered today.   I am hoping to salvage the best from my new dryer – fluffed and tossed convenience as well as an occasional visit to a line-dried way of life.
                                                                                                Reprisal of essay
                                                                                                     May, 1995

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