Silly but true, one of my favorite Peace Corps adjustments was living without a clothes dryer. This teeny, tiny challenge helped me focus my attention on the little things, and it led me to some great memories.
I had been hanging my delicates and dresses to dry in the States for years, but jackets, jeans, and blankets were new for me. First time I dried my jeans on my metal-tray-covered heat register, I was left with an “I Love Lucy” pair of ironing-board stiff denim. I melted a pair of underwear to that very same register my first week in my house, and try as I might to remove the imprint of burned nylon (or whatever they make silky underwear out of), it was still there when I headed back to the States three years later.
Eventually my drying rack became a close friend, and I used it almost daily. I loved rearranging my clothes on its slender metal rods. This practice provided me with a concrete task that had a definable beginning and an end, at a time when adapting to a new culture wasn’t always that cut and dry. (All puns intended.) I learned quickly what dried best on which rungs and where to put the rack in my small home to take full advantage of the sun and the seasons.
Unlike most Macedonians and other Europeans, I resisted moving the rack outdoors, hanging my clothes from my balcony railings or from an outdoor line, believing that if my balcony was covered with dust, it could only mean any clothes left to dry there would be, too. But, I have always delighted in seeing other folks’ clothes flapping in the breeze, and seeing them always brings back warm memories.
The scenes remind me of my Mom and how she would hang as many as possible of our 2-parent, 9-child household items on the clothesline. My Dad devised a pulley system for the clothesline from our back porch to one of the tallest nearby trees, because our suburban landing was at least 12 concrete steps up.
I thought that was very cool, and believed that somehow his system alleviated all of the effort associated with the task, until my Mother required me to be a part of the hanging process, and I experienced first-hand that lifting and hanging a never-ending supply of wet double bed sheets and terry cloth towels was hard work. And, for many years to come that is the only way I perceived the task – as hard work.
My Mom had a different perspective on the process. While I cannot say she loved hanging our sheets outdoors, I can tell you she adored and never tired of instructing and asking us to “Smell them, doesn’t that just smell wonderful?” I would roll my pre-teen eyes, without realizing that there was a very valuable life lesson for me in her actions – my overworked, often-on-the-verge, not-a-moment-to-spare, Mom was taking time to stop and smell the sheets!
There she was amidst all the chaos and clutter of her completely overloaded and overwhelming life, taking time to savor the moment, and then taking extra time to share her experience with us.
In retrospect, my Mom did that in other ways, as well – lifting a tablespoon from a simmering pot of her homemade soup or spaghetti sauce to say “Taste this, isn’t it delicious?” We would drag our whiny, sorry little selves from our chairs or stop for a quick taste as we whizzed through the kitchen on some important kid business. Our responses were often half-hearted, some of us – okay me – begrudging the fact that the sauce or the soup being offered was homemade when the majority of my friends were being treated to cans and jars of much more modern fare.
I sigh each time I replay those scenes in my mind, she was offering me her gold and I was turning-up my nose at her treasures.
Thankfully, her lessons did seep into my life. I learned to enjoy the feel and the scent of air-dried clothes, to create, enjoy and savor my own culinary creations and the life I wanted.
Thank you, Mom. I like that.
Hope you take time this weekend to stop and smell the sheets, or the roses, or to really listen and acknowledge when someone is trying to share their life or their gifts with you.