Sitting in a laundry basket of wet washing – a story

Yesterday my blog reading took me from one page to another and eventually led me to one of my own stories.  I am not sure what it illustrates or why it started to peck at the inside of my head until I wrote it out  but yesterday it became demanding so here you are.  This story is for Terry. Inspired by Julie. 

To carry a baby and a basket of washing is a juggle.  When I was a very young mother I had both in spades.  Babies and washing that is. Plus juggling when you think about it.   Often I put the baby in the washing basket with the washing and carried them both outside to the clothesline together.  So on this summer day in rural New Zealand I hefted a basket of washing and its piggy back of grumpy baby through the back door.  The trees were alive with birds who sounded like children and the fenced farmers back yard was alive with children who moved like birds. This was where my favourite flowers grew and all the herbs I had transplanted from the last house.  I had only been married a few years but we had moved around so often in that time that I had lost the nack of making new friends. So my world had shrunk to this yard and these children and actually that was OK.

The washing line stood crooked and old, in the yard.  Already it was full of a brilliant array of tiny clothes and white nappies. I loved to hang out washing. I loved the art of it, the exact loops, the sway of the fabrics, the combination of colours and shapes. The daily remaking of this wrickety fingerpainting of a task. Especially in the summer when the coolness of the wet fabrics mocked the heat of the day.  And it was a hot summer morning. There is a cycle to laundry being carried out, hung up, brought down, and carried  in that is soothing in its ease.  It marks a day’s beginning.

I carefully put the over burdened basket on the grass under the line and reached for baby. On the lawn, in the shade,  there was a play pen waiting. He had just begun to crawl so  I put baby in there. I poured a little water from a jug into a tray for him to play with. Then I began to unpeg dry warm fragrant tiny beautiful clothing from the lines, folding them and stacking them onto the laundry table next to the basket of new wet washing.  My Mother always said don’t bend over more than you have to.  So I had a table under the line. As I took a piece of dry clothing and set it down on the table, I would pick up a wet one from the basket and hang it in its place using the same pegs. Not wasting any movement.  Leave the pegs on the line she would say so they are waiting for the next piece. My summer dress billowed in the slight breeze.  My bare feet felt the green in the grass.  You can feel green you know.  Dry to the table, swoop down to the basket, wet up to the line, peg, peg, unpeg, unpeg, dry to the table, swoop down to the basket, wet up to the line, peg, peg. I used the old rhythm of all the women who had gone before me.

I kept an eye on my children though my mind had begun to slip its moorings. The ache in my back was still there and I wondered at it. My inner eye looked deep inside to see what was causing the unbalance.  I had been pregnant often enough to know that something hidden was stirring. Everyone knows that mothers have three eyes, well actually four. Two that you can see in the front of your head. Mine are blue. Pale blue actually. Then Mothers have the eye in the back of your head to see what the kids are up to, then the inner eye that just Knows what they are up to.  Well one eye was on baby, one on the washing and the eye in the back of my head was watching babies brothers. Playing in the vege garden. My Self accompanied by my inner eye was drifting down.

Children’s play was the soundtrack of my days. My two little boys had begun a very simple game where they  dipped water out of the water barrel, then ran with little steps on short legs, across the lawn ,stooped over so the sand castle buckets did not spill too much. They then poured the sloshing water  into a dip in the garden. Dropping the buckets they kneaded it very fast with their feet until it was a mud puddle, then they grabbed each others arms and as one boy they would both jump up and down as hard as they could spraying mud all over themselves and each other. Shrieking as loudly as they could was part of the game. This had to be done fast because the water drained fast. Then off they would go with the buckets to get more water and do it all over again.

Almost lunchtime I thought. I can hose them down.  Then nap time.   Too young for school but not too young for mischief. Nap time for the lot of them. My mouth moved slightly at the thought of that hours peace.  This was when I did the housework at top speed and maybe got a sit down with my book.  My Mother always said rest when the baby rests. I bent to pick up another piece of wet washing, it was a wet table cloth. White, everything was white in this load. Never, ever mix your colours with your whites Mum would say. I thought about some of the things My mother had said.   Leave your hair long.  Tie it up. Make me a cup of tea. Boil the potatoes for a few minutes before you roast them. Butter and the cream from the top of the milk for mashed potatoes. Don’t trust anything anyone says after midnight.  Boil the eggs in cold water.  Never use cornflour to make a roux. Hold your head up. Stand up straight.  It takes two to tango. Keep your knees and ankles together when you are sitting.  Smooth your skirt before you sit down.

Without even thinking I put this wet tea table cloth completely over my head. I could still see light, but I was breathing in cool wet air. Then I started to cry. I stepped backwards and half fell, half  sat in the wet washing basket, my knees together and ankles to the side. I  could feel the cold damp of the wet clothes seeping through my dress and I cried and cried. The children’s hysterical game slipped away, the baby’s gurgles became muted and I wished I was not there anymore.  I did not want to be anywhere else or dead or anything. I was just so tired. So terribly tired. I just wanted it all to stop for a day or an hour or something so I could catch my breath.  So I could get a handle on what was happening so I could reach for my rudder, it was all out of control.  I was terribly young. I was 24 that year.  I remember thinking I did not want to BE anymore. I wanted to take my Self off and rest for a while.

My Mother was dying you see. She had been dying for a few years now.  She would die soon they said.  She lived away at the beach, 6 hours drive away,  so every two weeks now I had been packing up my children to go and see her.  My father would drive up from the beach and collect us and we would drive back down the island together.  Through the night so the children would sleep. I would stay a week to help with Mum  and do all the things that needed doing, then he would drive me back to tend to my husband and put meals in the freezer and weed the garden and put food in jars and get the washing up to date and the house clean.  Then Dad would come and we would do it all over again. We had been doing  this for months Dad and I, the intervals away from Mum getting shorter and shorter. My husband  was a busy man you see. He worked very hard. He could not come with me.

My mother was dying, slowly slipping into the holy waters  and I did not think I could bear it. I sat there on that beautiful late summer day, with my rear in a plastic basket of clean wet washing, a  cloth over my head, my head on my knees,  my hands stuffing tears back down my throat, my children playing under the trees. I howled with my mouth open, absolutely silently.  Not one thought in my head other than the feel of the wet washing and the terror of losing my mother and wishing I could feel neither.

Soon my tears wore me out as tears do and I came back to where I was. Young as I was I WAS the bloody mother and the bloody daughter. And I felt bloody as Mum sometimes said.  With my head still covered I checked my third and fourth eyes and the children were still where I had left them. I pushed the tea table cloth up to the top of my head unwilling to give up its cool shade and  looked at noisy chubby baby. He was still sitting in his play pen, splashing at the tray of water, watching  his brothers.

I turned to babies brothers and there they were still heaving with laughter jumping up and down in the mud, but now they both had  items of clothing on top of their heads. They had ripped off their sodden clothes and now they had shorts pulled over the tops of their heads,  the waist bands slipping slowly down into their  eyes, with their T-shirts on top of the shorts, their heads tilting further and further back so that they could see. Leaping in the mud and shrieking. Screaming. Laughing brilliantly. Like little dirty suns. The eldest one saw me see him and laughing pointed to this new head gear then pointed to mine.  His grin as  bright as a giggle. Delighted that I had given him such a grand idea.

I sat for a while longer and watched them, filthy children are always joyful.  Filthy clothes can be washed. It was almost lunchtime, then nap time, walks, then dinner then bath then bed.  We would be travelling again in a few days.  I needed to call home. Then I rose with a sound, you know that sound, it is not a grunt or a sigh, just a rising sound.  An ‘up we go’ sound. I hung the table cloth on the line and put out  the rest of the smashed and crinkled and fast drying washing, put the neat piles of dry washing into the basket, brushed down the baby and loaded him in and walked  back inside to make lunch.

Good morning.  I hope you don’t mind a pause in the farmy.

Many people are sad much of the time. Through illness or loneliness or grief. One thing I know though  is that it will change. The windscreen wipers of life will slowly move back the other way. The air will cool and you can breathe for a bit.  Tomorrow will come. Now, is not how it will always be. We just need to keep our eyes open and our hearts wide awake.  There is always joy there. Maybe only a little, maybe just a smudge of joy. But it will be enough for the moment. As we move ourselves and shove ourselves, with the utmost determination towards the changes.

Mum always said, Buck up Celi, you will scare the horses with a face like that.

And now I can hear Daisy bawling. And it is not even 6am. Cows can tell the time though.  So I will heave myself back up out of the past and back to work we go.   Good work. It is always better to write these things I think. So thank you for undulging me. And thank you Julie and Terry for leading me.


74 Comments on “Sitting in a laundry basket of wet washing – a story

  1. That was beautiful, thank you for sharing such a poignant moment in your life, it can’t have been easy. You spin your stories so magically with a lovely touch of humour despite all that’s going on. 🙂

  2. I can’t reply properly to this post, Celie. You’ve taken me back to my own tired time, my losing time. But waves of empathy are wafting over the pond do you. You do a marvellous job, and yes, Mothers do know best (most of the time).

  3. Beautiful piece of writing even though its thrust is so alien to me, a man. As I read it I thought of my wife, Jenny, and how she dealt with the washing, our children and the loss of her mother. I too was a very “busy” man, but luckily, over the years, Jenny has forgiven me.

  4. Although my children were adults, this reminds me of a very sad time in my life – waiting for what was inevitable. Sometimes being a mum and a daughter is a rough job but we press on.

  5. I so needed the reminder to keep the heart wide awake. You have accomplished much this morning dear C.

  6. … and so weaves the silver thread from generation to generation – you from your Mom and your boys learning from your example. Nothing like the humdrum of life and an occassional disconnect to bring it all back into perspective. Sadly the outcomes don’t change, they just take on another form. Laura

  7. i am overwhelmed after reading this. what beautiful and poignant writing. oh how i wish that i could have been there that day…it wouldn’t have mattered if we had never met before….i wish that i could have been strolling down the road and saw a woman who needed a cup of tea and her hair brushed, i would have held you in my arms and let you cry and grieve. i would have made sure that everyone was napping and taken care of. i would have made you a lovely sandwich and told you to let it all out. it wouldn’t have mattered if we had never met before.

    your far-away friend,

  8. Even without the additional strain of losing a mother, this took me back 20-some years…sitting in the bathtub late at night, a fist stuffed in my mouth to stifle the sound of sobbing, lest I wake someone…
    Today is not forever.
    Have a great day, C.

  9. Losing those who love us the best is so difficult. Your descriptors of this experience will touch many who don’t have the words for this life loss and deep ache. Painfully eloquent. I enjoy following your blog

  10. Beautiful – I know we´ve all had “tablecloth over the head” moments – you just put it into words. And look where you are now (although I hope these moments are far less frequent now for you). And I loved the description of pegging out the washing. I find it very restful and think about how many generations upon generations of (usually) women have done this before us….lovely.

  11. Good Morning, Celi. Beautiful story. I am having an upsurge of joy here: a man is flirting with me. This has not happened in a long time, so long, in fact, that the first time he did it I did a double-take — “Can this be happening?” Yes. It is happening. I could see and hear your filthy, shrieking boys, feel your tiredness and sorrow. And life goes on — look where you are now.

  12. Darling Celi, I have just read this wonderful post, every word, no skimming, and my own tears are ready to fall. I can’t begin to quote my fave lines and thoughts there are too many. I will read and reread and reread like I do all master pieces. This brings comfort to more than those intended. Thank you, thank you.

  13. Beautifully told, Celie. Your restraint, humour, and storytelling dovetailed to present a poignant picture of the moment it all became too much – a moment we’ve all had to walk through, and remember so vividly. Now images of a wet tea towel and a half-full basket of washing under a tree in a rural back yard will be among the images I’ve gathered from others times of tribulation.

  14. Thanks, Celi, for sharing such a personal story. I’m sure it will resonate with the mothers, daughters, and caregivers among your readers. The fact that you were, at once, all 3 is remarkable. This piece will help a great many people, Celi. Having been caregiver, I know.
    Have a great day!

  15. Wonderful. You have a great philosophy on life. But take care in this new life of yours, with tasks increasing by the day and Mother Nature to fight against too. After all, we don’t want you in tthe laundry basket wearing a tablecloth too often!

  16. Celi – I am gobsmackingly thrilled to read this fantastic post and cannot thank you enough for your empathetic understanding. I can just see this whole scenarion – your words conjure a short film – Love Julie

    • Julie, I have just read your words that inspired celi’s writing above, you are a generous brave, honest woman who writes amazingly well.

  17. Sometimes, just knowing others have been through similar trying times makes all the difference. I was in a very sad place as well a few years ago but thankful for what I have learned from it as well. My father was very ill and also dying while I was running my own practice, pregnant and with a 2 year old. Rushing back and forth trying to play so many (new) roles at once was very overwhelming and often felt like I had to sacrifice someone’s well-being for another. I really appreciate your story, Celi. You have a great writing style. It is also so nice to hear that you were inspired to write this piece by reading others’ writing too! Creativity breeds creativity. All the best to you and I hope your day is wonderfully bright and beautiful 🙂

  18. i felt so much through this blog. the never ending chores that you know have to be done, the responsibilities to ourselves, our children, and our parents. the loss that you are going through with your mother touched home so much i felt pangs of pain within my soul. when my father developed bone cancer, i was the only one he would allow to take care of him. i spent almost every living, free moment with him, and by the end of his life i was giving him his insulin shots, feeding him, bathing him. all care and forcing him and myself to look at the positive in this one day was sometimes so challenging, we would just quit, and sit in silence together, and listen to the sounds of nature. my father died in my arms, each of us clinging on to the others hands. my father was my hero, and i lost a huge part of who i was, but never got to come face to face with it, as seven days after burying my dad, Al had a heart attack, which caused me to go back into third gear and care for him from that day forth. i know that much sadness i feel day after day, is because i still mourn for my dad, although it has been four years, i am still in the burial stage in my mind. now that Al requires so much of my thoughts, i have pushed my dad to the side, hence, voids and craters are left for me to deal with one day. i hate sadness, but some days it controls me, not matter how much i fight it, and some days when it pays me an unexpected visit, i don’t want to fight it, i want to stay hidden in my own shadows reliving my past.
    i have been a professional caregiver for over twenty years, and the hope and dream that i carry today, that is some day i will also find rest, and time to heal, but for now, i must continue my journey of trying to heal others spirits as they to, are being lifted into the skies

  19. Celi, thank you for sharing this incredibly touching story, this brilliant writing. We can all relate, I think, in some way simply by changing the details. Your Mum seems a wise mum to pass along all those words of wisdom.

    Now I think I shall go outside and hang my first basket of laundry, minus the baby, the brothers and the tablecloth. It is a lovely day here in southeastern Minnesota and I have every reason to be joyful for the blessed rain which fell this morning upon the parched earth.

  20. Well now I know where your courage and stamina come from. You’ve been working at it for a long long time.

  21. Celi, that story was nothing short of poetic. Heartbreaking in its sadness, joyful in its description of the children in the mud puddle, touching with your mother’s wise words. I will reblog it and hopeful share your wonderful story with my readers.

  22. Thanks for sharing this, c. Yes, things like this need to be told. Something you sasid really struck home for me:
    “I remember thinking I did not want to BE anymore. I wanted to take my Self off and rest for a while.”
    I’ve been there before, and no doubt will be there again. Your story reminds me that this too shall pass. Goods times and bad times, neither ones last. 🙂

  23. Thank you for sharing such a life affirming story and message. Your generosity of spirit is especially bright today, Celi. I remember losing my dad at a young age, and I’m lucky to still have my mom. There have been lots of sad and scary times for many this year as you said, myself included, but it is important to understand it’s place and ones place in the waves and troughs of living. You share that so beautifully every day.

  24. Thank you for this beautiful post and message. It is an uncertain time for many right now, and your reflections on the rhythms of life and children, make me yearn for that structure-past. Life just seems to grow more “interesting” as time passes, and it’s important to remember when you feel like crying in a laundry basket of wet clothes that we can in fact wear our underpants on our head.

  25. I simply cannot imagine that you can’t make pots of money through your writing.
    This post is so beautiful.
    There are maybe eight people who read my blog, but I’d like to share this with them if that is ok?

  26. Beautifully written. It made me sad. But the depth of your feeling at that moment and your willingness to feel the rawness of it all tells — well, my dear Celi – it tells me how genuine and open you are. I am glad I found you and the farmy!

  27. I was there with you…I felt the enormous responsibility, smelled the sun dried laundry…heard the
    wonderful sound of children laughing and smiled wide when you put the cloth over your head.
    I see a theme, perhaps a chapter in your book about the comfort of a head cover !!
    A poignant time, cheerleading the new lives that were your children,
    while ushering out and thus being enveloped by the loss of your Mum. Is it any wonder,
    your ability to embrace all that you encounter with a sense of responsibility, grace
    and humor !! Quite an amazing row you’ve hoed my friend. I appreciate your
    sharing and everyday I learn more about you Celi . What an honor knowing you !

  28. This is so beautiful and generous and oh, it resonates so well with me. Thank you for posting it. The image of your silent crying will linger for a long time to come.

  29. The tears are running down my face and onto the keyboard Celi. How brave of you. Your ability to speak so honestly and succinctly grabs me and tears my heart apart. It wasn’t my mother. It was my daughter. Playing with the water, picking dandelions, helping me with the laundry. I held her close, so close the night she came into my world. Two years ago I held her close as she died in my arms. I held her until they took away. The sunshine went out of my life. It has never returned. This is the first time I have put this into words. Virginia

    • It will come back for you, I hope, Virginia. So, so hard when the tables are turned and a mother has to take care of a dying child.

      • So many thanks for your good thoughts. It was difficult to write about. Perhaps this too is part of the healing process. Virginia

        • I’m sure it could help. Exploring what you are going through by writing it down can crystallise things and help you find a way forward. I hope you have someone understanding and supportive to talk things through. It is natural to feel such mixed emotions and sometimes guilt at moving forward, and gaining the right perspective on this is an important step.

  30. What a beautiful story! Our oldest daughter is going to something horrible as her husband of just four years passed away suddenly on the 10th of a massive heart attack, he was very young for a heart attack but that is what it was. He was at work in Mobile, Alabama, and she was here at their tiny farm in Delta, Colorado. We loved him also…so this is hard. You are right…gradually the world will change and new things will come and replace old things and bring happiness whereby sadness existed. And there are the memories…beautiful wonderful blessings of memories.

    Thank you for this post!


  31. Bless you. You must be exhausted. But your mother will always be with you, even if her body is gone. She’s telling you that! She talks and guides, cajoles and scolds, though she is :ours away. That will not change. My mother died when I was not even 10 years old. I still feel her, hear her, and love her. Your mother is right; rest when the baby does! You need the strength. X

  32. Pingback: The Farmy « ninehundredandseventytwelverecipes

  33. What a beautiful and moving post, Cecilia, so well told. I was with you every step of the way – hanging out the washing, which I have always loved too, and is full of mother memories for me. And then going under the tablecloth. I had disappointing news yesterday, and the day folded in on me. The 90 year old woman I visit in a rest home sometimes goes under the blankets, when life gets too much. Little Mira (3 1/2) makes huts for herself to be happy and secure in). It’s such a primal instinct. Your story reminds me that we can fold in and retreat, and we do come out again and Carry On. So real. Bless you.

    • P.S. Your little muddy mischief-making boys remind me of the pigs. Maybe that’s why you had to have two of them.

  34. You were so young to have so many children. No wonder you were overwhelmed and exhausted. I remember those days that started early and ended late, that were isolating and lonely, that were repetitious and mundane and you wondered if there would ever be a new phase. And I didn’t have a mother who was dying. My mother had a lot of the same sayings! xx

  35. Your post is wonderful, as is your ability to share and reach out to people. I was drawn along with you, the washing (which I also love), the sayings, the joy, the despair, the loss, the getting on with it, which although my own & differing to you & others, makes us all kin.

  36. Just lovely, Celi, and so moving. You managed to put such difficult emotions into words; not an easy task. I’ve had those feelings of being overwhelmed as a young mom, and I’ve gone through that rite of passage of losing my mother, becoming “the matriarch,” the ultimate generation. You say it so beautifully. Thank you!

  37. Brilliant, the gentle flow of it. How we are taken to the line, and we are pegged, pegged, and unpegged there, hanging, watching you search for your rhythm. I could hear the rhythm – it is a familiar one, played all over the world, including my little corner, in my mother’s home, with me watching. And for a lovely moment, you are both mirror and window, and I watch, and listen, as your own mother’s rhythm and words echo. And you mourn her, quietly, and yourself just a bit. But the boys … that lovely little anchor you set at the beginning of the story, moors you to your joy, and you do not go adrift.

    Lovely little poem, is life.

  38. I am so glad I didn’t miss this, Celi. Moving and beautiful and touching, too. It gives me a little glimpse into the factors that perhaps contributed over time to give you the strength and resilience you certainly have today. And your final words of encouragement are really special. oxo Debra

  39. A magnificent piece of writing, powerfully described and quite poetic…thank you, Celi! 🙂

  40. I think you wrote this absolutely beautifully. I could picture the summer day perfectly and everything about the scene was radiating such optimism from the beginning, until you suddenly fell. When your despair was laid bare it was in such sharp contrast to all that had gone before that it was impossible for any reader of this not to be moved by it. I’m so sorry you lost your mother. I am glad that you at least have so many memories of her to help her to live on and to continue to guide you.

    To go off point slightly, if your books are written with as much heart as this, they are bound to be a success.

    To go off point further, and I hope you won’t think me flippant here, but when you were describing the art of the laundry on the line I automatically thought of this and wondered whether or not you’d seen these, and if not if you might like them:

  41. GRACE, Celi, was the billboard word that popped into my head after reading your beautifully unfurled story. Grace, as you go about this thing society has named “living.” Our conclusions are always the same, but some among us seem to possess a special grace that sets the bar higher and shows us that sometimes the impossible is possible; shows us that hardship & suffering don’t have to result in bitterness and despair – that it’s never too late to make “something” useful and beautiful and joyful of this snapshot opportunity we call LIFE.
    I hope you are feeling the applause of the audience out here, Nikki

  42. Hi Celi,
    Thank you for this. My mom and I, we didn’t always get along, but she loved me and I loved her, And that is fact.

  43. Just as I started to feel sad for you, as a young mum with the world on your shoulders, your boys made me laugh out loud 😉

  44. Dear Celi, thank you for this glimpse into your past. The words your Mom used to teach you, still no doubt teaching you now. And thank you for the reminder that joy is still there, even if not felt in the present moment. It is refreshing to hear this now, as this year has brought the loss of my own Precious Mother, and a loving brother-in-law. So it has been, and still is very difficult at times. Lately I have been reciting something my Mom would tell me. “You are only as happy as you make up your mind to be.’ I do love what your Mom told you, ‘Buck up Celi, you will scare the horses with a face like that.’ and I may start reciting that with my name in it! We don’t have horses, but I do worry a bit about scaring My John though, and I don’t want to do that, as we are beginning a new life here in the US, and I don’t want to put a ‘damper’ on that after only one year! Thank you again for your beautiful, heart warming, make you think post Celi. Di

  45. I loved reading this today.. so many beautiful images and words running through my mind. I was touched by your emotion and felt it. This is the mark of a skilled writer.. your images conjures up so many memories of my own. xo Smidge

  46. Dear Cinders, I really have no words to describe how this story of yours, touched my soul…I tried to re-read it today and again…the tears keep welling up! It is a powerful thing when one has the gift to inspire so many emotions in others with just her writing….and you…have that gift!
    Again…you are amazing and look how many people you have brought together with your beautiful, bittersweet, humorous, deep down from the soul…writing!
    I read each and every comment ( and also moved by some of their stories, as well) but can not say it better than they, how much it touched us all….
    Your friend….Chris

  47. so fully felt and fully given; i loved your mother’s sayings; i heard some of those too; what a wonderful mother; wonderful article; your blogs are enchanting

  48. You are so right, life does keep going, keeps changing. Sorrow will last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Maybe not tomorrow morning, but it will come. Thanks for sharing one of those times of hardship, when we wonder if we will survive it.

  49. Pingback: Pt. 2 of the lesson: Your best is good enough | elladee_words

  50. Seldom have I read anything more beautiful or more reflective of those bone tiring moments in life. hugs and more hugs.

  51. So well written, I could feel the heat and your tiredness and sorrow. But also the fun and giggles of the boys. Beautiful x

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