A favorite scene from my childhood is sitting in the sun in our backyard on a summer day, watching my mom hang freshly washed clothes to dry on the clothesline. Fluffy white clouds slowly floated by. We lived at 47 Franklin St. in Van Buren, a small, bustling French-speaking town on the border of Canada, in the St. John Valley of northernmost Maine. Railroad tracks lined the far lower banks of our lawn. Dad was a telegrapher and station agent at the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad Station across the street. 

I soaked up the sounds of squirrels zipping up and down trees, birdsong, neighbors chatting over their fences, and the whistle of the approaching freight train. The engineer, sitting up high in his seat, with his blue and white striped cap and bib overalls, always smiled and waved to us as the train rolled by. The voices of children riding their bikes, playing hide-and-seek, jump rope, hopscotch, marbles or kick the can, echoed up and down the street.

I vividly remember the small washroom off the kitchen where Mom washed our clothes in her wringer washing machine. Once the agitator in the middle of the tub churned the dirt out of the clothes, she fed each item through two rollers at the top of the machine that squeezed the soap water out and into a tub of clean water. Then she reversed a lever that made the rollers go in the opposite direction, and fed each rinsed piece back through the wringer, caught them with her hands and placed them into a large basket. With strong arms, she lugged the heavy, wet clothes outdoors to the clothesline. In my mind’s eye, I can see her in her button-down cotton shirtwaist dress, bending down to pick up an item, straightening back up to clip it with wooden pins to the line. One by one, the entire wash was hung. 

Mom hung out our pants, dresses, skirts, shirts, sweaters, underwear, socks, handkerchiefs, pajamas, bath towels, dishtowels, tablecloths, blankets, sheets, pillowcases and her aprons throughout the four seasons. On late autumn days, when the wind whisked the leaves off the trees, it was entertaining to watch the clothes flap and dance. They fluttered gently when spring breezes tiptoed by. When the sky darkened and Mom knew it was going to rain, she hurried to bring the clothes in before the first raindrops splashed to the ground.   

Wintertime, in her wool coat, hat, scarf and boots, she trudged outside in below-zero weather, maneuvering knee-high banks of snow to bring the clean wash to the clothesline. Steam from her breath swirled around her face as she quickly pinned the clothes to the cold lines. They quickly froze into stiff-looking boards, and sometimes were encased with a sparkly, icy frost. After a few hours, Mom brought them back into the house and laid them on our steam radiators and wooden racks to finish drying. 

The smell of our clothes after drying in the fresh outdoor air and sunshine is unforgettable. Each season imbued them with a distinct scent, as they lazily hung side by side on the line.  

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