The Spring day promised to be sunny and warm, perfect for drying the fresh, cleanly laundered sheets outdoors. Mother hung them up on the tightly-drawn clothesline with the wooden clothespins swinging in a makeshift pouch at the very end of the row. The light breeze rippled the cloth panels and caught Daddy’s previously hung long-johns unaware, tangling the legs and flipping them helter-skelter against the sheets.
It was my chore to smooth out wrinkles and keep Little Joe, our pet goat, away from the clean laundry whenever his tether broke loose. I laid down on the sweet-smelling grass for a spell, dreaming as only a child can—of everything or of nothing at all—thoughts tumbling over my consciousness like the famed Jack and Jill from Aunt Ethel’s Nursery Rhyme book.
The two trees anchoring the clothesline on each side had massive brown trunks, their bark peeling in odd places and stripped bare around the toggle bolts attaching the line at each end. Large pock marks scarred the right trunk at the bottom, tooth marks from Little Joe’s incessant gnawing. The flapping clothing created their own fragrant breeze across my face and I imagined myself a queen on a daybed fanned by my handmaidens.
“Lyddie, child! Come, help me with this basket!” interrupted these pleasant whimsies.
Dry clothes in one basket, waiting wet laundry yet to be hung by her side, I helped by handing up the waiting clothespins to Ma’s outstretched hand to hang heavy towels, Sissy’s cloth diapers, and Jimmy’s overalls.
“Ma, this line sure is strong, ain’t it? I mean, these wet things are too heavy for me to carry, and yet the line holds ‘em up without any trouble.”
Mother paused in her work and gave me a short lesson in physics that flew over my head like a pesky fly. I absently stroked Maizy, our newest barn cat’s kitten, as I again pondered that clothesline. A stronger wind blew across the yard while we sat there, ruffling Maizy’s fur and tangling my long tresses into stinging whiplashes across my face. The wet laundry was whipping around frantically, held up by the bobbing clothespins that were hanging onto them for dear life.
But the two tree trunks stood unmoving and firm, keeping that clothesline as taunt as an acrobat’s tight-wire.
“I reckon as these tree roots crawl underground deeper than Old Smitty’s well.”
And, right then and there, I named the right tree trunk Goliath and the left one, Samson, proud that I remembered the Sunday School Bible stories. I imagined them as two sentries guarding Ma’s hanging laundry like stalwart soldiers and wondered if I could become that strong someday myself. I fell asleep with Maizy dozing on my lap, and didn’t even hear the approaching storm, so dead to the world I was.
Mother was rapidly tearing clothes off the clothesline, calling me to come and help her, so I scrambled to her side, stuffing garments and linens into the already heaping basket as she tossed them to me. Suddenly a bolt of lightening lit up the darkening sky with a crash of thunder that made us both jump. It even woke up our old dog, Butch, who usually slept through anything.
In two shakes, we were all safely holed up on our porch with the rescued laundry, none the worse for wear. Ma went about closing windows while I stood, mesmerized by the scene unfolding before me. Lightning splayed across the sky like lines drawn haphazardly on my teacher’s blackboard as the wind blew over yard chairs and debris, swirling them into the air.
I saw a swirling cyclic funnel approaching and my trance broke. The last time we had a tornado, it had jumped over us and most of our neighbors’ farms, but I wasn’t taking any chances. The last thing I saw before I joined the rest of the family in the cellar was our massive oak tree by the barn, uprooted and tossed around in the air like a discarded Lincoln Log . . .
Afterwards, still standing and remarkable, were Samson and Goliath, split down their middles, but the clothesline still taunt between them. Instead of drying laundry, the line held scads of blown debris from the storm, including tangled up barbed wire, Sissy’s doll carriage, a bucket and branches of all kinds. Smack dab in the middle was Daddy’s old barn boots, their laces wrapped around that line so tight, we had to cut them off.
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