Hanging out the washing with my mother

One of the joys of spring is there are now more days when I can hang the washing out to dry in the garden. I have done that today. Almost every time I have done that since my mother died in the spring of 2013, I remember her.

As I perform my mother's same actions, taking pegs from their bag, hanging washing on a rope line in the garden, the memories are vivid. Some of those memories are from childhood when I watched or helped her hang the washing, or learnt from her how to count the pegs, "1 peg, 2 pegs, 3 pegs..." Others are from my teen years when I could take responsibility for the task, although my methods of hanging were different from hers. (They still are!) More recent memories are of my mother in her nineties, vulnerable to falling, eager to hang the washing out in the sun or take it in when it was ready to iron or the rain started. Towards the end, when she had a live-in carer, she no longer needed to hang out the washing or take it in, or do the ironing. There was always someone else to do it, but - old habits die hard!

Marcel Proust wrote:
"People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts as when they were alive. It is as though they were travelling abroad."  
Marcel Proust (1871 - 1922) from 'À la recherche du temps perdu', translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Chatto and Windus Volume 2, page114
I have found those words to be so true since my mother's death. So many of my routine daily actions at home or in the garden now habitually trigger thoughts of her. I am different from her, but sometimes I feel almost as if I have become her. Never more so than when cooking, gardening, opening and closing curtains at dawn or dusk and, as today, hanging out the washing. After I'd hung the washing this morning in the garden this morning I sat down and wrote this spontaneous poem - maybe to rework later - or not.


Hanging out the washing
I see your hands, once young and smooth,
hanging the washing on the rope line
that stretched across the garden.

Hanging out the washing
I see my child hands, then young and smooth,
picking the pegs from the peg bag
to pass to you in the garden.

Hanging out the washing
I see my hands, now old and wrinkled,
hanging the washing on the rope line
that stretches across our garden.

Hanging out the washing
I see your hands, once old and wrinkled,
hanging the washing on the rope line
no longer in your garden.

Mum's Garden: April 2013, photo: my own

You did not sit in this chair by the pond often Mum. You were usually too busy gardening or walking the dog or dealing with the washing. You mostly sat in at when you had visitors. When I took this photo I knew you would never sit in it again. Now the chair has gone from what was once your garden, but in another place others may sit in it still. And in what was once your garden other hands hang out the family washing.

Image Credit for Hanging out washing image: Jan Smith on Flickr, CC License