Mother's Knees


When I was in my mid-20s someone asked me of my earliest memory.

"My mother's knees," I said quickly and for the first time. As soon as the words were uttered I lost that instant of true remembrance and was left with the beginning of what I can now recall -- that moment when I said the memory aloud and all the details I have added to it over the past decade.

Not too long ago, when I was walking my 3-year-old down the sidewalk toward the doors of her preschool -- a slow meander -- the pace set by one who does not understand hours and minutes, we caught up with another mother with her preschooler and smaller thigh-high child.

"Now that he insists upon walking everywhere, I'm really slowed down," the other mother sighed, nodding toward the knee-hugger. Prodded by those words, my daughter transformed her tortoise shell into sails and we circled past and ahead.

Back when I was unbridled with a child, I was a speed walker. Not the competitive racing type, but the kind who has to move swiftly to cram everything into the allotted hours of a day, or a week, or a life. And because I was rarely home, except to occasionally eat, or occasionally sleep, or to work late into the night, I missed out on one of the finest activities this world has to offer.

For almost a year, warm weather permitting, fair skies in the forecast, I have taken to hanging my wet, freshly washed clothes outside on the line. Ostensibly, I can feel good about what I have to offer the environment as I lift up the clothes, one at time, and pin one corner of the top of the cloth to the line, stretch it across the line and pin the other top corner in place.

Baltimore Gas and Electric included line-drying clothing as one of its energy conservation tips in its bill sometime last summer. What it didn't mention was the nearly intoxicating effect of the clothes on your senses as you hang them inches from your nose. Or how by the end of the load, your arms tingle with a pleasant ache. Or the serene synchrony found in the rhythm of clothes-pinning, stretching, pinning and pushing along the clothes-pin pouch.

When I hung my first batch of laundry (without the grace I have more recently attained), I had a glimmer of recollection. My daughter was next to my legs, as I pinned the clothing, arms outstretched, elbows slightly bent. The smells of the laundry, the feel of the wooden clothes pins, the shifting of the garments as a breeze moved easily through the yard, turned the present into vivid past, and I looked down and saw my own face at knee level with my mother. Though there are no photos of my mother and my young self hanging the laundry, at that instant and now forever, there is the image of my mother hanging clothes, myself at her knees and the flapping of sweet clothes in the wind.

On my occasions of clothes hanging, time is not measured in minutes or seconds, but seems not to move at all. It is an interval when I can put aside the fears I have for the future, and for this earth, and stay protected in the blanket of my mother's shadow.

Cathleen A. Hanson writes from Baldwin.


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