Readers Write-The Backyard

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Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.

This piece should have been submitted by November 1, 2015, for consideration for the May 2016 issue.

Few fences or hedges separated the backyards of the block I grew up on. That meant our backyard was huge–consisting of many contiguous yards behind our house and those immediately next to it. Clotheslines made up the biggest impediments to our freedom in the backyard. The T-shaped metal supports at the ends of the lines interfered with our football games. And if the lines held clothes, our backyard was off limits. I always knew when there were clothes on the lines; it was my job to hang them up after Mom completed washing each load.

We had an old fashioned wringer washing machine in the basement. In order to save both water and the energy needed to heat it, Mom always washed the light clothes first, the only load that got fresh, hot water. Instead of allowing the water out through the drain in the floor, Mom caught the soapy water in a galvanized tub, to be used with the next load of darker colors or heavier items. Clean, warm water rinsed the clothes before the washer tub spun to get rid of the majority of the water. But to ensure the clothes would dry as quickly as possible, each item went through the wringer to squeeze out the last, reluctant drops before Mom filled the basket with clothes for me to hang outside on the line.

I learned how to pin items on the line with the fewest possible pins by overlapping the edges so one pin held an edge of two items. Once the clothes were dry, I removed every other pin on all the lines so that the clothes remained in place until I moved the basket, into which I would fold and pile the dry clothes, from one end of the line to the other, then repeating the steps with the clothes on the line behind it.

The clothesline represented one of my chores, but it also represented something magical. With a few blankets held in place on the front and back lines, our backyard was transformed into a stage. An older neighbor, Gayle, organized the gaggle of younger kids from our neighborhood to form a circus. We performed for our parents who took seats on the back porch, on the grass, or on folding chairs carried to our backyard for the event. Gayle served as the ringmaster and pulled the front blanket to one side to reveal the performers behind it and then closed the curtain so we could prepare for the next act.

Gayle’s circus inspired me to write a play to raise money for the March of Dimes the following year, also starring my neighbors, the first step on my road to becoming an author.

 

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