Hanging Out to Dry

May 7, 2010 by Ellen Stimson in Hanging Out to Dry, Living With Intention

The humble dandelion is a pretty dramatic thing. Just Tuesday our meadow was ablaze with their yellow heads bopping in the breeze. Then a cold wind blew in with a big thunderstorm and now home a day early I see that they are all cottony, giving themselves up and scattering their seeds for the next generation. The dandelion understands that to change is to let go of fear. Letting go of fear means letting go of control. It is fear that drives this silly need to control the universe, which as I said before, if there is a God is surely her work not mine.

So this Mother’s Day might be a little sad. If it is it will be the first sad one I have ever had. But I am doing new work now. I am learning about letting go…letting go of my defensiveness. I did a good job by my own standards and I have to be content with that. Mine were the only standards I had along the way. Judging by results alone these last couple of months my standards may not have been good enough. But one cannot judge by a three-month window. The beginning of the movie is not the end. We have to wait and see how the picture turns out. And that may be a while in coming. We had some positive steps forward and now we have had some setbacks. That will likely be the storyline for a while yet. But in the meantime I am learning to simply be present.

And while I am waiting I have decided that I want a clothesline like the one my Gram had. It hung between two trees beside a lavender hedge and boasted flowery sheets and long white nightgowns that smelled like the sun when I nestled close to her at night. I remember her carrying her basket and pins and clothes out to the line. At the time it looked like hard work. When electric dryers made their debut we got her one, but she never stopped using the line in summer. Why use dryer sheets with names like fresh scent when the fresh scent outside is real and free she wondered. She was an environmentalist before her time. And now I wonder too about the nature of that work. This was a woman who raised a sad difficult daughter and an alcoholic son. Her third son married a woman who didn’t seem to like her much. She was a modern woman and my Gram’s summer kitchen with all that canning embarrassed her I think. Gram lost a son, a grandchild, and her husband all before she finished her forties. Along the way she got the love of her sad daughter’s daughter and a whole bunch of other grandkids besides. She taught us all about the googobs of flowers she grew in her garden, the names and calls of the birds, and sent me home with coffee cans full of frogs to play with in my own yard. She made me Divinity candy and filled glass jugs with flowers from her garden. And every Friday all summer long she hung out her clothes with a red transistor radio playing Cardinal baseball games in her ear. This was a woman who knew stuff. She taught me to look for the beauty. Really she taught me how to be happy.
And looking back and remembering how she spent all that time with us grandkids, after her own kids must have disappointed her, seems like a minor miracle of hope over experience.
But what I think now was that Gram must have understood about taking the long view.

The critical daughter in law eventually came around and these days makes Gram’s Divinity for her own grandkids. The alcoholic son helped raise me after my dad died and called me sugar and is surely one of the reasons I married this sweet man. And her sad daughter was a complicated woman who fought racism and lobbied for literacy and taught me how to parent by being an example of how I would not.

I wonder if Gram was always able to hold all those contrasts or if she learned how by standing in the sun with a clothespin in her mouth while she stood on tippy toe trying to pin that sheet up high enough to catch the breeze. This mother’s day I will drink orange juice and coffee with the ones who are here. One of them may come just to fight. I will not fight or defend our lives. Instead I am going to hang some clothes on the line and tuck us all in under sheets that smell like the sun…….


  • Kate

    I think I would have liked your Gram just as much as I like you. Hang tight, my friend. Enjoy your coffee and orange juice and continue to love. I believe it DOES get you through.

  • library lady

    I have never understood why so many municipalities have outlawed clotheslines. I would rather see clothes flapping in the beeze than satellite dishes and pink plastic flamingoes. You go girl, and don't lose hope.

  • Jennifer

    Hi old friend. I just sent an email to your gmail account.

  • Molls

    This is one of those times that really will pass. God only knows what you will get next but it will pass.
    Deep breaths, prayer, and ummm, a little whiskey might not hurt either

  • Katriedid

    I just found out from Molly that you were back.
    I am sending out a mass email to everyone I know. I have so missed this place
    First i agree about the whiskey
    Second I assume it is one of those near adult kids that's causing the ruckus. You do know don't you that the ones who have been the closest have the hardest time with the separation. It can get really ugly.
    I was that kid.
    We all said stuff. It was bad.
    Try and not say too much but also don't accept that which is not acceptable.
    When the kid acts like they are two you gotta go back and treat them like they are two
    Give em a timeout.
    Be brave
    Then develop a taste for whiskey

  • starrlife

    Beautiful pic- is it your own? Beautiful post, moved me very much.
    I love the dandelion description and I love the story of your grandmother – lovely and poignant. Thank you so much for sharing it. You know I am as behind you as a virtual pal can be about you “unbloggables”. I have several blog pals in exactly the same boat it seems. Sigh… I agree with the previous commenter about that the ones who fight the most are often the ones who are the closest. I have found, especially with boys, that they sometimes need to push away really hard in order to launch. But it sounds like you are on exactly the right course – no self blame and loving detachment without abandonment.
    Rainy, rainy day here- hope it suns up a bit tomorrow!

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