Clotheslines Make Good Neighbors
by Allen Delaney
I finished my latest outdoor chore and settled back to enjoy the waning spring day in the comfort of my hammock. Eyes closed, I felt the late sun on my face while overhead a skein of geese announced their migration. My reverie was suddenly interrupted by the faint fragrance of peanut butter.
As I slowly opened my right eye, a small, bespectacled face came into focus. It was the neighbor’s five-year-old kid, Wendell, a child who has the ability to seek out and destroy relaxation at 100 yards.
“Whacha doing?” he asked.
“Planning my next project,” I responded.
“What’s it gonna be?” queried the gnome as he munched his peanut butter sandwich. Wendell looked puzzled when I told him it was going to be a fence. He then pointed toward my recently completed chore and announced, “I know what that is.”
“You do, do you. What is it?” I asked him.
“An eyesore” he said. “That’s what my mom calls it.”
Wendell was referring to the collapsible clothesline I had just erected in my backyard.
“Yeah?” I retorted. “Well wait until Tuesday for the real eyesore.”
“What happens on Tuesday?” the gnome inquired.
“Underwear day,” I answered.
Once again, a puzzled expression stared back at me.
I swung my feet off the hammock, sat up and faced the young man. “That,” I pointed, “is a clothesline.”
“Waf it boo?” he asked while stuffing the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth.
“It dries clothes, towels, linens and whatever else you can hang on it.”
“How can it do that?” he asked. “There’s no plug.”
“It uses solar and wind power. No electricity is involved.” I explained. I couldn’t believe that the kid had never seen clothes hanging out to dry. “Wendell, when I was your age, my mother used to hang clothes on the line most of the year. She rarely used her electric dryer. She didn’t see the sense in paying the electric company for something she could do for free. After a hard day of playing with my friends, I’d come home, flop in bed and smell the fresh scent of Mother Nature on my sheets.”
“My bed smells good,” Wendell rebutted.
“That’s because your Mom buys chemical dryer sheets. My laundry gets that fresh scent for free,” I told him.
Wendell cautiously eyed the clothesline and asked, “Do you have anything else that doesn’t use ’lectricity?”
I pointed toward my house and asked him if he knew why that pipe was sticking out of the side wall.
He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head from side to side.
“That’s a chimney,” I said. “Inside, it’s connected to my woodstove. In the winter I burn wood to heat my home so I don’t have to run my electric heat pump.”
“Wow! I bet you’re the only person who doesn’t use ’lectricity!”
I explained to the young man that I did indeed use ’lectricity, but very frugally.
I asked Wendell if he had ever heard of the Amish. Again he shook his head. “Well, if energy prices keep going up, the Amish folk will be teaching us a thing or two. They don’t use any electricity or even drive cars.”
Wendell looked at me as if I were pulling his leg. “Then how do they get to work if they don’t have cars?”
“They use a horse and buggy.” I told him.
““Nah-uh. No one does that” was his matter-of-fact response.
“Have your parents take you to Saint Mary’s County and see for yourself,” I told him. “In fact, if you were an Amish boy, I bet you’d have your own horse and probably some goats and chickens, too.”
Evidently that statement piqued his interest since his eyes ballooned to the size of headlights. “I would? My mom won’t even let me have a hamster. How could I have a horse?”
“Well,” I explained, “you would need the horse for transportation and the goats and chickens for milk and eggs.”
“Wow! I want to be Amish!” he yelled and hopped around my hammock as if he were on horseback.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but you can’t be Amish.”
His dance abruptly ended in mid-hop as he asked why.
“Because, Wendell, your mom uses an electric dryer.”
His crushed look slowly faded, then a slight smile appeared. “I know!” he shouted. “I’ll get Mom and Dad to stop using ’lectricity and stop driving.”
I proudly looked at Wendell and told him that his family would be saving money and making the world a better place by giving up their consumption of energy.
I could hear him shouting as he ran toward his house, “Mom! We need to be Amish! Mr. Delaney says you need to stop using the clothes dryer! Mom! Mr. Delaney says I’ll need a horse! MOM!”
I settled back in my hammock, proud that I, too, had saved some energy. After today, I don’t think I’ll need to build that fence after all.
Allen Delaney, whose humorous essays have appeared in Bay Weekly periodically since 2000, writes from Prince Frederick. His last story, the feature Buy at Auction, Repair at Leisure, appeared April 13.