Awash in Mom’s Spirit – TellTale Soul Story No. 6

Photo contributed by Colette: Swinging on Mom’s clothesline.

As you lift the cover opening the New Year 2013, I welcome you to enjoy another story excerpt from my guidebook, TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir: How to Tap Memory and Write Your Story Capturing Character & Spirit.  This story begins on page 67 of Act Two in the section entitled “Locating & Orienting,” where I just asked writers to do a “Free-Write” exercise and then let it rest for a day or so before coming back to it.

You can easily find the stories I’ve posted from the book by searching “Bio-Vignette No.”

It is through trying to make sense of obscurities at a later date that you will be able to more fully encompass the truth. Oftentimes it is just a word, an image, or a feeling that has come over you that is important for you to discuss—talk about it, share it, have some fun with it. The power of certain words is invigorating and, more than once, I have seen the idea for a story grow out of a single word.

After a time spent in reflection, a TellTale Soul jotted down one single word about her mother which seemed rather silly to her initially, although a plethora of emotions erupted within her. As she sat with the word “wash,” she realized placing her mother in the center of her washday world was the one story she wanted to tell that would capture her mother’s character and spirit as nothing else.

MY MOTHER’S WASH       ~Colette Hosmer

 My mom had the best wash in town—maybe in the entire state of North Dakota. In the 1940s and 50s, when every yard had a clothesline, the phrase “don’t air your dirty laundry for everyone to see” was taken literally by many people, especially Mom.

Washday began at the crack of dawn each Monday morning when Mom rolled an ancient machine, saddled with two large metal tubs, from our unheated porch into the warm kitchen. The motor hummed as the rollers squeezed clothes from one tub to the other, and the windows soon frosted over as the kitchen steamed up. The odors of Hilex bleach, cooking, and wash water blended into one familiar and comforting smell.

I loved to shadow my mother on those days when my older sisters were at school and Dad was at the store. Mom and I shared secrets when we were alone together—like the unsung joy of headcheese sandwiches with mustard and liverwurst on buttered toast dunked into milky coffee.

Our clothesline stood outside the kitchen door. Four strong wires stretched between wooden posts that held a swing at one end and a Purple Martin birdhouse at the other.

Mother raised line-drying to an art form: Shirts, pants, and skirts were clothespinned at the seams, socks hung by the toe, and washcloths by two corners, never one. As it waved in the breeze, the completed masterwork of orderly colors and dazzling whites was a sight to behold. “Nothing smells better than line-dried clothes,” Mom stated each washday. Never mind how her sun bleached whites caught the eye of each motorist and pedestrian who angled around our corner lot.

Mom dreaded the occasions when our neighbors’ wash overflowed their clotheslines and they borrowed a line or two of ours. “Just look at that,” she grimaced from behind our screen door, “hanging every which way, and those whites—gray as all getout.” It wasn’t unusual for those neighbors to leave their clothes on our line for an extra day or two, until a stiff wind had whipped the already unfortunate arrangement into a twisted, faded conglomerate.

Undaunted by winter and unwilling to give up the benefits of sun and fresh air, Mother draped her wet wash over the dowels of a wooden clothes rack and set it out on the steps, where it froze solid.

My sisters went to work at the store after school and on Saturdays, while I was left at home to practice the ironing ritual:

             Lay out item to be ironed

            Sprinkle with water as you fold piece in on itself

            Roll up tightly

            Place snugly in plastic laundry bag


 After a couple of hours, the rolls were evenly damp and ready to iron. I watched and learned Mother’s technique as she artfully worked the point of the iron around each button and into awkward corners without pressing in an extra wrinkle. As Mom talked, the changing position of the shirt on the ironing board and the momentary resting then springing to action of the iron seemed like one fluid movement. “I wouldn’t be caught dead,” she emphasized, “sending your father to work with his shirt collar crumpled and wrinkled, like some people’s husbands.” Not only were my father’s shirts pressed to perfection, he made an even greater impression when he pulled out his pressed, whiter-than-white handkerchief to blow his nose.

But nothing lasts forever. Late one night Dad laid his poker winnings on Mom’s pillow and, within days, a brand new Speed Queen washer and dryer gleamed from a corner of our kitchen. The big washtubs were moved to the yard where, on hot summer days, they served as kiddie pools and dog bathtubs.

A couple of summers ago, when my dryer broke down, I bought some wooden clothespins and strung a line across my small backyard. My dryer has long since been replaced, but the clothesline remains. I use it to hang out white cottons and sometimes sheets and pillowcases. Mother would be proud of my brilliant whites.          

Colette Hosmer: “Writing this story was a joy, hard work but it gave me so much. I thought of a multitude of things about my mother, but her “wash” seemed more real than anything else.”

Daughters and sons from 9 to 90 use The Story Woman’s TELLTALE SOULS METHOD to move memory into memoir in a uniquely creative way.

You can easily find the stories I’ve posted from the book by searching “Bio-Vignette No.”


  1. Pamela says:

    Lovely story. I just finished reading a poem about looking for the ‘small’ things in life. The ordinary. Because they are what give us the most pleasures (and memories) in life. This story is an example of that.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Pamela. Many of our most precious memories are rooted in the small happening in relationships that mean so much — such things turn to be not small at all!

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