Amanda and I are spending this next week at the farm. More precisely, we’re spending days at the farm and nights at the cabin our family owns on Lake Martin. In preparation for a week away from home, Amanda washed and dried three large loads of laundry last night.
In case you’re wondering why all this work falls on Amanda and none of it on her husband, it’s because she lacks basic trust in my understanding of which garments need cold water and warm, as well as which need electric drying and which need spreading on the wooden rack. If she had that basic trust, she probably would allow me to use the machinery. I’m allowed to use it when she’s gone, because she knows that I will then be using it only on my own clothes, which tend to be more forgiving of my imprecision. But that’s not what this post is about.
What this post is about is the conversation Amanda and I had about the luxury of using an electric dryer to dry three large loads of damp laundry in quick succession, at night. We 21st century Americans take it for granted, of course, that we can let our laundry pile up (for entirely appropriate reasons, by the way — Amanda’s Mom had a heart attack last week and she has been staying with us for the last several days) and wash and dry that laundry in one evening. I made the observation that this is a wondrous thing we won’t be able to do for long, and Amanda agreed.
Our washing machine is a Kenmore front-loader that sips water and power and produces clothes that are wrung out so thoroughly that they need minimal time in the dryer, and we plan to make frequent use of it when we get to the farm. We purchased the electric dryer with it and have no complaints about it, but we know it’s an energy guzzler (as any electric clothes dryer would be). Amanda insists that it be available at the farm but knows she will not be able to use it on a routine basis.
“But in an emergency like tonight,” she said, “we may have to use it.” I agreed. And then I thought some more about what we had just said. Our “emergency” was that we have not been able to do laundry because we’ve been taking care of Mama and because Amanda’s work at school has kept her busy. Our emergency was that we needed to have those clothes clean so could get away for a week. I’m not sure we are capable of comprehending today what a real emergency would be.
In the not-too-distant future, when electricity costs $.30 or more per kwH, use of an automatic washing machine will be a blessing, and use of an electric (or gas) dryer will be a quaint memory. We will dry our clothes on the line near where we live, not because we’re “green” or trying to make a point but because we prefer dry clothes to damp clothes — that will be the only way to dry them. We will learn to be attentive to the best times to dry clothes (afternoon when the humidity’s lower, no shade, breezy), and in challenging climates like that of the Pacific Northwest we will time our washing for taking maximum advantage of good drying times.
Amanda’s mother warns me that I won’t like the feel of some clothes after they have dried on the line. “They’re hard,” she says, “particularly the towels and sheets. You’re not going to like drying your skin with a line-dried towel or sleeping next to a line-dried sheet.” Mama remembers vividly how wonderful it was to lose those crusty sun-dried linens in favor of fluffy, air-dried piles of cotton. I remember linens dried on the line, too; I remember “helping” my mother hang them out and then gather them up in our back yard in Montgomery. Another of my memories is the quick dash to the clothesline to grab the clothes to avoid their getting drenched in an unexpected shower. I don’t remember having any complaints about the way line-dried laundry felt, but I do know we stopped using the clothesline abruptly when we got our first clothes dryer, so I bet my parents preferred the clothes from the dryer too.
I get it that there’s a softness that I’m going to miss. I understand that it feels nice to rub your cheeks (upper and lower) with a nice, soft, fluffy towel that’s subtly infused with Downy fabric softener. My point is that, very soon now, we won’t have a choice. If we want dry clothes, we’ll hang them on the line, and we’ll be careful about when we do it. And yes, we’ll keep a sharp eye on the weather while they’re hanging there.
An emergency will be when the health or safety of a person or precious animal is at grave risk, and we need to act to avoid catastrophe. Not enough clean clothes may just mean it’s time to wear dirty clothes.