When I was growing up, we lived right next door to my grandparents. Our yard was fenced and the only gate in it, other than the car-sized one that opened onto the driveway, was small and led directly from our backyard into my grandparents’ backyard. This private portal should tell you everything you need to know about how we imagined space – the fence was there to keep everyone else out, but family remained connected.
My sisters and I used the gate frequently; we really didn’t see any difference between the two yards. In our minds’ they were one big space designed for the three of us. In fact, we really didn’t see any difference between the two houses. We’d go in and out as we pleased. We’d head to our grandparents’ when we were mad at our parents, or we’d enter through their back door, shout a greeting to wherever they were in the house, and head straight for the freezer where our Nonna kept an array of Cremesicles, Fudgsicles, the occasional box of Bomb Pops (score!), and other treats that never appeared in our own kitchen. We’d pilfer something and then head back out into the humid New England summer. Sometimes we’d make multiple trips like this, eating through boxes of popsicles in a day. If I ever wondered where one of my sisters was, if I didn’t see her in our own yard or house, I could pretty surely bet that she’d be sitting on my grandparents back porch with our Gramp.
On Memorial Day or Labor Day or 4th of July we’d have a cookout under the tree in their backyard, accompanied by my maternal cousins and their parents and my paternal grandparents and aunt (which also should tell you everything you need to know about how we imagined family – there were no distinctions for me and my sisters between our paternal and maternal relatives). On those days, the gate would stay open and my sisters, cousins, and I would go back and forth between the yards all day and into the night. It was bliss.
One of the more quotidian benefits of the shared space was that in the summers, when we’d be tasked with laundry (and a loooong list of other household chores while my parents were at work), we could line dry them on Nonna’s clothesline. We’d hang our sheets out there to let them dry in the sun before taking them in smelling fresher than they ever smelled from the dryer. As with everything, we’d use the line as if it were our own, first opening the door to their porch to grab the bushel basket that held the clothespins before hanging the sheets out. From that clothesline I could see their house, my own house, and the houses that belonged to my great-grandparents, now inhabited by various relatives. Somehow, those sheets drying in the wind always made me feel steady, secure, and rooted in a place and time that I couldn’t imagine fading or changing.
It is a good thing I like line drying, because there are no dryers here. We hang our laundry out on the roof, where it dries fairly instantly in the desert heat.
A dryer is one thing, but we realized when we moved in that we have no washing machine, either. The university wasn’t going to supply one, it seemed silly to buy one for just a year, and we didn’t want to regularly bring our laundry to a dry cleaner/laundromat, so we decided that we’d just wash it by hand. We have a pretty good division of labor, by which I mean Steve does most of the laundry while I’m in charge of the sheets and towels. It is a strange sight for the women in our complex to see this man hanging clothes.
“What are you doing?” They called, the first time they saw him hauling the dripping clothes onto the roof.
“Laundry!” He shouted back.
“But why are you doing laundry?”
“Because the clothes are dirty!”
They looked incredulous. It wasn’t the answer they were looking for. Lucky for me, I feel no pangs of guilt for being a bad wife.
Our methods are different. He washes in small batches in the kitchen sink. I like to throw everything in the bathtub and let it soak. We’ve quickly learned that, because of the dust, there are certain things we can’t wash together if we actually want them to get clean. The dust fills the bathtub and we have to be judicious about which items we actually want “clean.”
I don’t mind doing the laundry by hand; Steve doesn’t share my sentiments, but it isn’t so bad. The only part of it that is truly awful is the detergent (which, now that I write this, is a pretty big part of it). We bought the Sunlight handwashing detergent, which is everywhere here. It’s powerful stuff, designed to save water by combining washing powder with fabric softener, but it is nasty. When the directions tell you to immediately wash your hands after using it you know it’s not something to mess around with. It coats our hands and I swear pulls off a layer of skin – which might not be an exaggeration since it literally chips off my nail polish when I use it. It’s also chock full of chlorine, which I figured out when I got a lovely rash after we first started using it. I do not have sensitive skin, so there you go.
We still do the towels and sheets in it (it does get things clean) but we’ve switched to baby wash for our clothes, which we thankfully found in the Spar. That does the trick and doesn’t feel as if you are going to end up with chemical burns from using it. So, we weekly do our laundry in small batches by hand. Artisanal laundry, you could say. If we were to stay here we’d definitely invest in a washing machine, but we’d skip the dryer. Even if the view from our roof doesn’t give me the same sense of security I had as a kid, I love climbing up there and thinking of all those years gone when my sense of time and space was solid, condensed, and seemed like it would never end.