About a hundred years ago I read a description that the air before a snow smells like wet wash on the line. I’ve had an electric clothes drier for all of my adult life but the aroma of laundry flapping in the fresh air floats on memory. For most of my youth, my mom hung our laundry; when we were old enough for chores, we did too. In the winter, our basement clotheslines dipped with the weight, the air steamed with the funk, of wet apparel warming next to the furnace. Summer however, was another story.
In the middle of our suburban yard, a submerged steel pipe yawned from where it was planted, deep in the ground. Laundry day meant trucking around to the garage to drag out a rotating clothesline that raised and lowered like the bones of a picnic umbrella minus its membrane of cloth. Lugging it on our shoulders to the back, we’d slide our feet across wet grass, feeling for the mouth of the buried pipe, into which we’d poke the stem of the rack. Cranking the handle raised four metal arms that reached out like helicopter blades, draped limb to limb with rubber-coated rope. Somewhere, there was a bag of wooden clothespins too.
Stumbling down steep basement steps to the washer, we’d toss clean sheets, towels and clothing into a woven basket, heaving the load out to hang. On a windy day, corners pulled from our hands and sheets hauled up like sails, slapping us with the floral scent of laundry detergent and the musk of wet cotton. I’m sure that people still use these contraptions; my sister who lives Australia hangs her laundry almost all the time. In our world though, convenience as well as ordinances dictating exterior appearances, have relegated these clotheslines to primordial history. Our daughter has never seen such a devise.
Today, the weatherman is threatening bits of snow for late evening; the yard is folded in stillness and gray. On her way to school this morning our girl stepped out of the door and announced, “Smells like snow.” Following her down the steps, I took a long breath and wafted back--to the creak of the wicker laundry basket, the hot sun burning my hair, towels cracking like whips as we shook them out, the clammy embrace of washed cotton, wrapping itself around me.
The temperature needs to drop several degrees to make it happen, but yep, it smells like snow.
What smells transport you to the past?