by Brenda Harding from St. John's, NL
When I was growing up in outport Newfoundland, Monday was washday. Drive down any street on a Monday morning and at almost every house you would see a clothesline filled with sheets, towels, and clothes – all neatly and methodically strung out to dry.
We lived on a small cul-de-sac. All the back doors, and consequently all the clotheslines, were all within earshot. “Some day on clothes!” someone would say or “Good day on clothes!”
This Monday morning ritual made for a wonderful social gathering. It occurred to me years later, that in the midst of staying on top of housekeeping, cooking meals, making bread, homework, packing lunches, taking care of children; few mothers, if any, had time to pop next door for a cup of tea and a chat. My mother certainly didn’t and there were only two children in our family.
Most of the others had at least four kids under the roof.
It was at the clothes line that my mother and her friends found out who had started walking, or talking, who had cut a tooth, who was up all night with a fever, and what everyone thought of the conversation on that morning’s “Open Line”.
After moving out on my own many years later, and working 8 to 5 weekdays, wash day for me was whenever it was convenient, or when I ran out of clean clothes, whichever came first. It also meant a trip to the Laundromat. Every week there were different people there, and no one interested in striking up a conversation.
In July of 1996 my husband and I bought our first home; and I was happy to find a clothesline in our back yard. I couldn’t wait for the first fine Saturday to string out a ‘line of clothes’. After weeks of waiting, I was delighted when that first washday morning arrived, to walk out on the back patio with my laundry basket and find our neighbor, Helen, out on her patio pinning laundry as well. Without a second thought, I called out, “Beautiful day on clothes.”
It just seemed like the thing to do.
Helen didn’t respond.
I had forgotten that Helen is hearing and speech impaired. She didn’t hear me.
Soon after we had moved in I had learned from Helen’s daughter that Helen didn’t socialize much. Not being able to speak or hear made for lonely times.
And so, I had resolved I would learn sign language so we could talk.
I mastered the alphabet and I learned, or at least thought I did, how to tell her I was learning sign language slowly. In my haste to let her know, what I actually ended up saying was “I learn slowly”. But Helen understood what I was trying to say and she laughed. She took a small pocket size notebook from her purse and wrote “I will help you”.
And so Helen became my teacher. When I didn’t understand a sign, she would spell it out, or write it down and make me practice. It was slow going and I was frustrated that I wasn’t learning fast enough.
But I have learned over the years that God’s work is best done when I shut up and get out of His way, and that first laundry morning was no different. While I was feeling a little disheartened that I could not share my mother’s ritual greeting with my new found friend, I noticed Helen trying to say something to me in sign. I made the sign for “I don’t understand”. Helen was smiling broadly as she signed the letters: “N I C E D A Y!”
Nice day it was, indeed!