I’ve never been much of an artist, but sometimes I like to challenge myself with something new, so I signed up for a water color class at our local arts center. Sitting at my desk with my new paper, brushes and paint, I listened attentively to the teacher talk about emotional spontaneity in the life of an artist. She concluded with a prompt:
“Go back to your favorite place when you were a child,” she said, “Now, paint that.”
A single image flashed in my mind. With little skill, but plenty of enthusiasm, I began painting: a defiant looking little girl with her hands on her hips peering out from between a row of clean white sheets hanging on the line to dry. Sitting next to her in weedy green grass, a black and white cat.
It’s funny, the special places we remember from childhood, most of them humble, many of them hidden. The clothes line of my memory was in our back yard at the old East Village house on Atlanta Road. I lived there between the ages of three and seven. My most vivid childhood memories are from that house and neighborhood.
We didn’t have an electric clothes dryer back then. Few did.
Mother washed our clothes in the rhomboidal tub of the wringer washing machine standing on its spindly, bug like legs in a corner of the kitchen. After feeding the wet laundry through the wringer, she carried the clothes outside in a big wicker basket and hung everything—linens, Daddy’s white shirts and under shorts, Anita’s and my pastel dresses, and her own thin nylon panties and white cotton bras— on the line to dry. I remember the sweet scent of sun and wind that infused our clothes back then. No detergent or fabric softener has ever duplicated that clean fragrance.
I always liked playing under the clothes line, but my favorite days were when Mother washed sheets. Bed sheets made a lovely bright white tent for a secretive little girl to play in. Hidden in my make shift tent, I whiled many hours away, alone with Black and White Friend Girl (my cat) lost in the simple pleasure of my own imaginings.
Even as a child, I was a loner. Now I wonder why I didn't keep that painting of the defiant little girl with her cat. For some reason, I threw it away.