Already in bed, Mary watched me pull off my dirty shorts and top before slipping a nightgown over my head. Sitting forward, she glared at my cast-off clothing lying in a rumpled heap on the floor in the middle of the room. Sharing a bedroom with a sister seven years older than me didn’t usually bother me. Tonight was an exception. She snapped, “We have a clothes chute in our room. How hard would it be for you to throw your clothes down it?”
Sighing loudly, I picked up the soiled clothing, opened the clothes chute lid and tossed them in. Leaning forward, I listened to them slide down two floors to the basement. Turning to crawl into bed, my sister warned, “We have clean sheets tonight. If your feet are dirty, go wash them. Brush your teeth while you’re at it.”
I looked down at the soles of my feet. They were black. Obediently, I trudged downstairs to the bathroom to wash up. Later, when I finally crawled into bed, I realized that it felt good to be clean. Nothing would make me admit that to my bossy sister, though.
Pulling the sheets up to my chin, I got a whiff of their wonderful clean smell. “Hmm!” I said, “When we have a change of sheets, they always smell so good.”
Sounding friendlier, my sister put down the book she’d been reading and said, “When Mom washes them, she hangs them on the clothes line to dry. What you smell is the sun and the wind.”
The next day, being Monday, meant that Mom was already in the basement washing laundry when I got up. In a rush to get outside to play, my breakfast that morning was a glass of milk and three cookies.
A cool, steady wind out of the east made the first basket of laundry that Mom had already hung on the line snap and wave briskly. To the east of the clothes line was the orchard, where my father had fenced an area to keep his nanny goats. The goats bleated loudly when they saw me. Gathering at the fence, they fought over the fistful of choice, tender grass that I had picked and offered to them.
Daddy was cleaning their water trough. Seeing me, he said, “I’m going to go pick up a billy goat that I’m borrowing for a week. Want to come with me?”
I loved going on short errands with Daddy. As he pulled out of the yard with the small calf trailer hitched to our car, I quizzed him, “Where are we going? Why are we borrowing a billy goat?”
The farmer who had the rent-a-billy goat lived on a cliff along the river, right where it turned into the local flowage. His yard was an exotic place, with tall, shadowy trees, flowering shrubs and weathered buildings. From listening to the grown-ups talk, I knew there were pens of ring-necked pheasant and other interesting birds there. As I waited in the car while Daddy loaded the billy goat into the trailer, I heard what sounded like a woman scream. “It’s only a peacock” I told myself. Despite my self assurances, my heart pounded.
When we got home, Daddy put the Billy goat into the pen with the nannies.
I found an empty coffee can and made some mud pies, stirring the mixture with a stick. Some of it sloshed out onto my shorts and top. The farmhouse back door slammed and I looked up. Mom was carrying out yet another basket of wet laundry.
As she began to clip the clean sheets onto the clothes line, I stood next to the flapping fabric, enjoying how cool it felt when it hit my skin. Mom glanced over at me and said, “You’re dirty. I don’t want you standing there. You’re soiling my fresh wash.” She continued hanging the wet linen, but started to sniff the air, finally exclaiming, “What is that horrible smell? It’s going to make the laundry smell bad!”
Standing next to a nearby tree, I sniffed the air and said with surprise, “Oh, that’s just the goat Daddy borrowed.” Up to that moment it hadn’t really occurred to me how bad it was.
Mom dropped the sheet that she was about to hang up. She threw the clothes pins in her hand into the basket on top of it and stalked off…to have a word with Daddy.
One smell I will always notice is the smell of bedding that has been dried on a clothes line. That clean scent, if you are lucky enough to smell it on your linen, is the smell of the sun and the wind. It’s funny how I was oblivious to the goat smell until Mom pointed it out.