Laundry, weather, and the letters of E. B. White

Some weeks ago, Jeff asked about the effect of my rather abrupt move from city girl to country housewife on my writing. I said it was too soon to tell. It probably still is, but I’m discovering some things about this that I’d like to share.

These things are front and center in my brain right now because I’m reading Letters of E.B. White, a collection that was recently reissued and updated by his granddaughter with letters from his later life, after the original was published.

E.B. White is one of a number of writers that I would give a large portion of my retirement fund to spend an afternoon/evening with, nibbling on snacks, drinking good wine or scotch, and just talking. Some of the others are Italo Calvino, Rex Stout, William Stafford, and Isaac Asimov. About the only thing they have in common is that they are all dead, so I guess my retirement fund is safe.

Today I did laundry. That may sound fairly mundane, but if I tell you that since moving out here I do laundry only about once every two months, you’ll get some idea of the scope of the project (also the level of sartorial expectations and the number of surplus clothes Ben and I have). The driver is generally when we’re running out of clean sheets for the spare bed.

Doing laundry here is more like what my grandmother used to do. Here is what doing laundry involves (unless, of course, I drive to town to a laundromat where I can do 6-8 loads all at once):

1. Load laundry, soap, bleach, book for reading, journal for writing, glasses, hot cup of coffee, assorted snacks into the car and drive up the hill to Ralph and Brenda’s workshop, our shared laundry room.

2. Start a fire in my cranky old cookstove (which is now in the shop), the one I replaced with my new Heartland last summer. This is harder than it used to be, because the chimney is shorter than the one we had at the house and has to be preheated, and the wood in the workshop is, I suspect, put there to dry out, not because it’s primo firewood. This is also a seasonal thing. In another month, we won’t need a fire in the shop to sit there comfortably.

3. Start the 3 Kw generator–simple, it has a key start. The washing machine needs full power, the dryer only idle.

4. Turn on the propane for the gas dryer (on the opposite side of the building, underneath an overhang).

5. Insert first load in the washer.

6. Read or write.

7. Move first load to dryer, start second load in washer. And so it goes.

The dryer takes much longer than the washer, so there’s a lot of waiting and stalling and deciding what can be better dried on the rack in front of the heat stove at home. But today I got a significant amount of laundry done in about 3.5 hours. It would have only taken me about 2 hours at the laundromat, but that’s a 2-hour round trip, so it’s a wash, pretty much.

But I was reading E. B. White’s letters while I was doing this, and I was struck by his comments about how hard it is to write when you’re living in the country. There’s just always so much to be done. And I can’t imagine writing anything of significance with Ben running in and out to see how I’m doing and whether I need help with the fire and if I’m still smiling about the whole process.

The radio was tuned to a local station. The noise was distracting, but every time I started to turn it off, the song being played was one that I really liked (the station was a local 60’s-70’s rock station), and so I just let it play in the background.

But the weather today came in waves of arias (dramatic songs, according to the latest crossword puzzle): We had hail and rain and sun and more hail, hail the size of peas, not the petit pois of the gourmet section at your local grocery store, but the big fat ones in the garden that have to be used today before the sugar all turns to starch and they get tough.

So, Jeff, I still don’t know the answer to your question, but Mr. White, the gentlest of gentle men who could also display a great passion, is making me feel less guilty about not being able to answer it.

2 Responses to “Laundry, weather, and the letters of E. B. White”

  1. Philip Ferris Says:

    I’ll see your Isaac Asimov and raise you Ray Bradbury and Arthur C Clarke. Oh for an Autumn evening walking with Mr. B, hearing him talk about his youth and experiences. A day with Mr. C, discussing all the things that he has seen in his lifetime.

    Call me sentimental but I would also like to have met Hellene Hanff, I have read 84 Charing Cross Road so many times, it’s one of my pick me up books. We corresponded a little while. Then there is winston Churchill and Dilys Powell. Churchill I never registered until he had passed away but I did manage to correspond with Dilys for a brief while. (Dilys is probably best known as the film critic for the Times newspaper for 50 odd years, but I fell in love with her tales of her life in Greece; Dilys had known a number of heroes of the Greek resistance, archeologists who returned to occupied Greece to assist the people.

    I have also sat in the Bird & the Baby in Oxford and wondered what it might be like to sit amongst the inklings when they met there. To listen to the likes of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.

    I am determined to pick up a copy of E B White’s book, I am holdeing out for an electronic version if possible, as I use my x51v to read during my commute.

  2. mklekacz Says:

    We seem to share a lot of favorites. I number Bradbury, Clarke, and Lewis among mine. I liked the hobbits much better in the 60s than after they became icons a few years ago. Some of your other favorites are strangers to me, but I’ll investigate.

    I have nothing against well-made movies, but for me, reading and imagining are generally far superior to what any producer/director combo can come up with. The sole exception to this reaction that I can think of now is “Being There”–one of Peter Sellers’s last movies and probably his most meaningful. The book, on the other hand, is junk.

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