Mum always said that if you have twelve nappies to hang you only need thirteen pegs. I guess you could never have enough pegs if you had washing for six children.
And now every peg is a memory.
The first pegs are for memories before my time, memories that one can only imagine, conjured from black and white photographs: Mum with her seven brothers and sisters; Mum with Dad before they married; Mum and Dad outside the church.
I finish pegging the nappies and move on to my children’s clothes, my fingers plunging further into the peg bag.
Real memories now, mine. Train trips to the Royal Children’s Hospital with Mum, learning the stations off by heart, and, afterwards, lighting candles at St Francis’ in the city. Sunday drives to small towns like Flinders, Rokewood, Colac: Dad driving and Mum umpiring the kids, handing out barley sugars, talking about the countryside.
I am hanging my own clothes now and remembering how patient Mum was when a herd of teenage boys would descend upon the kitchen after school, devouring everything in sight, leaving just dirty plates and cups and black scuff-marks on the lino.
I can see Mum hanging out the washing now, holding up the backyard cricket for a few minutes. She had a standard Hills Hoist that fielded at cover, in between the agapanthus and the Clark pool. When Mum and Dad moved to the bush, the kids grown and gone, she pegged out their washing between a few gum trees, watching out for snakes and big red hoppy ants.
Sometimes out at the clothes line I think I hear the phone ring but it is just more memories. It is Mum calling, wishing me Happy Birthday, cajoling Dad to say hello.
The clothes basket is empty now, all the washing in neat lines, casting shadows over the vegie patch, over the past.
I can see Mum in hospital now, wired up to all sorts of things, but smiling, modest, motherly.
There’s only one peg left, and that’s for the morning Dad rang.
Thirteen pegs was published in the Herald Sun in late 1993 and in the West Australian in early 1994. It is also part of my 2003 collection of family stories, Jacaranda Avenue.