She stood there looking at them, tapping her chin, wondering what would she do. It was Friday evening. The party was on Monday. She had left it too late to dry clean them. ‘Will I take a chance and put them into the washing machine?’ she asked herself. Her mother would never dream of doing such a thing. They had been part of the family home for over fifty years and now Mary was thinking about taking a chance, a chance that may destroy the thick luxurious curtains.
‘They were bought in Lanigan’s drapers on Main street soon after we got married!’ her mother often boasted and emphasised that they had cost quite a penny at the time.
The cost of them may have been one reason that her children only saw the full-length tomato red curtains at Christmas time or when the family took their turn to have the village station mass. The two lonely pairs hung in the sitting room for over thirty years. Then, they took up their new residence following the building of a much-needed extension to the family home. The new living room displayed a much larger window that looked out onto the front garden. Her mother could not bear to part with her much-loved curtains. She came up with the creative idea of sewing the two pairs of curtains together to make one larger pair for the new window. She knew the helpful neighbour Betty was the right person to carry out the task. Betty was considered a genius when it came to sewing and knitting.
Mary was no genius though when it came to the self-cleaning of curtains but made the decision that Friday evening to push the thick curtains in the washing machine. Mary’s mother was staying with her sister that weekend so she would never know or be told of her mad decision. She placed one pair a time into the washing machine, turning the dial to a quick 30.
‘No harm can come to them at such a low temperature,’ she said to herself.
She called on her husband to lift the now much heavier curtain onto the clothesline.
‘John,’ she called out loud as she stood in the pantry facing the washing machine. There was no answer. She turned on her heal and walked briskly into the living room where John was sitting beside the open fire reading the daily newspaper.
‘Did you not hear me calling you?’ she asked. ‘No’ he replied. ‘What’s wrong?’ he continued.
‘I need your help to lift the curtains onto the clothes line,’ she stated.
‘Can you not wait until I finished reading the newspaper?’
‘No, sure it will only take a few minutes,’ she insisted.
Letting out a deep sigh, he dropped the newspaper and followed her out to the pantry. Together they carried the curtains out to the backyard and stretched them neatly along the wired clothes line placing the pegs neatly along the lining. Mary took another look at them.
‘I don’t think they have shrunk, what do you think John?’ ‘I don’t know to tell you the truth,’ he answered.
The following morning upon wakening, Mary pulled back the curtains of the rear bedroom window at her family home.
‘O no,’ she screeched. ‘John, John, wake up’. All she could hear back was a deep moan.
Heavy rain had poured throughout the night and managed to weigh down the curtains to the ground.
She let out another roar at John. ‘Get up quick’.
‘What’s wrong,’ he asked in a sleepy voice.
‘The Curtain, the curtains,’ she shouted.
‘There’s no need to shout, I’m right beside you.’
She didn’t wait to explain any further. In her fur lined slippers and brand-new nightgown, she raced through the house and out the back kitchen door to find out what damage had been done. Staring at the curtains, she noticed the red dye of the fabric had spread like ink onto its thick lining. It was now a baby pink. The rain-soaked curtains were now mottled with green moss, blackened with dirt and engrained with gravel.
‘O why did I bother at all?’ she wailed out loud.
‘What was I thinking of, washing curtains all for the sake of a party? Why didn’t I check the forecast?’ she asked herself out loud in frustration.
John was now standing at the back door looking at her, yawning.
‘I suppose I better help you lift them back up on to the line,’ he said.
‘For what? Sure, what is the point, they ‘re destroyed now,’ and she began to cry.
‘Destroyed, what do you mean by destroyed?’
‘Just take a look at them, they are soaking wet, covered in dirt and the lining is now pink from the dye of the curtains. I’ll have to dump them and buy a new pair for the party,’ she explained to him.
‘Please stop panicking, Mary,’ he replied in a calm voice. ‘The answer is simple,’ he added.
‘Simple’ she repeated in an agitated tone.
‘Yes, simple, first of all, do not dump those precious curtains. If you do, it’s curtains for you. Your mother would never forgive you and secondly you could forget about having the party. Instead, leave them out on the line until they have dried because according to this weekend’s weather forecast, a very strong breeze is promised,’ he informed her.
Her tears stopped suddenly and she began to smile. They lifted the filthy extra heavy curtains back on the line, putting extra wooden pegs in place to avoid a second disaster.
A strong westerly breeze blew through the antique curtains as predicted, removing all traces of dirt moss and gravel. No evidence was left to show that the spring-cleaned curtains had been through ‘hell and high water’ over the weekend. Mary would be forever thankful for her dear husband’s advice.
Her mother’s curtains hung beautifully on the living room window that Monday evening, looking and feeling better than ever before. The lining was still slightly pink but no one would notice. They were ready to show themselves off to family, neighbours and friends who would attend her mother’s surprise eightieth birthday party.
(c) Evelyn Killeen McCrann