Clothespin Bucket

I had a dream last night, the kind of dream that jumbles your past and present in ways that make sense only in the dream.

The jumble in this dream was riding my recently purchased gravel bike from my former home (where I lived when I was about 10 until my early 20s) to the nearby club house of the rural golf course where that house sat, Three Pines Country Club.

In this dream, my mother, now deceased, met me at the club house after I pedaled up the long hill from that house to the club house, weaving between cars much more carelessly than I would in real life. I also rode the bicycle over steps and furniture into the club house, weaving there through people as if my behavior was perfectly normal.

The kicker of that dream was not the mixing of past and present as well as the living and the deceased but that I eventually realized although I had ridden to the club house to hit range balls, I didn’t have my golf clubs or shoes—as I had ridden a bicycle of course.

In real life, both my mother and I worked at that golf course for many years, and I spent a great deal of my life at the club house and hitting range balls, spanning essentially my entire adolescence.

None the less, the dream was so vivid that I was unnerved when I woke, and continued to think about it all morning.

Eventually, I texted my oldest nephew, over twenty years my junior, who lived much of his life growing up in the same house, raised primarily my my parents, his grandparents.

Our shared home and parenting have resulted in our feeling in many ways more like brothers than uncle/nephew, I think.

Since my nephew had been very close to my parents in their declining years, he was the executor of their will; and since their deaths a couple years ago, we have continued to reach out to each other as we work through the complicated loss of my parents.

When I thought more about this dream, I wanted to share it with him, and his immediate response was to wonder why the dream had included the associations that it did.

Almost immediately, I realized that the odd combination of my current cycling hobby and my childhood and adolescent life on a golf course made perfect sense, especially including my mother.

And what holds all that together is clothespins, or more accurately my mother’s clothespin bucket.

brown wooden cloth pin lot display
Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Our first family home was a rental house in Enoree, SC, several miles south of my home town, Woodruff, where my parents next rented a house before building their own home—the one of my dream—at Three Pines. The house on the golf course was a few miles north of Woodruff. I lived in these homes in the 1960s and 1970s.

My mother always washed clothes and then dried them on a clothes line outside, the clothes held in place by dozens of wooden clothespins she kept in a plastic bucket.

At some point, by the time we lived at Three Pines, my parents did own a dryer, but she still would hang clothes outside and that bucket never budged from the laundry room. I want to say the bucket was blue, in fact.

I started college at a junior college in nearby Spartanburg, and then finished my undergraduate degree at the satellite campus of the University of South Carolina—then USC-Spartanburg but now named USC Upstate.

For my final 2.5 years there, my advisor was an avid triathlete, a sport I had never encountered before, being relatively new in the early 1980s. It is because of this advisor that I became fascinated with serious cycling.

As a college student from working class parents, I was not hurting for money—I always had jobs, often at nearby golf courses—but buying a serious bicycle in the early 1980s seemed too expensive once I started shopping around.

One day I was telling my mother about the advisor, triathlons, and my budding interest in cycling, adding that I thought buying a bicycle was more than I could afford.

Without hesitating, she told me to go to the laundry room and bring her the clothespin basket; that turn in the conversation struck me as odd, but I dutifully fetched the bucket and started to walk to my room.

Digging through the clothes pins, my mother said, “Here,” and I turned to see her holding a wad of bills she had pulled from under the clothespins. “Don’t tell your father,” she added.

It turned out to be a couple hundred dollars, but we never talked about why she was squirreling away money or why she was so willing just to hand over about $200 to me on the spot.

The money was still well below a bicycle shop quality bicycle, but I went to Sears and bought what now counts as my first serious bicycle because I did start riding in a way then that led over the next three years to buying that first bicycle shop bicycle from the now defunct Great Escape, then in downtown Spartanburg.

I know enough pop culture psychology and the works of Freud, Jung, and Frazier to be able to navigate my own dreams for some glints of meaning. So I feel comfortable with what I see in the dream merging my now and my past, blurring my current 30-plus year hobby of cycling with my childhood and adolescent hobby of golfing.

It is of course my mother this dream is about.

My mother’s willingness to create her own secret place, a stash of cash, in a clothes pin bucket—this domestic woman, this life-long mother, this person who was immediately self-sacrificing.

Especially for her son.

Especially for me.

My parents not only would have done almost anything for me. My parents essentially did do anything for me.

They did that for my nephew as well.

It is something we share, something we can understand with a heavy melancholy and love, something we have to take out every once in a while and try to work through, untangle, confront.

I had a dream last night, the kind that leaves you disoriented and nearly unable to draw a clean line between that dream and your own lived life—because the fabric of the dream is weaved out of strands from many different years as if the finished garment is a perfectly ordinary shirt.

A shirt when washed would flutter a bit on a clothes line, fastened securely by decade’s old clothespins used occasionally to hide a few dollars you may need someday.