Fan­tasy world hangs on a line

Friend­ship cre­ated with notes, runes, pa­per dolls and hand-drawn fan­tasy tale

Toronto Star - - NEWS - LOUISE BROWN ED­U­CA­TION RE­PORTER

There was mis­chief even in the way the first mys­tery pen-pal let­ter was ad­dressed: “To Imogen and Fiona, Across the Clothes­line, Toronto, North Amer­ica, Milky Way Gal­axy” — with a hand-drawn stamp of King Char­lie the cat.

When the young east-end sis­ters sent a note across the clothes­line one day to the apart­ment across the court­yard, they never dreamed the strangers on the other end — 30some­thing room­mates Mandy Pipher and Emily Hill — would re­spond with such sport.

“Think about it — it could have been some grumpy re­sponse from a con­de­scend­ing adult, but the notes from Emily and Mandy con­tain beau­ti­ful, well-ar­tic­u­lated ideas and ques­tions that show they’re in­ter­ested in who the girls are,” said the young girls’ fa­ther, Jeff McLarnon.

And his daugh­ters would re­spond in kind to their new clothes­pin pals.

When, in the weeks that fol­lowed, Pipher sent a coded mes­sage in runes with a key to the code, the girls re­sponded with a home­made, life­sized pa­per doll called “Be­go­nia, Pump­kin Su­per­hero and Princess of the Elves.” Be­go­nia swayed slowly across the clothes­line to Hill’s and Pipher’s bal­cony, all glass eyes and punk hair, with a se­cret pocket hold­ing a blank notebook ready for en­tries.

Blown away by the cre­ativ­ity, Piph- er and Hill re­turned Be­go­nia with a six-page il­lus­trated fan­tasy tale star­ring the su­per­hero her­self.

“The sto­ry­book they wrote was awe­some — they re­ally went above and be­yond,” noted the girls’ mother Genevieve. “And the fact they con­tact each other only by clothes­line gives an el­e­ment of mys­tery.”

But un­like the im­me­di­acy of the cy­ber-world, clothes­line mes­sag­ing fol­lows its own sched­ule.

“The girls re­ally en­joy the an­tic­i­pa­tion,” said Jeff McLarnon, “but they had to learn a lit­tle pa­tience. When they send over a note on the clothes­line, they don’t re­ally know when it will get picked up. And what if it rains? They keep check­ing and check­ing, and then there’s that magic mo­ment when their note … is gone! It’s this de­light­ful sur­prise.”

The whole ex­pe­ri­ence has been such a joy to Pipher, she in­cluded the story of “The Clothes­line Chil­dren” on a crowd­fund­ing web­site she used this sum­mer to help cover the run­away cost of her Ox­ford pro­gram since the Cana­dian dol­lar be­gan los­ing value.

“They com­mu­ni­cated with us over the clothes­line, and the magic of com­mu­ni­cat­ing this way is why I love what I’m go­ing to study.”

McLarnon has now been inspired to imag­ine clothes­lines used for other com­mu­nity pur­poses, like hang­ing art­work, or send­ing mes­sages to shut-ins.

Af­ter all, a shared clothes­line is “re­ally kind of in­ti­mate,” he noted. “It’s a shared space where you hang your cloth­ing and maybe even your un­der­wear, so it’s re­ally quite a per­sonal con­nec­tion.”

MELISSA REN­WICK PHOTOS/TORONTO STAR

Fences make good neigh­bours, the say­ing goes, but for Mandy Pipher, left, and young sis­ters Imo­gen and Fiona, a clothes­line is even bet­ter.

One of Imo­gen and Fiona’s mes­sages to their CLF (clothes­line friend).

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