Fantasy world hangs on a line
Friendship created with notes, runes, paper dolls and hand-drawn fantasy tale
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.”
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).