Monday, November 12, 2007

The Clothesline Comeback

I was delighted recently as I walked through the neighborhood to see clothes flapping in the backyard of a young couple with children. The wind was chilly; I could almost feel the scratchy texture of the big towels nearly dry at day’s end. And the scent, fresh, cold, the perfect pitch of fragrance impossible to replicate. You don’t know when laundry day is for most of us these days, unless you see the blow of dryer air behind the fence.

Like most girls of my time, I learned about laundry at my mother’s heels, handing her the clothespins. We first only had the push type with the tiny round head. I don’t remember how it happened, but the clothespin with the spring appeared, finally replacing those early versions. Mom liked the spring-loaded ones a lot, she told me. “They don’t slip as much in a big wind.”

We carried the laundry in a big basket up the basement stairs, then, and into the yard. Even in winter, my mother made the trek, shoveling a small path first, then tamping down the snow with her rubber boots as she made her way left to right along the stretch of rope strung from the house to the tall post of the chain link fence. As I got older, I would sometimes relieve her. But she worked the clothesline until well into her 80s. She only used the dryer my brother bought her on bad weather days and for towels. She did not mind giving up the scratchiness of line-dried towels.

After I left home to pursue my career and life, I always loved so many things about going home for visits. The clothes on the line are among those memories I cherish. Slipping into sheets just washed and dried outside, I could drift off to sleep feeling as safe and sound as I had all those years growing up. I’d get one final treat when I returned from one of these visits. As I unpacked my suitcase, that unforgettable scent would burst out from my own clothes that my mother had always washed just before I left.

With all this recent musing, imagine my surprise just last week when I saw a story in the newspaper about a return to clotheslines. With a focus on being “green,” many young folks are rethinking our modern dependence on dryers. Clotheslines are popping up across America again. Some people are running into trouble with their Home Owners’ Associations, though, which don’t permit anything “unsightly” on their properties. Clotheslines with their revealing contents don’t fit the image of these neighborhoods. The bylaws don’t approve of knowing when your neighbor’s wash day is. But discussions are underway, the article said, challenging these bylaws even in some of the fanciest areas of town.

Have you seen any clothes flapping on a line lately? Do you remember wash day and that inimitable fragrance? If this stirs some memories, share them here.

4 comments:

Karen said...

I would love to use the clothes line again but unfortunately when we moved into our new house the home owners association prohibited clothes lines. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has been successful in challenging that covenant.

Kathleen Dvorak said...

I remember handing my mother the pins too and singing songs together - like "Love and Marriage" and "Does Eat Oats and Little Lambs Eats Ivy"; the latter was sung by her flower girl as she applied finishing touches for her wedding.

I also remember hanging clothes as I grew up, but never cared for the trudge up the basement stairs.

I also recall multiple uses of that long clothesline, like hanging on to it to avoid slipping on an icy sidewalk as I carried a basket of eggs from the chicken coup.

Thinking about chickens brings back another quite grisly memory; after sawing off the heads from chickens, my mother would tie their feet to the line and hang them upside down.

Mostly, I remember from that old clothesline at the top of the hill, we could see everything happening at the farm, from Daddy fixing the tractor's cultivators outside the barn door, to the the pigs splashing around in their pen's "bathtub", and the cows starting to head home from the pasture for evening milking.

Thanks Kathryn. I loved your story for the memories it brought back on this beautiful spring day, which was the always the best kind of day for hanging clothes.

Delilah said...

I am 72 years old and still remember the clothes line very well. To include the frozen fingertips. All the "pain and suffering" made the clean scent worthwhile. I can hang my clothes on the Lanai if I wish. The dryer is still best for towels.

Happy laundering.

Gladys Mercier said...

I enjoyed your article about clothes flapping on the line. When I was little, we had never heard of washers and dryers like we have now. My mother had to do the laundry for 8 of us children. Every Monday was wash day and how I hated it. The kitchen was filled with a wringer washing machine that had to be filled by hand. Mom always had 2 rinsing tubs set up and sometimes I had to put the clothes through the wringer. Then all of that laundry had to be lugged outside and hung on the clothesline, which seemed to take forever when I wanted to go play.
I still remember the competition of the ladies in our Swansea neighborhood, each one trying to have the whitest wash on the line and the comments if some of the lines did not good so good.
Mom poured lots of "blueing" in the washing machine to make the clothes white. Yes, I guess blueing did make them white!
Ironing day was Tuesday. Everything had to be ironed! I do not touch an iron now unless it is absolutely necessary.
The clothes did smell wonderful but my mom had to work so hard.
I am grateful for modern appliances.

Thanks for the memories. Gladys Mercier.