Laundry Days

My maternal grandmother, c.1920

Every era defines its necessities differently. For my grandmother, a clothesline was as much a necessity as her twin aluminum wash tubs and the assortment of scrub boards that hung in the mud room.

Even my mother, blessed early in marriage with an electric washing machine, found her clothesline a necessity. Laundry fed through wringer bars could be squeezed nearly dry, but nearly dry wasn’t good enough. With no gas or electric clothes dryers to finish the task, the piles of laundry — damp, wrinkled, and still heavy after passing through the wringers — had to be hung on clotheslines before being ironed, or folded into closets and drawers.

Unfortunately, and despite our relatively spacious back yard, the typical poles and wires of the first clothesline I remember couldn’t hold more than a small load of laundry because of natural constraints.

To the east, three cherry trees clustered around my sandbox, close enough to drop their harvest into our hands in the heavy summer heat and low enough for even my most timid friend to climb into their branches. North of the cherries, a cluster of crabapple trees edged up to the sidewalk; to the south, rhubarb and asparagus patches fanned out across the yard.

Even toward the west, there was little room for clothesline expansion. The flower beds edging the sidewalk along the side of the house were inviolable. Filled with forsythia and pussy willow in spring, overflowing with summer hollyhocks and zinnias, they weren’t about to be moved. A long, grassy swath running between the cherries and the hollyhocks might have worked, but we needed it for croquet in the summer and snow forts in winter.  

For a year or two, my parents discussed solutions to the problem. It would have been reasonable to expand the clothesline by placing one pole at the very edge of the sidewalk, but my mother refused. She didn’t fear theft, but hanging laundry nearly in the face of passers-by clearly violated one of those unwritten rules governing life in the nineteen-fifties: “Thou shalt not display thy undergarments in public — even on a clothesline.”

Eventually, my father discovered that an ingenious person had invented a four-sided, rotating clothesline. Always eager to embrace new technologies, he purchased one  — after convincing my mother it not only would save space, but would be labor-saving as well. If we weren’t inclined to drag heavy baskets filled with sheets, bluejeans, and towels around the clothesline’s perimeter, we could spin the line and continue pinning clothes without leaving our chosen spot.

In time, those rotating clotheslines began to appear in other backyards, and rules for using them — unwritten and unspoken — developed among the neighborhood women. The longer, outside lines were for sheets, doubled and hung with extra pins in the middle to keep them secure. The next, shorter lines were reserved for towels, blouses, shorts, and shirts: hung close but not taut, with each pin holding the edge of two items.

Of course the smallest lines, the ones hidden away near the center pole, held the ‘unmentionables.’ Once the sheets or towels had been hung, shy young helpers could stand inside their cotton fort, sheltered from embarassment as they pinned up mama’s bras and daddy’s boxer shorts in blissful isolation.

As a child, I delighted in hanging summer laundry. The rough, woody dryness of clothespins in my mouth and the fragrance of sweet clover crushed beneath the basket were pleasing, and the freshening breezes, stirring and snapping towels before building afternoon storms, added a bit of excitement. When mothers chirped from back doors and windows, “Get the clothes! There’s rain coming!” small armies of youngsters obeyed, pulling piles of fragrance from the lines, burying their faces in freshness and warmth as they raced toward the safety of the house.

In winter, it was different. In winter, snow replaced clover, and icy winds blew gentler breezes to the south. In winter, lines criss-crossed the dimly lit basement in disorderly webs, and laundry was left to dry as it would.

The drying process was encouraged by heat from the coal-burning furnace, but, deprived of sunlight and eddies of wind, the clothes hung limp and motionless, waiting for evaporation to do its work. In the end, they emerged from the process stiff and board-like: dry, but with no hint of  fragrance; no freshness; no overtones of clover, lilac, or rain to stir the senses.

Sent to the basement to hang a basket of clothes in that strange, half-darkened world, I often chose to swing on the little board hung from the rafters, roller-skate around the furnace, or sit on the bottom step with a book. Occasionally, my mother checked on my progress. “Are the clothes hung yet?” “In a minute,” I’d murmur, overcome by a combination of ennui, resentment, and denial. Hanging clothes that way – alone, in the half-dark, with no freshening breezes or companion birds — seemed a perfect waste of life. If I wait long enough, I thought, someone else will hang the laundry.

Today, in the midst of a world that sometimes appears as dank and constricted as our winter basement, I remember those feelings. Like overflowing baskets of laundry waiting to be hung, the challenges surrounding us require attention; they demand energy and time; and they can’t be put off forever.

Confronted by these seemingly endless piles of tumbled-up life, more than a few among us seem willing to live as petulant children: unhappy with responsibility, and more than ready to leave the sodden laundry of their lives for others to deal with. 

But as childhood chores give way to adult responsibilities, both the freedom and the necessity of choice become clear. In the absence of light, will we find ways to work in darkness? Will we pin our hopes on sturdy lines of truth, or settle for threads of falsehood? Are we courageous enough to accept scrutiny? Or will we huddle within a self-constructed fortress that obscures our true convictions? The quality of our lives depends upon the answers to such questions

In 1950, a year in which I only was beginning to help my mother at the clothesline, William Faulkner offered his own answer in a speech accepting the 1949 Nobel Prize for literature. Although his words might seem to be directed primarily to writers, they apply to us all; somewhat ironically, they could apply even to the Nobel Committee itself, which cancelled this year’s prize due to scandal.

The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing, because only that is worth writing about: worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.
Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

 Today, there’s not a clothespin in my house. Local homeowners’ associations have banned clotheslines, and the fragrance of sun-dried laundry is only a memory. But if customs change, the “old verities and truths of the heart” remain. We’d do well to attend to them.

Comments always are welcome.


139 thoughts on “Laundry Days

  1. Out front of my home a single clothesline pole still stands. A holdover to the past, it’s mate long gone. Today it holds honeysuckle vines not clotheslines. But it’s still there, a reminder to those old enough to know, of a past way of life.

    1. I know of another clothesline support — one of those truly old-fashioned wooden ones — that’s covered with trumpet vine. Wouldn’t it be fun to travel Texas looking for abandoned clothesline poles, just to see what they’re supporting now? Where’s Ron Stone when we need him?

  2. Good morning, Linda,
    That reminds me of my childhood days, when it was a Monday when the washing was done, with preparations on Sunday afternoon: putting the dirty clothes in the washtub to soak them. Well, actually it was not the usual washtub, but a container-cum-oven, which could be heated. And that was early Monday morning work then: starting the fire going, to boil the washing.

    Our “washing’machine” at that time was a wooden barrel. The arms inside that moved the clothes were water-driven, not electric. Next was the hand-wringer, and then, as you write here, the clothes line. With us the length of the lines were limited by the size of our courtyard. I still vividly remember how hard the work was for my mother and my aunt, who lived in our house, too. Both my mother and she worked together for washing.

    How easy it is nopwadays, with washer and dryer. Oh, btw, sometimes in Karnes City we still used the clothes line outside. It surely gave the laundry a fresh smell without any kind of additives.
    Have a wonderful day,

    1. Monday was washday for us, too. Even now, over in Louisiana’s Cajun country (or among Houston’s Cajuns) red beans and rice is a traditional Monday meal, since the women could put the beans on to cook while they were doing the laundry.

      Until you mentioned the arms on that washing barrel, I’d forgotten the wash sticks. They were an important component of the system, since there had to be some way to move the clothes around in the tubs, and then to take them out. And I remember saving the last bits of bar soap to cook down into liquid laundry soap. I’m not certain we bought commercial flaked laundry soap until I was well into grade school.

      Washers and dryers certainly do make things easier. After Hurricane Ike, the Tide Corporation brought their mobile laundries into town and set them up in places like the Target parking lot. Being able to wash and dry clothes was such a lift; there still are people who remember that gesture with affection.

      1. I’m trying to remember waht we ate on washing-day Mondays, but I don’t. As fas as I recollect, mother prepared the meal on Sundays, and – I think – just warmed it up on Mondays.

  3. Mud room? I’d not heard the term. Wikipedia explained it: “Many suburban American houses have a mud room, a casual, generally secondary entryway intended as an area to remove and store footwear, outerwear, and wet clothing before entering the main house. As well as providing storage space, a mud room serves to increase the cleanliness of a house proper.”

    In contrast, these words that you quote are familiar from high school English class: “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.”

    We had one of those square, rotating clothes lines near a corner of our back yard on Long Island, not far from a crabapple tree. Think how electric clothes dryers changed the American yard. Not everywhere, however: driving a two-lane road through Pennsylvania Dutch country 10 days ago we saw drying laundry hanging on outdoor lines.

    1. I can see that mud room as clearly as if I were there yesterday. Snow shovels, brooms, extra canning jars, a pair of ice skates hung on the wall, a box for old newspapers; it was perfectly appointed for our Little House by the Cornfields. It was an especially important place during mud season. In those days, there still weren’t paved roads, and gravel wasn’t all that common. When the spring thaws started, that rich Iowa loam did its best to come inside.

      Electric clothes dryers did change American yards and habits, but I suspect there’s a reason laundry product scents include things like “Outdoor Fresh,” “Tropical Rain,” and “SunSoft.” The promise of a chicken in every pot had its day, but I’ll bet I could go some distance toward holding office on the promise of a clothesline in every yard.

      As for Faulkner, I’ve always loved what Flannery O’Connor had to say about him: “The presence alone of Faulkner in our midst makes a great difference in what the writer can and cannot permit himself to do. Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down.”

  4. Good memories. Our family of 9 siblings had a lot of laundry. I remember watching mom feed the mechanical washer on the porch. After the agitator was finished, she cautiously put clothes through the wringer. It was like feeding a hungry bear. Don’t let it grab your hand else it would pull you in before you could shut it off.

    Our clothes were hung outside on a set of 3 parallel wires strung between two sturdy poles quite a distance apart. They went out in all seasons. They mostly dried in the winter if left out long enough to sublimate. Dad’s bib overalls would sometimes stand on their on for a minute or two when brought inside due to the frozen seams.

    Once in a while, some things would need to hang indoors if the weather was bad. That added humidity and made getting around a challenge.

    We put up a 12 ft rope on the deck now and then to air dry certain large items. They come away nice and fresh.

    1. Large families mean a lot of laundry — and even smaller families sometimes needed more than one wash day, depending on their daily work.

      Your description of the wringer is spot on. I was forbidden to get close to the beast. I don’t remember anyone being seriously injured by them, but I’m sure there had to be a few “bites” along the way. When I looked up “wringer injuries in children,” I noticed that the number of articles started tailing off about 1968 or so — probably an indication of the increased use of automatic washers.

      A friend and I were talking this evening about those frozen clothes. I was certain there had to be a photo online, and so there is. I have to say, as much as a fan of outdoor drying as I am, I’ll pass on that kind of laundry day.

      1. That’s a funny picture. And, you are probably right about the automatic washers. Today, ours is one of those new ones with the door in the front.

  5. Thanks for the memories of wash day. My grandmother used the soak-scrub method with the scrub board and wringer. She graduated to a washing machine & wringer by the mid-50s. I believe that it was the early 70s, just before she died, when she finally started using a clothes dryer.

    And, yes, those square rotating clothes lines were as popular as plastic yard Flamingos where I grew up in South Florida. They were a boon to children as they opened up more available yard-space to play in without getting “clotheslined” running around.

    Have a good weekend,

    1. Those pink plastic flamingos haven’t entirely disappeared. There was a line of them marching through a local yacht club recently. I don’t know where they came from or where they were headed, but they surely did bring a smile.

      You’re right about the pleasures of extra space, too. The fact that those rotating lines could be folded in on themselves was an added bonus. If there was need they even could be taken out of the ground and moved, although that rarely happened. I’m not sure if we took ours down in winter or not. It would have made sense, but I just don’t remember.

      It is fascinating to browse the 1940s and 1950s advertisements for the company my dad worked for — Maytag. There was a real sense among the engineers that they were bringing marvels to the masses, and in a way they were. People today might be surprised to know how much influence their wives had, too. A lot of consultations about needed design change took place at kitchen tables.

  6. My mother was too much a social climber to hang laundry on a line! Not that she would have done it. It would have been the maid’s job. Washer and dryer were essential to appearances. so once grown, having grown up with dryer softened towels and sheets, I lived in a house that came with a washer but not a dryer, and a clothes line. Being the hippy girl I was I was eager to dry clothes on a line until the first or second time when towels dried stiff and rough and jeans were like cardboard. back to the laundromat for me.

    1. Such an interesting comment, Ellen. I don’t think any laundry practices were socially “loaded” when I was growing up, simply because everyone we knew had essentially the same routines and the same equipment.

      Where differences did arise, they came on Tuesday, and had to do with the ironing. Some lucky mothers had “ironing ladies” who would come in and take care of that particular chore. Over time, I became my mother’s ironing lady: starting with handkerchiefs and pillow cases, and working my way up to dress shirts. We didn’t iron sheets or underwear, though: thank goodness. I’m still not fond of that particular chore.

      You’re right that, absent a nice breeze line-dried clothes can be a little stiff — especially the towels. But even after we got a clothes dryer, we’d often line dry, and then finish them off for a few minutes in the dryer, just to fluff them up a bit.

  7. The writing in this piece is as crisp as the perfect starched linen shirt, having dried on a clothesline and freshened with lavender. Your succinct memories of both fragrant clover and dark basements as they relate to the age-old process of drying laundry take your readers, as seen in the first four comments, back to their own memories.

    And what better way to seal the drying process than to end with a quotation from the master of the twisted tale, one who could iron out a family and a region better than the most experienced laundress.

    1. The clover and the basement are only two examples of how closely many of my memories are entwined with physical senses. I wonder from time to time how impoverished the memories will be of those who spend most of their time staring into a screen. Sometimes, I think I know.

      Weak as anecdotal evidence can be, I did see a phenomenon at Crystal Bridges Museum which I’ve read about: the practice of experiencing artwork at second hand. More people than I could count weren’t looking at the piece itself, but rather at its image in their smartphone. I’ve held on to this article, , which seems spot-on to me.

      Somewhat related is a phenomenon I heard some fishermen discussing yesterday: the developing preference for live bait over lures. They agreed that part of the reason is pure impatience: both with learning how to use an artificial lure, and with the time required to fish that way. “Getting back to the dock by noon” suddenly seemed to me equivalent to “getting through the museum by noon.”

      One thing’s sure. When you launch into Faulkner, there’s no easy way through.

      1. Fascinating response to my simple comment. What a creative and inquiring mind you have. True enough about Faulkner, but many of us believe that he alone was the greatest novelist of the 20th century.

        1. I wouldn’t do any rating or ranking — I’m not widely enough read to do that. But from what I have read — primary and secondary sources alike — I’d certainly put Faulkner in the top five, and perhaps the top three. He certainly rewarded my attention through the years, and has yet to grow stale.

  8. I would be interested in knowing if any of your readers have read Faulkner or would be interested in reading one of his books. I suggest Light in August.

    1. After thinking about this, I’d be willing to bet that, apart from some readers from other countries, and some of the younger ones, most people who stop by here have read Faulkner. By the time I graduated from high school, the Snopes clan, et. al., were as familiar as our next-door neighbors. What percentage of my readers? I’d bet 90%.

      An equally interesting question would be, “How many re-read Faulkner on a regular basis.” You probably could cut that percentage considerably.

      1. Maybe you ought to poll your readership. I would be very curious since you have a large group of people who read and comment on your blog.

        1. Polling my readership isn’t something I’d be comfortable doing, regardless of the subject. If I introduce someone to Faulkner, or remind someone of his writings, or even occasion a re-read, that’s good enough for me.

          Now and then, I do find that a blog entry has influenced someone, but it often happens well after the fact. And there have been instances of family members discovering that I’ve written about one of their loved ones: that’s led to some interesting exchanges, and always is a little remarkable. The web’s not as loosely woven as we sometimes think.

  9. I miss the scent of sundried sheets and even more, sharing hanging the wash with Mom. Your wonderful post stirs memories of simpler times. I still have a bag of clothespins waiting. They haven’t been used in years but stay in my laundry room as a bag of fond memories.

    1. There was a lot of chatter around those clotheslines, that’s for sure. And clothespins gave rise to everything from home ec projects (who doesn’t need a clothespin bag made from sunflower fabric?) to dolls. We made our dolls from the old-fashioned wooden pins; no spring-loaded modernity for us!

  10. I thoroughly enjoyed this essay and the memories it conjured up from my own experience with helping my mom with laundry. She had one of those wringer washers and in the winter we’d have to carry wet clothes from the basement to the attic where we had lines strung. In the summers we hung them in the back yard. I still have a clothes pin collection of over 50 styles of pins. A hand whittled and wired pin is my favorite.

    Drying clothes outside is illegal where I live and that’s just weird to me. Who cares that much that they had to get a law passed like that?

    1. What most intrigues me about prohibitions against outdoor clothes drying is that they’ve arisen at the very time that people have been urging greater use of solar and wind power. There’s a logical inconsistency there so glaring it can’t be avoided — and yet, it is. What’s even more ironic is that the same people who urge “green” solutions often oppose line-drying. It’s odd, to say the least. The appeals to aesthetics amuse me the most. The urge to create neighborhoods where yards and houses can’t be distinguished from one another is more 1950s than the 1950s ever thought of being.

      Fifty styles of pins? No kidding. That’s right up there with the barbed wire collections I’ve seen. Have you ever posted about them?

  11. Wordsmithing is an art, and I’m very glad you are a master. We had long clotheslines in front of our house when I was a little girl, because there was no other place to put them. I liked the whole process of playing in the hanging sheets, and later hanging clothes. After that we never had another clothesline, my mother hated them. When I got married that was one of the first things I asked for.

    1. In some ways, the clothesline/automatic dryer relationship is much like the one that exists between homemade bread and store-bought bread. My grandmother baked wonderful bread; my mother rejoiced in soft white bread from the store. Now, I bake bread again, and wouldn’t think of using Wonder Bread (except in the very occasional fried Spam sandwich). Likewise, the laundry: from clothesline to dryer, and back to a longing for a clothesline. Lucky you, to have gotten one.

      It’s always a delight to see you pop up, here and at Cheri’s. Happy summer!

  12. I remember those days of hanging clothes on the line. Sometimes my mom put them out in the winter and we brought in frozen clothes. We also live in a no clothes line community. My kids had never seen a clothes line and when we went back north, they were amazed to see clothes hanging outside. For awhile they included clothes on lines in all their drawings.

    1. I’d never thought about how different the worldview of clothesline-less kids would be, but of course: if you’ve never seen one, it might seem strange and even exotic. We’re being cut off from the natural world at every turn, even in ways so subtle we don’t often recognize them. If you hang clothes outdoors to dry, for example, you’re going to be much more attentive to the weather. Thank goodness there are some who are bucking the trend.

  13. Beautifully written as usual. Wonderful memories of childhood. I’m sure our mothers and grandmothers wouldn’t recall laundry day as pleasantly, but the remembrance of sweet smelling sheets, etc. seems to be worth it. I still have a friend who hangs clothes out. Loved the Faulkner speech as well.

    1. Clearly, laundry was a substantial chore in those earlier days, but even after my mother had her automatic washer and dryer she kept the clothesline, and kept hanging at least some items until well into her 80s. The appeal of “sunshine fresh” just can’t be denied — and it can’t be replicated by something that comes out of a bottle.

      The entire Faulkner speech is worth re-reading; it’s about twice as long as the excerpt. On the other hand, listening to Faulkner himself is even better. There’s an audio recording here.

  14. This week I’ve exulted in using my short clothesline strung across the utility yard – three days in a row. You are right, there is nothing like the smell of sheets or nightgowns that have been blowing in the breeze. When I am hanging them, or bringing them in all dry and warm again, I feel that all is right with the world.

    Though our family in the 50’s had plenty of space outside for long lines, we only had one of those square rotating types that sat in the middle of the large lawn. I still have an image of myself learning how to hang my farmer father’s blue jeans on metal stretchers so they would dry neat and nearly folded.

    Thank you for a fun story and lesson!

    1. It occurred to me yesterday that one person’s repetitive chore might be another’s beloved ritual. I suspect that most of us have experienced have experienced hanging laundry as both.

      I noticed two details in your comment that were new to me: the concept of a utility yard, and the stretchers you used for your father’s jeans. The utility yard’s especially interesting. I know front, back, and side yards, and a utility closet’s familiar, but utility yard is a phrase I’ve never heard. Is it common in your part of the world, or did you coin it?

  15. Oh, and there is a regulation against clotheslines in the books of our housing development, too, but I doubt that it has ever been enforced, and no one is looking over the fence at their neighbors’ back yards anyway.

    1. Blessed are you, if you’re living in a place where no one is looking over the fence. It seems to me there’s more of that going on every year: metaphorically for sure, and from time to time in actuality.

  16. Super memories, Linda. In addition to the clothesline, there were clothes poles used to prop up the sagging lines. We would use the poles as lances as we played at jousting on our bikes. (Naw no one ever got hurt. Broke a few poles though)

    1. Our lines were too short to need those support poles, but I remember them. I must say, your use of those poles was the most creative I’ve come across. Bicycle jousting sounds like wonderful fun, but I’m glad it was the poles that were broken, and not the bones.

  17. Oh the memories this brought back, especially the old wringer washer and the stiff clothes dried in the basement in winter. We had a stand outside with steps that allowed us to reach the clothesline. My friends and I used the space underneath as our playhouse.

    1. I’m intrigued by your stand-with-steps. That’s quite a clever idea, and one I can’t remember seeing. Isn’t it interesting how many different types of space were turned into playhouses when we were kids? Under the dining table was a common one in my neighborhood. Any little spot where we could create a world was cherished.

  18. I miss the clothes line I had at the other duplex. It had two “T” poles made from heavy metal pipe set in concrete and four wire clothes lines. Even though I had a dryer, I planned to use the clothesline in summer to keep the heat of the dryer out of the house, so I replaced the old rusted bare metal clotheslines with new plastic coated metal shortly after I moved in. Once I had transplanted pink climbing roses to the flower bed behind the clothesline, the long canes of roses dictated that only short things, like unmentionables, were hung on the right end of that back line, and slightly longer stuff on the left end, otherwise clothes would catch in the rose canes. I miss being able to go out back to hang out clothes, which got me out of the house and out to the outside.

    1. The little tricks that help keep a house cooler in summer do make a difference, and not using the dryer is one of them: at least for those of us who don’t have our laundry facilities consigned to an out-of-the-way place. I like the thought of roses climbing around in the neighborhood of your line, even if they did require a bit of attentiveness when it came to hanging clothes.

      I mentioned contending with rain, but now I’m wondering: were there times when you had to sprint to the line to get the clothes down before the dust storm rolled in?

  19. Stirs memories and entices the senses. I remember putting the clothes through the wringer. If they weren’t spread evenly, the thick parts only squeezed the water into the thinner edges of the item being squeezed. Then I would have to re-wring it. Am I making myself understood. If you were a bit impatient at spreading the material evenly as I was, you probable remember the problem.

    1. I understand exactly what you mean, although that thick-and-thin phenomenon was something I only observed — and listened to my mother grump about. By the time I was old enough to feed clothes through the wringer, we’d moved on to something less dangerous.

      In memory, it seems to me that people talked about burn injuries more than hands or arms harmed by the wringers. On the other hand, we do still use an expression rooted in those days and those experiences. I suspect everyone’s had an experience of feeling as though they were “put through the wringer.”

  20. Well Linda, this is the best post I’ve read for a while. Who’d have thunk you could wring out a meaningful essay, starting with a heap of damp laundry. Nicely-written, crisp, just the right amount of Midwestern starch in your message.

    I think we talked about this one time, but around here, the clothing wringer is usually called a mangle. When I was a kid, I assumed it meant, you’d get your hand caught in it, and mangled.

    One of my grandmothers still had that 4-sided clothes hanger, but it was mostly retired when she was older and had an electric dryer. My aunt told me that with a couple of old baskets hung on, the revolving hanger became a sort of cat-amusement ride one afternoon – between the slightly rusty metal and the unwilling cat, kind of screechy.
    My great-grandmother’s house in the Poconos was on a steep slope, so the back porch was a story-and-a-half off the ground, and they used iron well pulleys and heavy rope, because it stretched a long way, from the porch to a sawed-off telephone pole, down a long narrow yard. She’d get up at 4 on wash day, and would’ve been mortified to be the last one on the street to be done (a “hanging offense”) I see the local Amish with lines like that, and when they hang out lots of sheets on a windy day, it looks like a clipper ship came aground in their back yard.

    1. In the 1950s, getting the right amount of starch was considered an art. I still remember certain of my mother’s friends who knew, with almost breathtaking conviction, that the introduction of canned spray starch betokened the fall of Western Civilization.

      I remember our conversation about the mangle. What I didn’t know until quite recently is that it had a double purpose: to remove water from items as well as pressing large items like tablecloths and sheets. A quick look at the etymology suggests that mangle-the-noun and mangle-the-verb actually come from different roots, but the relationship’s still fun.

      The thought of using that clothesline to twirl cats in a basket is a fun one, too. I can’t imagine the ride lasted too long, but it would have been something to see.

      Your great-grandmother’s arrangement reminds me of the first time I saw urban laundry hung between buildings, on lines with pulleys. By the time I started visiting friends in Manhattan, this sort of scene wasn’t common at all, but it was an everyday sight when I lived in Liberia.

      1. Boy wouldn’t it be great if they still did clotheslines like that, but between today’s 80-story apartment towers? It would be fun to see, and people could show off more of their designer duds.

          1. I’d remembered someone had walked between the Twin Towers, but didn’t know the name. When I looked him up, it seemed surprising to find him as the artist-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I guess when there’s moral quandaries, he’s the Department of Walking a Fine Line.

  21. The rotating Hills Hoist outdoor clothesline will forever remain in my memory as a source of constant fun for my older brother and myself as small children. The Hills Hoist, invented in Australia, meant that on our steeply sloping 1/4 acre home block, one could grab one of the four larger frames at the low side and launch oneself off into a magical flying circus act through the air on the high side and return once more to where one’s feet touched the ground.

    Often my Mother would catch us and scream from the kitchen window, “get off the clothes line, C & V, or I’ll come and make your backsides sting (or whatever words she used for smacking us on the bottom – I’ve forgotten now).

    Clotheshorses aren’t allowed on my apartment balcony, but I still have the indoor clothes lines with castors so one could wheel wet clothes out onto my (previous) balcony to dry them and/or wheel them back into the lounge room when rain was forecast.

    I usually have to put my towels and doona covers into the clothes dryer to ‘finish them off’ to save having washing and underwear hanging around my tiny lounge room all week to dry.

    I sorely miss the smell of sun-dried clothes to this day.

    1. Clearly, I missed out. First Rob mentions swinging cats in a basket around their rotating line, and now here you are, telling me of the fun you had using your model as playground equipment! It certainly was iconic. I found this great article with a lot of the history, including a wonderful set of postage stamps that featured it. It even makes mention of kids using it just as you did; I think it must have been sturdier (or differently designed) than ours.

      Like you, I miss the smell of sun and wind dried clothes. Like you, I’m prevented from openly drying clothes on my balcony, but on the other hand, it does occur to me that if I arranged my plants a little differently, I could create some space to hide at least some towels and pillowcases.

      1. Re: not being able to put wet clothes on our balconies……..I put my clothes-dryer rack in front of my open sliding door in summer and the whole world driving, or walking, down my street can see my wet washing just as much as if I put it out on the actual balcony 1′ away. Such a silly rule. It’s not as though I peg, or hang underwear on the outside rungs/wires :)

        1. My great advantage is that there’s nothing outside my sliding door but water — the main fairway of a marina. The people walking by on the walkway that surrounds it are prevented from seeing much at all because they have to look up, and as for the people in the boats — they’re not at all interested in our balconies.

    1. Thanks, Biff. It took so long to get this written it felt as though I was in the middle of a batting slump, but, in the end, everything connected. Glad you enjoyed it.

  22. How strange though not surprising that local councils and associations would outlaw clotheslines… part of the constant adjustment of people to their changing environment. It was a pleasure seeing your grandmother in front of the laundry. Memories of laundry are happy memories for me, with a few exceptions. Here, they are frequently hung out the windows in summer, and in the living space in winter, on all manner of foldable contraptions. Describing your own experiences they became a vehicle for remembering the common experience, bringing back a timeline. Faulkner was my portal to envisioning America, and the consolation he offered then is better remembered than the actual words he wrote. Thanks for bringing us all together with your recollection, Linda.

    1. Forbidding the use of clotheslines does seem odd, given the current emphasis on both wind and solar power. The last time I checked, hanging out the wash makes use of the sun and the wind, and reduces use of generated electricity as well. We are funny creatures, sometimes — or at least illogical.

      The photo of my grandmother’s one of the few we have. She died when my mother was sixteen, leaving Mom to raise her siblings. Though the photo doesn’t show it, we have a couple of formal portraits that reveal how beautiful she was — and I have a collection of postcards sent to her that suggest she was, as they said in those days, “high-spirited.”

      Faulkner was my favorite in high school: so much so that, when my parents asked where I’d like to go for a post-graduation trip before family vacations became a thing of the past, I said, “Oxford, Mississippi.” I wanted to see Faulkner’s house, and his old stomping grounds. We finally did see it, but only after an amusing encounter with a couple of kids in an Oxford gas station, which I wrote about here. It could stand a rewriting, but you might enjoy it anyway.

  23. This has certainly been well worth waiting for Linda! Like the others, I have many memories also. My mother had a copper, gas heated, which was used to boil the clothes. And the wringer machine. Which she hated. At first opportunity, she got a semi-automatic machine. One of my jobs was helping to hang the washing – once I was tall enough – and also ironing the basics before ‘graduating’ to my fathers business shirts.
    When I moved out bush in my mid 20’s, it was like turning the clock way back. No electricity, so washing was done by hand in big troughs. At least I had hot water – if I gathered wood to burn under the drum – called a donkey.
    Eventually, things improved. I was given a mangle and boy, did that make it easier to wring out the larger items and the sheets. The smallest things can make life so much easier…..
    I’ve also had the experience of using the old type clothes line, with a prop – and having a gust of wind blow it over and the freshly laundered sheets landing in the dust! Not at all funny.
    Of course, the Hills Hoist originates in my home town.
    When my sister was a teenager, she was trying out a circus trick, using the clothes line for balance….. and yes, pulled and snapped the hoist so a new one was required.
    But on a more serious note, there are big issues with the US laws and dryers. The people who use scented additives in their dryers, are causing great distress to many many people.
    The pollution from these things, is second only to vehicle pollution in the cities. Yes, it has been measured. Your comment about petulant children seems pertinent here. It’s time to get REAL again. The quality of many other lives is at stake.

    1. You’re the second commenter to mention the Hills Hoist. Vicki, up above, also lives in Australia, and she grew up with one as well. I found a different link to a bit of its history, which I shared with her, and now I’m happy to have yours to read, too. I must say, every personal recollection and every link makes clear that those things could be great fun for kids — maybe as good as the ropes we used to swing out over ponds and rivers.

      The most basic laundry procedure I ever witnessed was in Liberia, where the women often would take clothes down to the waterside and make use of the rocks. Sometimes clotheslines were used in towns, but just as often the wet clothes would be spread over bushes to dry. During the dry season, dust could be as much of a problem as the one you describe.

      You’re right about the scented laundry products. I made the move some time ago to laundry soap from this company. I’m fond of the tea tree/citrus, myself. If you follow the link at the very end of the descriptive paragraph, I think you’ll find they’re right in line with your convictions on the issue — as is their growing customer base. What’s most interesting is that once I began using their laundry soap, there wasn’t a need for any fabric softeners: not liquid, and not the dryer sheets. So, those are gone from my house, too.

  24. “Get the clothes! There’s rain coming!” small armies of youngsters obeyed, pulling piles of fragrance from the lines, burying their faces in freshness and warmth as they raced toward the safety of the house.

    I have always marveled at the magic that allows an entire school of fish to instantly and repeatedly swivel in unison because of some undetectable (by me) stimulus. But then thinking about summer rain, the sound of an ice-cream truck or the streetlights coming on (the signal that playtime was over), it is not all that big of a deal.

    1. Right now, the marinas are full of shad and minnows, and it’s great fun to watch them spin and whirl in the water. They do move as if they’re a single organism, like murmurations of starlings. Now I’m wondering — what would be the collective noun for groups of kids? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard one used, but anyone who’s watched kids on those long summer evenings has seen them move in just the way you describe.

  25. Your post brought about so many memories for me. I vaguely remember my grandmother washing clothes outside under a huge mesquite tree using a black wash pot. We lived next door and my mother progressed from the wringer type to a regular washing machine but had to hang the clothes to dry. Since we live out in the country there was plenty of room for lines and no one to see our unmentionables. The clothes seemed so fresh and no detergent or dryer sheets can ever duplicate the fragrance. Your yard must have been lovely with all the flowers! May the “old verities and truths of the heart” remain!

    1. There’s nothing that gives a more vivid sense of place than a mesquite tree. Adding in a black wash pot only adds to the delight, although I suspect your grandmother, like mine, would have enjoyed the ability to throw the laundry into the washer in the midst of air conditioned comfort. Summer heat’s here, and I was thinking yesterday how often we imagine outdoor laundry was a chore in winter, but don’t consider what it was like during these sweltering summers.

      My mother wasn’t much of a gardener, but she did love flowers, and the ones I grew up playing among still define spring and summer for me. Knowing they’d appear again after such long, cold winters was comforting; we can only hope that those “old vertities and truths of the heart” will begin springing up again — soon.

  26. I wasn’t prepared for the depth of meaning you drew from what at first could have been one more nostalgic recollection of the scent of sun-dried laundry, Mom’s endless hard work, the contrast of technology vs. person-power. You dived beneath the surface of memory to explore a provocative set of associations. I have many of the same memories, but wouldn’t have assembled them into the challenging ideas you raise. Admirable.

    1. Thanks, Brad. Years ago, I was introduced to Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. One of its characters, Pursewarden, is a novelist, and I’ve never forgotten his assertion that it’s the role of the artist to “rework reality to show its significant side.” Even attempting that kind of reworking is satisfying; achieving it to any degree can be as surprising as it is rewarding. I’m glad you appreciated the associations here.

  27. Your laundry day memories resemble mine. How I loved helping my mother hang out the clothes and yes, there was an unspoken order to it, complete with the clothespin securing the edges of two items. After too many years of living in the suburbs without a clothesline, one of the first things I asked my husband to erect in our country home yard was just that. I still love hanging the laundry on it and yes, watching for the rain. I appreciate how you tied your memories into the William Faulkner speech. How true his very words remain today!

    1. I’m sure everyone had their own ways of washing and hanging laundry, and yet the similarities among us are remarkable. It’s not just that Iowa and California had some of the same practices — even in entirely different countries, the same customs arose. I suppose part of it’s that there are only so many ways to hang up clothes, but it still intrigues me.

      So many of the common activities of life used to connect us to the natural world: hanging clothes, gathering produce from the garden, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow. Increasingly, those tasks have been given over to others, or automated. I’m not sure that’s an entirely good thing.

      1. Well, I grew up in the countryside of Pennsylvania, so indeed the similarities are very interesting. As for those activities in the natural world, I don’t think it’s a good thing that so many folks no longer engage in them, but I still do. Hang clothes on the line, gather produce from our garden, pick blueberries and raspberries from our bushes, mow grass, and shovel snow. And I hope hubby and I can continue doing them all as long as possible.

  28. Would you believe I just came inside from removing my drying clothes from the line?!? Some would call this a coincidence; I prefer to believe this is just still a Midwestern routine, hanging clothes outside to take advantage of warm sunlight and gentle breezes … and save a few cents on the electric bill!

    Nice trip down Memory Lane, Linda. As I’m sure you’re aware, clothes don’t smell as nice when dried in a dryer, nor do they dry as fast indoors during winter months. We’re blessed to have a nice, sunny day today, after a long string of humid, rainy ones. This is the kind of day Midwesterners fully appreciate!

    1. Lucky you, to have that clothesline. I do think it’s more common in the midwest, and it certainly is more common in rural areas. Perhaps part of the reason’s the absence of HOAs, and part is a still ingrained frugality, but it may also be that a live and let live attitude’s more common in those places. And of course, there’s more space.

      Does Dallas like to frolic among the hanging clothes? We always enjoyed playing hide-and-seek among the sheets — at least, until we got yelled at. There was one neighborhood dog who’d amuse himself by jumping and snapping at whatever was flapping on the line. He got yelled at, too: especially if he “caught” something.

      1. I’m afraid Dallas isn’t up to herding the clothes on the line these days, though he tried years ago when he was a puppy. The dog we had when I was growing up, though, became a master at “attacking” the sheets!

  29. The image of writers (and citizens, for that matter) “airing their laundry” while the winds of change blow has got me grinning. And, too, the image of those who choose to be in the basements while change swirls around outside, the end result “stiff and board-like: dry, but with no hint of fragrance; no freshness; no overtones of clover, lilac, or rain to stir the senses.” Don’t know if you meant to push it this far, but I couldn’t help it. Fresh-smelling clothes are a childhood memory of mine, as well, along with the memory of the heavy laundry basket handles digging into my palms, lugging the wash to the line.

    1. Now I’m grinning. I don’t have to push things at all when I have clever readers to do it for me.

      One of the best things about your reflections is that you’ve reminded me of the great news parody done by Global TV in Toronto — to Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry.” I’d forgotten how humorous it is. Being in the news business yourself, I suspect you’ve seen it, but another viewing of a great parody never hurts.

      As far as lugging laundry goes, I remember when plastic laundry baskets came into our life. Before that, we’d used woven baskets — wicker, probably — and there always was a risk of clothes catching on the splinters. We never thought to call it technological progress, but that’s what it was.

  30. I remember an old washer with a wringer attached when I was a kid, and the lines on which the clothes were hung for final drying (even in winter when, as I well remember, my blue jeans were as stiff as a board when we brought them back in). I have to wonder if the all of the love that went into the work of using those old appliances for the good of the family is quite the same today when a load of clothes is simply washed and put into a dryer. I really hope so!

    1. That’s an interesting question. I’d hope so, too. One of the promises made in the early ads for washers and dryers was that using them would free mothers up to spend more time with the family, or doing other creative work. There’s no question they were labor-saving, but how that “extra” time was spent probably was pretty hard to calculate.

      It does intrigue me that some of the old-fashioned ways have been sneaking back: bringing fresh clothes in from the line, baking bread, cooking from scratch. All of those practices make love tangible in a different sort of way — or so it seems to me.

  31. I do love the way you segue from quotidian memory to philosophical musing, then weaving the strands together into something of a life lesson. And the photograph that heads your post is beyond price. As to the questions you pose, I suppose this is an aside, but my days are filled lately in conversations with neighbors I’ve not met before, as I knock on doors for a candidate for office I truly admire. I get a window in, with almost every conversation, to each person’s worries and confusions, along with laudable efforts to find a path forward—out of that dank basement and back into the light. Success often seems elusive, but one must hope.

    1. What you say about your conversations with neighbors reminds me of Salena Zito’s book, The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics. I suspect you’ve read it, but I thought this analysis from the Columbia Journalism Review was excellent. I happened across another piece that’s more about her approach to people and how she introduced some Harvard students to the Heartland. Each such small step along the path counts.

      I have another photo or two of grandma that are quite different: formal portraits that show her as a very attractive woman. She must have been — some of the postcards I have that were written to her suggest she wasn’t quite the stay-at-home this photo shows!

  32. This post bring back wonderful memories of the 4-sided clothesline we had at a rented duplex I lived in as a young adult. I also had a dryer – but always hung clothes on the clothesline when the weather was nice. It saved money – and the clothes smelled so much nicer.

    1. Isn’t it interesting that so many of the scented products that are meant to mimic those wonderful outdoor smells are so terrible? I’ve made the change to a brand of organic laundry soap that I really like, and haven’t missed the chemicals in detergents at all.

      The dollar savings can be more substantial than many people realize, too. When the great summer game called “Let’s See How Low We Can Keep This Electricity Bill” is being played, turning off the dryer (and the light switches!) is useful.

  33. Interesting timing! I was away at a church convention, and while gone my wife bought a fold away clothes rack. We use a drier but we both have a number of items that shrink if dried, and so have been using backs of chairs etc for years. This has the handy possibility of moving outside and so affording us the pleasure of smelling the sun and wind in our clothes. When we were in Australia a few years back, we bumped into a rotating clothes line, and people still pretty much followed the rules you outlined in your post!

    1. I hope you didn’t hurt yourself when you bumped into that clothesline! More seriously, I was surprised to learn about their rotating line from a couple of my Australian readers. I was curious about which came first — the American version or the Australian — or whether they might have developed independently. I found some suggestions that the North American came first, including this:

      The earliest American model that has been found in records is the “Dickey’s patent clothes drying machine”. It was mentioned in the August 1851 issue of the “Scientific American”. This was an old model that wouldn’t hoist up its arms once the clothes were laid on them. But Mr. Dickey did not make the invention, rather he made a slight improvement to the original idea that came from an unnamed mechanic in Worcester, Massachusetts.

      There’s a good bit more information here. I’ll just add the link in case you’re interested, and so I don’t lose it, as I often do.
      But as you’ve noted, even a nice, collapsible drying rack can improve life substantially.

      1. No injuries sustained! I was in the central desert, and clothes dried about as fast as one put them on the drying rack! With our humid weather here, they are less successful, but thanks for the info on their genesis!

  34. Oh, that brings back so many memories. I remember a washing machine – I think it was called a ‘twin tub’ or ‘top loader. I recall the wringer with the handle. We had a bizarre drier that was hung from the kitchen ceiling – four lines to it – raised and lowered by a cord. the garden was large with flower beds and a ‘shrubbery’ of shrubs (of course). There was a long line of raspberry canes. I and my friends were sent to collect the ripe raspberries for tea – more were eaten as they were picked than were consumed with ice cream later at tea-time. Beyond the raspberry canes was the kitchen garden for potatoes and peas and beans (runner beans and broad beans) and then there was a levelled area of grass for badminton, later converted to a croquet lawn. So many fond memories of childhood. We had a gardener who was a veteran of WW1 – I mustn’t forget him – always known by his surname: ‘Elliott’.

    1. I remember reading about those clothes driers that could be hoisted up for use indoors. I’ve never seen one, but they always seemed like wonderfully creative inventions.

      I’d forgotten about badminton. It was as much fun as croquet, which we dearly loved. And speaking of badminton, how about these shuttlecocks ensconced on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City?

      I must say that of all your memories, the one that surprised and delighted me most was the name of your gardener. This photo shows “my” Elliotts: my maternal great-grandfather (center front, with great-grandmother beside him looking stern), and my grandfather, Edward Abraham Elliott, standing behind his father in the back row. We don’t know nearly as much about them as we do my mother’s maternal line, but we do know that they lived for a time in Nebraska, in a sod house. I was only nine when he died, but I remember him fondly. I still have an expandable rhinestone bracelet he gave me for Christmas one year.

      1. Strange how a ‘mention’ can evoke such strong memories or send us off on a tangential stream of thought. I loved those Shuttlecocks. I guess the living was tough in the days of your ancestors in Nebraska. What would we do without photographs of the past.

  35. I loved this, lovely, you have so many beautiful childhood memories. I still have a rotating washing line and always use it, weather permitting! This post seems to me to be the perfect analogy, dank laundry and your current

    1. I do have wonderful memories. Of course not all are wonderful — such is the nature of life — but my early years were stable, with loving parents and rich experiences. Author Flannery O’Connor once said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” I’m guessing that’s true.

      As for your interpretation of my post, of course you’re not alone. On the other hand, the beauty of analogies and metaphors is that they’re open to multiple interpretations: even some surprising ones from time to time. Looking around, I see quite a few piles that could stand tending to: some corporate, some political, some personal. As so often is true, the problem isn’t knowledge — we know the laundry wants doing! — but will.

  36. The first part of this eloquent post speaks to me of memories and nostalgia. (Indeed, we still have a line at the lake and my neighbor next door has one too — so not too distant nostalgia or memories.) We never had one of those “newfangled” things, though!

    The second part speaks of matters all too timely. When you quote Faulkner and write this: “In the absence of light, will we find ways to work in darkness? Will we pin our hopes on sturdy lines of truth, or settle for threads of falsehood? Are we courageous enough to accept scrutiny? Or will we huddle within a self-constructed fortress that obscures our true convictions? The quality of our lives depends upon the answers to such questions,” it speaks to me of a dialogue currently playing out on television sets, at microphones, in newspapers, on social media and in our homes. These questions are powerful ones as I see rights being eroded and fear used as a political tool. It may not have been your intent but it is a perfect fit.

    1. I can’t think of anything more lovely than hanging laundry at your lake cottage. Cottages and clotheslines seem to go together — particularly if you can see the lake while you’re hanging clothes. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?

      As for our current situation, fear certainly is a part of it. One problem is that fear is being encouraged everywhere, and not only in politics. We’re told to fear everything from foods, to disease, to the weather. Eventually, people with their own purposes in mind begin telling us to fear one another, and the consequent anxiety and anger lead to sorts of behavior I can’t remember ever seeing in my lifetime. It seems to be free-floating, just looking for a place to attach. Sometimes it attaches to the person who cuts another off in traffic, and sometimes it attaches to individuals in public positions. Wherever it appears, it’s ugly.

      The role of social media is especially problematic. I’m still using Twitter for information from various groups and weather sites, but the level of nastiness is rising, and is becoming harder to avoid. It’s the latest example of people taking Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s advice seriously: “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.” It’s wearisome.

    1. The good news is that the verities are like native prairie grasses; their roots go deep. Once the conflagration’s past, they have the ability to begin growing again, richer and fuller than before.

  37. A real summer post! While I never hung the wet clothes on our rotating aluminum pole, I did make many dashes before rain storms as well as got to pull everything down and fold it all. You had the order clothes were hung from outside to in perfect. Nothing is as nice as sun dried fresh white cotton sheets.
    Little kids used to grab an outside piece and dance around singing like a maypole sometimes ( when no one was watching!) We always washed on Sat. morning as mom worked. When we lived in Mass. on the second floor, we had a back porch area open on 3 sides. There was a swing out rotary clothes line that hung over the alley. I remember thinking how ever would the clothes get dry without getting dirty from the deliver trucks to the pharmacy/drug store below.
    You had cherry trees! That’s cool. But winter laundry doesn’t sound too delightful back then. Yeah, the modern conveniences are so nice…but all the character, understanding, and commonsense built by everyday living before? Quite a bit may have been lost from being freed from the simple drudgery tasks.

    1. We’ve talked about it before — the number of ways kids find to put the bits and pieces of their lives to creative use. Your maypole dance is new to me, but it certainly was creative.

      The other thing you got me thinking about is routines. We never would have thought of doing laundry on Saturday — the earth probably would have tilted on its axis. But our routines, and yours, said a lot about both time and place: small town vs. urban, a mother working outside the home vs one who didn’t, and so on. One thing is certain — when laundry required more effort and planning, it’s place in the household routine was important.

      Your mention of exhaust and dirt being kicked up by the delivery trucks reminded me of the perils of dust and smoke here. Eric Berger mentioned in today’s forecast that the leading edge of a Saharan dust cloud will be around on the weekend. Between that and the soot carried from burning fields in Louisiana and Mexico, there are perils to hanging clothes our mothers never thought of.

      1. It’s here. Sneeze, sneeze…between the seat…I mean “glowing” HAHA (and mother hated the Maypole antics…sometimes it was an imitation carnival ride or merry-go-round, or a horse walker/exerciser…something about going in circles is fun for kids. Needless to say, our clothes pole was frequently lopsided and dad would have to resort it. At least one of them understood the attraction.)

  38. As you know, I still use a clothesline and I’m always on Hubby to make sure he doesn’t hang the smalls on the back line, where they can be seen by John Q. Public at the businesses behind us. I still scream “RAIN!” from time to time and do that mad dash out the back door to snatch everything in, before they get all wet again.

    I wish I could bottle some of my ‘laundry air’ and send it to you. It is not as pristine smelling as it was in the 50’s, due to a busy highway nearby but there is still a difference between line dried clothes and dryer dried clothes, I don’t care what kind of ‘freshener’ you use..

    1. I certainly hope your screaming this year is limited to “RAIN!” and not to — well, you know. The Saharan dust that’s headed our way may not be so great for laundry (or vanish for that matter) but it does have the great advantage of helping to keep those tropical critters away.

      This past week it’s been so hot that the first things pinned to a clothesline would be dry before you finished. Nearly everyone’s been feeling wrung out, as the saying goes. A bottle of your laundry air would be great, but if you could find a little cool air (like, anything below 90F), that would be even better!

  39. “…love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice….” Man, this just pierces the heart. It feels like the world really is a very dark place, void of compassion and honor… It’s all very depressing. However, the idea of clothes fresh off the clothes line helps lift my spirits considerably. My mom liked to hang sheets & towels outside just for that fragrance.

    When we lived in Xenia I wanted to put a clothes line in the back yard, but as you know, I live with The Bird Man. Seemed like a VERY bad idea – ha!

    1. Well, I wouldn’t say the world’s void of compassion and honor, but there do seem to be a few folks who are testing the limits. One thing is sure: if we’re compassionate and honorable, then the world can’t be devoid of those qualities. Right? Right!

      Even when things haven’t seemed quite so fractious, those words of Faulkner’s have inspired me. I drag them out every now and then for another re-read, and this time it seemed good to share them with others.

      “The Bird Man of Xenia” — there’s a title for a story. You’re probably wise to be cautious about laundry under those conditions, too. If nothing else, putting the feeders some distance from the clothesline probably would be reasonable.

  40. There were six of us living in the house and our flat was above our grocery store which generated laundry of its own. So the long, high clothes line was occupied more often than it was not. This created a conflict with our back-to-back neighbor, Nicola, a one-armed man who kept a very large garden and frequently burned the sticks and brush that piled up from his constant grooming. The prevailing breeze seemed always to blow the acrid smoke directly at our sheets and pillow cases, and Grandma let Nick know about it. He seemed to revel in this clash of interests; if he saw my grandmother or mother at the window he would say, “You gimme a quarter, I start a fire!”

    1. What’s especially amusing about your story is that I can hear Nick yelling. I may not have the accent exactly right (he probably sounds a lot like my uncle from New Jersey), but it’s close enough to make me smile.

      These little vignettes evoke whole worlds. In another part of the country, at about the same time, my paternal grandmother had a similar relationship with her neighbor, Christine, who had a habit of not raking up grass trimmings after she’d mowed. They’d blow onto Grandma’s sheets, and then Grandma’s temper would blow.

  41. I grew up amidst rotary clothes lines in 1950s Australia. They’re a national icon, and we’re taught that they’re a local invention. We know them as a Hills Hoist, which is the name of the most famous brand. I just did a little bit of research, and came up with this:

    And I must say that I really like how your turned your story around to the subject of “truth”, the notion of which is sadly absent in many quarters these days, as you obviously well know.

    And finally, it’s nice to catch up with you again after all this time.

    1. Had it not been for this post, I never would have known about the Hills Hoist — it’s interesting to see how the same idea evolved in such different parts of the world. Beyond that, it’s interesting to read how kids around the world found ways to amuse themselves by using the clotheslines for quite different purposes!

      It’s lovely to have you stop by, Andrew. I see you’ve made some changes in your photography and have a new place to showcase your photos. I’ll look forward to seeing what you share there. There’s a link both in my header and in the sidebar to a new blog I started, primarily for photos. I’m enjoying it a great deal, and learning a good bit, too.

  42. Of course, I hate all kinds of domestic work, so I can not even think about how it would be if I had to do my laundry the old fashion way. I don’t even have a laundry line…

    1. I must say I’ve never thought to myself, “I know! Let’s spend the afternoon getting the laundry folded just right!” But when I was a kid, many of the routine chores were more like a game, and with no pressure to get the chores done so I could move on to something else, the tasks were far more enjoyable. I do think it’s interesting that one of the few photos I have of this grandmother I never met (she died when my mother was sixteen) have her at the clothesline. I’m sure she spent a good bit of time there. We have options, thank goodness.

  43. I think there’s a lot of healthy reminiscing this post, which brings to mind the quote I found by Gabriel García Márquez: “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” He was also a Nobel laureate. I read maybe one or two of his novels.

    I like how you delve in details of the past and the inevitable transformations that time, for better or worse, instills upon us. I’m glad to have read such enriching prose on this subject. It made me remember when I hanged my laundry years ago.

    1. That’s a wonderful quotation: both true, and memorable on its own. Selective memory is real: even the most dramatic events are remembered only in bits and pieces. Even the photos from my childhood seem to act primarily as triggers. I may not remember the precise event they show, but they often trigger an entire chain of memories.

      To rework Wordsworth’s famous poem just slightly:

      The Child is father of the Man;
      I could wish my days to be
      Bound each to each by memory.”

  44. Clothesline’s were very prevalent in my youth. I still have a miniature hand crank wringer much like the one on my mother’s washer then. For a number of years after my father abandoned our family and my mother’s health prevented her teaching, working outside the home, she took in washings and ironings, specializing in ironing men’s white shirts to provide for my older brother and myself. Clothesline backups in the basement with the Maytag washing machine, rinse tubs and coal furnace were necessary on many wet, freezing, snowy Midwestern winter days.

    I used a clothes line in sunny Phoenix, Arizona in the late ‘60’s, early ‘70’s after relocating from the wintry Midwest. I loved the smell of sun-dried sheets, baked cloth diapers for my infant in preference to using my clothes dryer. By the time one washer load finished, the preceding load had dried on the clothesline.

    I still have a line running the length of my utility room above my washer and dryer on which select items are hung.

    1. I see we had some common experiences in our childhood. All it took was seeing the words “Maytag,” “coal furnace,” and “basement” to establish that. Maytag and coal aren’t what they used to be, and there aren’t many (any?) basements in Houston, but those realities still resonate in memory.

      Taking in laundry and ironing was an honorable occupation when I was growing up. In many parts of the world, it still is. Even when “doing for others” wasn’t a means of supporting a family, it still took place when circumstances made laundry difficult for someone. I can remember my paternal grandmother doing laundry and ironing for one of her friends who fell ill. I was allowed to pick up the dirty clothes, but I never got to carry those freshly-laundered garments back to their owner!

  45. Your delightful post reminds me of the saying “It will all come out in the wash” (whether it be stains or verities!). My sister has a rotary clothesline. When I was with her recently I bought some thrift store baby clothes for my mother’s teddy bear. As I was hanging them out on the line, I thought I hope no one sees these little clothes and starts a rumour about a baby on the premises. So I hung the clothes on the inner lines, just in case! We had a rotary clothesline in my childhood. Occasionally we were allowed to hold on to the metal bars and swing around on it. Great fun.

    1. I laughed at your use of those inside lines. Who knows what sort of story line might develop from a casual sighting of baby clothes? I can think of several myself.

      It seems to me that your rotary clotheslines must have been more sturdy than ours. It’s not surprising that I didn’t swing on ours, as climbing trees and trestle-walking were my specialties. But I never saw anyone do that, and believe me: there were kids in the neighborhood would have have, if they could have.

      I don’t know if you remember the mashup of news and music that was popular some years ago, but a Toronto group did an award-winning parody that’s just great. I linked it for a newspaperman up above, but here it is for your enjoyment.

      1. I don’t recall this parody. It’s hilarious. As far as news is considered, the laundry just seems to get dirtier and dirtier. Time to change the soap powder perhaps.

  46. Laundry: a topic I would never have expected to stir a writer or photographer, and yet there’s something about this household necessity that unleashes nostalgia and a smile.

    Like many commenters, I have fond memories of clotheslines and their fresh flapping in the summer breeze. I loved the sweet smell and crisp feel of white sheets dried in the sun, and I have repeatedly heard the story of my young mother’s pride when my grandmother told a neighbor that “Elaine does a nice white wash” as she peered over the fence.

    Later in life, I found myself snapping photos of laundry in small alleys in Dubrovnik, in cramped courtyards in Havana, on rough old trees in West Virginia, and between dirty brick windows in New York City. Those little scraps of color make even the dreariest surroundings look like someone cares at least a little bit. Beautifully written post!

    1. As a dear friend said in her blog’s tagline, “Everything is story-able.” Even laundry.

      I really enjoyed your grandmother’s comment. It’s akin to “She keeps a nice house,” which was one of the highest compliments possible in my early years. I always have striven to keep a nice house, and while mine certainly wouldn’t lead someone to call in the health inspectors or the crew from Hoarders, it wouldn’t meet those obsessive 1950s standards, either. I’ve actually been known to mix whites and coloreds — oh, the horror!

      Laundry in out-of-the way places is one of my favorite photographic subjects, for precisely the reason you mention. You can learn a lot about life by checking out the clotheslines — and about people, for all that.

  47. I keep clothes pins on hand just in case, but my yard was a muddy rectangle when we moved in and is pretty much a muddy rectangle to this day. Two inconveniently placed trees and a dog run block the logical places for a clothes line, but, I promise myself, one day I’ll have one. I have a bachelor friend who drapes his laundry about his small house, in soggy Seattle. I doubt anything truly dries that way but he is living his principles and I admire that.

    As to the state of man, I see that Scott Pruitt resigned. Hooray! I keep hoping the President will find someone decent or at least neutral for the position. What shocks me is not how bad he is, but how many Americans support him no matter what he does. I have acquaintances who swear he walks on water. It is hard to know what to think of the country I once felt so proud to have been born in.

    1. We had so many uses for clothespins in past years. I wonder if some inventions — like the chip clip — didn’t come about because those clothespins weren’t around to close the potato chip bag. Of course, technology came even to clothespins: from hand carved, to two-pronged, to spring loaded, to plastic. Progress!

      Clearly, people on every side of a number of divides are glad that Mr. Pruitt is gone. I’m surprised it took so long, given the history of his behavior. It can be hard to watch a process working itself out, but sometimes change takes more time than we’d like.

      1. That’s funny, and I’ll bet you are exactly right. Of course clothespins would have come in handy for a number of purposes! As for me and my house, we stick to the wooden ones :)

  48. This brought back so many memories of my childhood and hanging clothes with my mom. In winter we had a wooden drying rack that we placed in front of the oil stove to dry. Even most of my adult life I had a clothes line and I so miss it and burying my face in the middle of the air whipped clothes with their fresh scent..Thanks for stirring up sweet memories!

    1. I’ve yet to come across anyone who says, “I just hate the smell of fresh, clean laundry.” Granted, I don’t favor the scent of most commercial laundry products, no matter how clean the clothes when the process is finished. But sunshine and wind, captured in cloth? It’s the most wonderful scent in the world. A friend who lives in the country says I can bring my laundry out to her place and use her clotheslines any time I want. But would it be worth the 90 mile drive? Maybe!

  49. How I’ve missed reading your posts, Linda. I’m always hoping for some lengthier pockets of time to enjoy your stories and images and ideas. The last six months or so have squelched many of those little pockets.

    I can almost smell the freshness of those line-dried laundry from your descriptions. My last memory of hanging clothes was when I had laundry-duty as part of a team of teenagers on a short term mission trip to help with construction projects in Paraguay. Because laundry was manual (wringer and all) and we were a team of 23 or so, there was always someone on laundry duty. Those clotheslines were long and many! I had the company of a little monkey named Pepper napping in my sweatshirt pocket while I hung clothes.

    1. Between your work, your travel, and your gardens, I’m not surprised you’re often without time to visit — but it’s always a pleasure when you do.

      Clotheslines aren’t aesthetically pleasing, I suppose, but it still amuses me to imagine a set of old-fashioned T-poles in your garden, with roses or other vines climbing up them. Now that I think of it, I don’t remember ever seeing a clothesline pole surrounded by vines. I suppose they were pruned away.

      I must say, I’ve never known anyone who hung clothes with a monkey in their pocket. It’s a delightful image — all the more so because the little creature was secure enough to nap. And I can imagine the piles of laundry. Especially in summer, I generate a good bit all on my own.

  50. “Toto,’ Lisa said to herself, “We’re not in the USA anymore.”

    For real? The Homeowners’ Association will not let anyone put up a clothesline? I believe it, and in a way I can sort of understand, but with all that’s happening w/climate change, our sick planet, etc, every little bit helps, and why not take advantage of solar clothes dryers —– hey! I think if I lived there I might find a way round that rule – park my auto in the sun and use the hot metal of the roof/hood/trunk as a way to dry and press the clothes at the same time!

    In almost 20 years out of the country, I’ve used a washer for only two or three years – and never a dryer. In Jama I could put the clothes out on the balcony line at night, and they’d be dry by morning! I wonder if one could use a stealth option like that in a ‘Clothes Lines Forbidden’ zone?!!!

    1. I fear that use-the-auto technique might bring down the wrath of the HOAs just as quickly — at least, in the suburbs. Even draping a beach towel over a balcony rail in any of the apartments around here earns demerits, and it’s a three strikes you’re out culture. I understand the no towels rule better than no clotheslines, that’s for sure.

      I had a washer in Liberia, but no dryer. No need for it there, either. Some used clotheslines, while others just draped the laundry over bushes. The dust was a problem sometimes, or rain, but things always could be brought inside.

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