Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Old Clothesline

The clothesline that dried my Grandparents clothes hangs empty now at Lead Hill. That line dried their clothes for the 30 years they lived in that house. It was a familiar site when you would pull into the yard to see it loaded down with white sheets, colorful striped terry towels and patchwork quilts. Grandma's clothesline was like her house, neat and tidy. Shirts would join hands by color, whites then blues. Dresses would line up next to others of like kind, one sleeve attached to the next. Towels, then washcloths. Sheets on one whole line, off by themselves to whip dry in the hot breeze.

Grandma used soap flakes in her old Wringer Washer and soaked things in a washtub that might need some extra care. Bluing was a product she added to make the whites sparkle.

I don't have an outside line, not many people do anymore. Time is really the reason people got away from hanging their clothes out I think. Women joined the workforce, dryers became commonplace in the 1960's and then clotheslines went out of fashion. Old fashioned, and NO ONE wants to be THAT! I do have a wooden drying rack that I use out on the deck to dry unmentionables, kitchen towels and tops that I want to air dry. In the winter I set it up in my laundry room and in a few hours time, everything is dry and ready to put away.

Another reason that clotheslines don't fit into today's households is that when you need a load of clothes washed and dried, it's NOW. Most families live a busy lifestyle that can't wait on a sunny day.

When I was a kid Mom would hang the clothes out year-round. That meant snowy winters in Missouri, she would put on her snow boots, gloves and wool headscarf and brave the cold temperatures to hang out clothes. When she'd bring the wash in at the end of the day, the shirts and pants would be frozen stiff. She'd stand them by the wall and in a few minutes they would "slump" to the floor and she'd laugh and say Old Man Winter slipped out of them! No complaining about her cold hands and feet, not to mention the extra work required to put out that big wash.

Our children have almost forgot how to do wash or hang anything out. After all, they only see us transfer from washer to dryer to hanger.

Along comes the "Green Movement" and it's fashionable to hang clothes out again! Saving energy and money, it's a way to let Mother Nature do the work for you. Erma Bombeck had wonderful insight on the subject of clotheslines...read this column published March 4, 1986.

Erma Bombeck on Creeping Privacy Paranoia
Sounds like something out of the spring nursery catalogue, doesn't it? Actually it's a name I made up for a trend that has already hit the cities and may eventually invade the countryside. It's a concentrated effort to seek privacy from the rest of the world. I'm not sure when it started, but the front porch was one of its first victims. Remember front porches? They had a swing that squeaked and metal chairs that rusted and always needed painting. Everybody in the neighborhood used to sit out there after dinner and sometimes they talked back and forth to one another. Nothing important. The weather. How the grass would have to be cut before the weekend. How the next one up could get the lemonade. And then the front yards got smaller and smaller and the front porch was phased out to a pot of dead flowers and a doorbell you couldn't hear in the back yard. The back yard became Disneyland with a barbecue, jungle gym, patio, lounges, sandbox and vegetable garden.
It was only a matter of time before the clothesline marred the scene and had to go. And with it went a part of Americana that will never have such an impact on American families. The clothesline was a meeting place of women. They caught up on the events of the day, shared, dumped on one another and clung together. The clothesline was the original newspaper of the community. By reading the clothes you could tell who was toilet trained , who was not, who came home on leave, who had guests, who got something new, who cleaned house, who did not, who had sick children, who was out of work, who was going on vacation, who was entertaining, who overslept.
There didn't seem to be anything from neighbors they needed anymore. Large freezers held a storehouse of food supplies that you might have "borrowed" in earlier times. Unlisted phone numbers protected you from bothersome calls, and when you went outside to cut the grass or take a walk, there were headphones to isolate you from "hellos."
Creeping Privacy Paranoia got a toehold in society when we no longer needed humans to run our elevators, get our groceries, take us to a fitting room or assist us with withdrawals at the bank. I'm as much a carrier of Creeping Privacy Paranoia as anyone else. I've traded communication for bumper stickers, sociability for technology and accessibility for "Wheel of Fortune." What brought all this on was the other Sunday I was walking through the neighborhood and realized behind every wall were lounge chairs with no one lounging in them, barbecue grills with nothing cooking on them and locks on gates where no one wanted in.
I used to talk to myself. I don't even do that anymore. Maybe we're becoming too private.


  1. I love my clothesline ... love Erma Bombeck ... great post! TTFN ~ Marydon

  2. I loved your reflections on the clothesline :-). I miss Erma Bombeck.
    We have some wonderfully strong writers today, but none have a vision quite like hers. She had a unique ability to see and write about the everyday with humor that was gentle but spot on.

  3. Ha! I love Erma! And speaking of clotheslines. I think I last used one in 1971. And when I was a kid I hated hanging clothes on the line. especially in winter. They'd be frozen solid. How the heck they ever dried is beyond me. But sometimes we'd hang them in the cellar in the winter. The white clothes didn't look very white. I remember how embarrassed I was to have people see those clothes hanging there the day my mother died. I had forgotten to take them down. But the old clothesline stories are great and it does bring back a lot of memories. Nice post Joy. Hugs!

  4. The covenant police would probably have a heart attack if anyone put up a clothesline in my neighborhood. I do miss the smell of clothes dried outside. When our oldest son was a baby we lived in a rental house in Fayetteville while my husband was in grad school. We had a clothesline, and I hung Hunter's cloth diapers on the line. Do they even make cloth diapers anymore?

  5. Nothing smells better than grabbing clothes of the line at the end of day, specially sheets.

    I miss that smell and one day, will have it again.

  6. We all love the smell of clothes dried on the line, then why is it against covenant rules in so many neighborhoods...mine included??? We should all join together to fight the Clothesline Ban, reinstitute clotheslines to their place of honor in the back yards of America!!!
    joy c. at grannymountain

  7. This post was completely lovely! We had a clothesline contraption when I was a little girl. It was on a single pole and stood out like a square umbrella without the fabric covering. My job was to take the clothes down. Mother wouldn't let me hang them because I made such a mess of it.

    What memories!

  8. Oh! And I would LOVE to have you participate in Positive Day on Friday. That would really bless my heart!

  9. What great stories the clothesline must have. What a thoughtful post Joycee. Loved it!

    Thanks for your sweet visit tonight. Come and check out my giveaway this Sunday if you have a moment. :)

  10. I really love the smell of clothings, bed sheets and blankets which dried on the line under the sun too! Just fantastic!

  11. Great post! I have always had a clothesline and love it!!!


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