Clotheslines are a part of history for us old folks
Monday, June 10, 2013 3:08 AM
People driving by on our road might wonder about the jackets hanging from the porch swing supports by our front door. That's the best place I can think of to dry the winter jackets that I have just washed before storing them for the summer. After all, I don't have a clothesline.
Since moving here to the country, I have often wished for one. In fact, we did discuss installing one, but that has not happened. But once in awhile, I still think about how useful they are. Back in the day, every house's backyard had one.
When I lived in Norman, Okla., (about 12 miles south of Moore where the big tornados hit recently) we lived in an apartment building with no backyard, so no clothesline.
When I lived in New Jersey, we also lived in an apartment, this one on the second floor. But there was a clothesline: it was hooked to a pulley on the side of the house, just outside the kitchen window. Because we were so broke, I usually washed our clothes by hand, and then, leaning out the window, hung them on that line that stretched to another pulley attached to a tree across the driveway far below.
When I lived in Florida, it seemed as if there was never any wind. Anyone familiar with clotheslines also knows that there is nothing like a good wind to help dry clothes. A wind also airs things out!
One Saturday morning, I was elated that a perfect wind was blowing. I quickly gathered up everything in the house that could be hung on a clothesline, stuff that doesn't get laundered often such as bedspreads, pillows, rugs and draperies. Outside they went and up on the clotheslines. It wasn't long before my neighbors - Southerners all - came out to ask me what in the world I was doing. I explained, curious myself because didn't everyone take advantage of a wind? I guess that was a "damnyankee" thing (I learned that is all one word: couldn't say Yankee without the damn).
A friend sent a note this week that reminded me about the rules we had then for hanging the weekly wash outside: there was no credited source (not unusual!) and my friend had added a couple of rules of his own.
So I have done the same thing. Here's my version of "The Basic Rules for Clotheslines."
1. The clothesline is always in the back yard. If the lines are rope instead of wire, they'll sag, so use a wooden pole to hold them up in the middle. That way the larger items like sheets won't drag on the ground and get dirty.
2. Wash day is Monday, never Sunday; what would the neighbors think? And, it doesn't matter if it is sub-zero weather. The clothes will "freeze-dry."
3. Wash the clothesline(s) before hanging any clothes: walk the length of each line with a damp cloth held around the line.
4. Back then, we had no automatic washers; we had wringer washers. So the laundry was done in order of color and water temperature. Whites are done first, because, well, they are white, and also because they need the higher temperature. The "coloreds" are next, such as shirts, slacks, dresses. The "dark and heavy" items are last, primarily jeans and dark heavy sweatshirts. By then, the wash water is both dirtier and cooler. Hang the clothes in the order that they were washed.
5. Because of that order - and the fact that we only had white sheets and towels - those items are hung on the outside, or in other words, the street side, and then the white underwear. That way the "unmentionables" (underwear) are hidden from prying eyes. Because the jeans and dark stuff are in the back, they are hidden on both sides!
6. To be more efficient, line up the clothes so that each piece does not need two clothespins. Each item can share a pin with the item hung next. Saves a lot of space and clothespins.
7. Hang pants by the bottom, never by the waistband.
8. Hang socks by the toes, in matched pairs.
9. Hang shirts by the tails, never by the shoulders.
10. When the clothes are dry and off the line, always remove the clothespins and store in a handy bag. Never leave clothespins on an empty clothesline; it looks tacky.
11. Get clothes off the line by the evening meal, neatly folded in the clothesbasket and ready to be ironed.
12. IRONED? That's a whole new subject!
These rules might not seem important by themselves. But my friend also sent along a poem, which puts them in context.
"A clothesline was a news forecast to neighbors passing by. There were no secrets you could keep when clothes were hung to dry. It also was a friendly link, for neighbors always knew if company had stopped on by to spend a night or two. For then you'd see the 'fancy sheets and towels' upon the line; you'd see the 'company' table cloths with intricate designs.
"The line announced a baby's birth from folks who lived inside, as brand-new infant clothes were hung so carefully with pride. The ages of the children could so readily be known; by watching how the sizes changed, you'd know how much they'd grown. It also told when illness struck, as extra sheets were hung; then nightclothes, and a bathrobe too, haphazardly were strung.
"It also said 'On vacation now,' when lines were limp and bare. It said, 'We're back!' when full lines sagged with not an inch to spare. New folks in town were scorned upon if wash was dingy and gray, as neighbors carefully raised their brows and looked the other way.
"But clotheslines now are of the past, for dryers make work much less. Now what goes on inside a home is anybody's guess. I really miss that way of life, it was a friendly sign, when neighbors knew each other best...by what hung on the line."
It's occurred to me that with our renewed interest in saving energy and water, more and more people are discovering the value of clotheslines. So these rules could prove to be very useful now too.
Old rules die hard, and I must admit that I still carefully sort the laundry into whites, mediums and darks. And even though each load gets fresh water, I do still proceed through the loads from white to dark. And when we're in Bangkok, I occasionally get a chance to refresh my hanging skills.
So if we get a clothesline installed, it will be simple for me to start hanging clothes outdoors again. After all, I know the rules.