I had my first laundry lesson when I was five.  My grandma let me help crank clothes through her old-fashioned wringer and hang them out.
I was too short to reach the line, so I handed her clothespins while she shared her wisdom.  “Sheets are always washed first and hung on the line nearest the neighbors,” she said, “to shield our unmentionables from view.”  A few loads later, I figured out what it was we weren’t supposed to mention—underwear.  We giggled about the free show her neighbors wouldn’t be seeing:  the boys’ tightie-whities, the girls’ granny panties, and Grandma’s own “snuggies,” a girdle-and-knicker hybrid that made up for in modesty what it lacked in comfort.

This knowledge came in handy when mom returned to the workforce and my sisters and I were tasked with doing laundry in the summers.  Mom always left strict instructions to hang everything outside.  A few times, we used the dryer and said we hadn’t, but somehow, Mom was never fooled.  We made up excuses:  It was too hot or cold.  Too many bugs.  The weatherman said it was going to rain.  Dad mowed the lawn and we’re all allergic to cut grass, remember?  Her response was always the same:  quit whining, get back to work.  So we labored and sweated. We whacked Japanese beetles off the bath towels with our badminton rackets.  One sister got surprised by a wasp lurking in her line-dried pajama pants.  Before long, we despised clotheslines and clothespins, creepy-crawly hitchhikers, starchy underwear that chafed our backsides, and most of all, spending our summer vacation doing chores while the neighbor kids ate popsicles and played with their dogs.  I couldn’t wait to turn eighteen and go away to college.

Intoxicated with freedom, I moved into a dormitory where, armed with a roll of quarters, I could use the dryers whenever I wished.  In fact, I gave no thought at all to hanging laundry outside until my husband and I bought our first home.  Money was tight.  A friend gave me a folding clothesline she no longer used, so I went to the local five-and-dime and picked up a package of spring-loaded wooden clothespins.  I secured the aluminum post in a cast-iron umbrella stand and pinned up a few loads.  Later that day, an untimely gust of wind caught the corner of a fitted sheet and toppled the whole shebang as I watched in horror.  Miraculously, the clean laundry managed to skirt the random piles of dog poop lying all over the yard.  I could have stood there whining, but instead I got to work, constructing a sturdier stand.  A length of PVC pipe, a bag of cement, a little ingenuity, and I was back in business.

Over the years, I grew attached to that little clothesline and when it broke, I purchased another just like it.  What’s not to love?  Hanging out my laundry conserves energy and saves money.  It keeps me mindful of the weather and seasons.  Everything is fresh-smelling and static-free.  Clothes last longer.  Towels are more absorbent.  Sunshine and gentle exercise keep me healthy. But the best part is the connection I feel with my mom and grandma as I watch my sheets flap in the breeze, guarding certain items I won’t mention.  I know they would be proud that the tiny seeds of common sense and frugality they planted in me all those years ago have finally taken root and sprouted.

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8 thoughts on “LESSONS ON THE LINE

  1. Marilyn June 12, 2016 / 9:25 am

    Loved your post on “laundry” etiquette! You learned the rules well at the side of the master. Grandma is probably chuckling and beaming with pride right now! Aunt Marilyn

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joyce robinson June 12, 2016 / 9:40 am

    Washing day was a chore when I was little. Mum had to fill the boiler with water then light a fire in it to heat the water. I lived in an industrial city close to factories so clothes couldn’t stay on the line too long as they ended up with little black dots of soot. As a matter of fact our beautiful St George’s Hall in downtown Liverpool was always black only when I went home some years back did I realize it was a white building 😊 Sadly I can’t hang out laundry now too much pollen in the air. But I did love all the years I hung it out in my backyard especially the sheets loved the smell.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Karen Howard June 13, 2016 / 10:28 am

    Joan, I too remember the days I helped my mom and grandma fill the laundry tubs with water heated on the stove and running the clothes through the ringers of the old washing machine. I loved the smell and freshness of the sheets and unmentionables…hee hee. Thanks for the reminder of days gone by.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elyse June 13, 2016 / 10:30 pm

    I will be the lone dissenter! I grew up hanging the clothes on the line. Birds pooped on the sheets 25% of the time, I swear. They had it out for the twin size that fit my bed. We would then have to rewash. And in the winter, we exfoliated our skin with the towels that dried on lines set up in the basement…

    I moved to Europe, where dryers were inefficient and tiny. My son wet the bed. Every. night. Sheets. Blankets.

    Funnily enough, just last night, my cousin and I were talking about her mom’s ringer washer. It was the coolest looking thing in the world!

    I love my dryer. It produces dry, soft clothes. I have a very energy efficient model (still uses electricity but less than the old days.) I just try to save energy in other ways.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 14, 2016 / 9:38 am

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving comments, Elyse. Sorry line-drying doesn’t work for you and glad you save energy in other ways. I’ve never had issues with bird poop and kind of like a good exfoliation now and then, but that’s just me. And of course, I have a dryer and use it in winter and on rainy days.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. chevvy8 June 16, 2016 / 4:06 pm

    Hello Joan – looks like I owe you a couple of visits. My story in response to your post is too log to write about here. Suffice to say that it reminds we of how tough life was growing up. Doing laundry manually on a washing stone was but one chore amongst many other chores. I only got to own a washing machine when I was married and have never owned a dryer.

    I think apart from saving energy, I’ve always just enjoyed washing on a washing line. I can only say thank goodness for evolution of technology for making life easier. My recollection of childhood was that it was a hard life 😀 Of course my children are spoilt in not having to do hard labour 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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