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.
Have a comment? Click HERE to share it!