Thursday, June 20, 2013

Line Up

How many of you use a clothes line?  The crash pad has a washer/dryer built into a little closet but at home, a line is used, in the winter, set up across the laundry area. Yes, the clothes are a little stiffer and they often need the touch up of an iron, but it's surprising how much energy that drier uses.

I lived in a subdivision once and clothes lines weren't allowed, as only hooligans and hillbillies use them, you know. You couldn't even hang a beach towel off of your porch or paint your front door the color you wanted. I quickly moved away from the Stepford Subdivision, never to return.

A washer is a must.  Even as much as I love old machinery I have no desire to run my clothes through a wringer like Grandma Gullikson.  But to pull in a big batch of sheets from the line, kissed by the sun with the warm scent of summer on them, there is no fabric softener scent that can match that. There's something quietly satisfying about taking things that are dirty, the clothing of the people you love, and rendering them clean, a ritual of care that feminists would probably vilify me for actually liking. But holding the clothing of someone you love, something that bears their scent, their labors, and then carefully getting it ready for them to wear again, has an intimacy of its own.
Growing up, we always had a dryer, the avocado green Maytag one. But in the spring and summer, Mom always hung the clothes outside  I have vivid memories of those days. I would help gather the clothes in, that being one of my set chores. For we had assigned chores as children, daily ones that had to be done without fussing if we hoped to get an allowance to buy us a bit of candy on Saturday. No chores, no allowance, that became obvious early. We were given things to do that were in the scope of our abilities and some that were beyond, with supervision only when necessary, so that we would learn, painfully if we didn't listen, but learn nonetheless.

The clothes would hang, with the linens, dresses and dress shirts, the modest nightwear, the men's briefs and big "Granny panties" that we wore, ones that did not peak out of low slung jeans but only the Sears Catalog. There was our Sunday best, to be appropriately scratchy for young ones in the pew to squirm around as Father Erickson talked of Genesis and Exodus and fathers therein who dared talk face to face with God.
On laundry day when the clothes were off the line inside and sorted, Mom would set up the ironing board in front of the TV.  There she would watch As the World Turns, The Secret Storm or Guiding Light while she ironed and I put together the puzzles that fascinated me, Big bro off at school. Dad still has, to this day, a jigsaw puzzle of bears on the coffee table that was purchased for Big Bro, not that it stopped me from putting it together time and time again, until the edges were worn.

While I played, Mom would iron everything, including the sheets, from the hand embroidered ones of the 50's to the harvest gold striped ones from the late 60's and 70's. She'd use a wine bottle that had a cap that allowed for water to be sprinkled out in lieu of a steam iron as if subtly blessing the sheets. There was almost a zen like ritual to it, much as I feel when I reload, a series of defined movements, done in proper order with the right amount of physical force and the elements that comprise the process.
Then she would get  the after school snack out and dinner prepped, giving her just enough time to freshen up and make a martini to greet my Dad at the door when he got home. Lest you think my Mom a demure Mrs. Cleaver type, prior to adopting us, when she wasn't doing laundry she was the County Sheriff.  College educated when most women didn't get past high school, Mom could kick keester and take names, help pluck out a drowning victim from the river and deal with the trauma that was rape, domestic violence and abuse. 

I'm sure she missed the challenges, but after 18 years as an LEO, she found greater satisfaction in maintaining order in a house of redheads and occasionally fishing someones toy out of the toilet. Everything she did, she did with care and attention to detail, even after she got so sick, her days filled with weariness and, I suspect, pain.
I still remember the days when Mom washed my stuffed animals and carefully hung them up by the ears on the clothes line, giving each one  a little kiss and a pat while I watched to make sure they were OK. One of them had no eyes, and little fur, he being loved so hard, but she very carefully hung him up by the ears with a special kiss.  I thought he had disappeared, but when she was in her last days, and I was leaping into adulthood, she put him away where I'd find him again when I was grown, and remember those days.

I remember her as well, dealing with Big Bro's and Dad's filthy and smelly fishing garb, simply smiling a patient smile and handling them as delicately as vestments.  She worked away, a patient smile on her face, the birds on the lines and in the trees,  singing a hymn of praise as she labored for love.

While the clothes fluttered on the summer line like the last valiant leaves of the year, we'd run and play.  If we fell down, we got up, if we skinned a knee, we washed it off with the hose, running in and out of the hanging sheets, bright red heads flashing in and through them like birds. We did so with a zest for breathing that is wrung out of most people by the time they're 40, playing as if we were eternal and in that moment, we were, there in the open clean air, away from the walls of dust and shadow and sickness.
We played hide and seek and cowboy and Indians. We stalked squirrels and each other with nothing more than a plastic weapon and iron courage.  Our games had elements of make believe, of magic and super powers, soldier, secret agents and spies. But we weren't so sheltered from the world that we were unaware that to be careless with the tools and talents we were given, was to meet up with a beast that, though lightly slumbering, sleeps with breath tainted with blood. As we grew, we watched as deer fell in the woods under our guns, a firearm being more than a toy to play cops and robbers with, but the means of putting food on the table, a means to protect, one that came with heavy responsibility.

We understood early one, that some things do NOT wash out.

The clothes line eventually came down. I don't recall when actually. It was about the time Big Bro went off to the Navy, to submarine school.  I wanted to go with him, we did everything together, but I had a  few years of school left. All I could do was stand there as a line that no longer held his shirts stood like a barren flag pole and the vehicle in which we'd had so many adventures, drove off towards his future.  I watched as long and as hard as I could, thinking that old blue panel van would turn around.  But the red tail lights just got further away and closer and closer together until my last memory was a small single spot of red that made my eyes weep as if I had dared to stare into the sun.
Things change, processes evolve, how we live and where we live. But some things, the good things, can continue and I don't care if they are considered "tacky" or "old fashioned", they are a ritual of love that goes beyond blood and care that goes beyond obligation.  Like my clothes line. The clothes are different, there's more t shirts than dresses, a lot of khaki and navy and black. Some of the shirts have pictures, some just have big letters on them. There's the plaid flannel nighty for when it's really cold but most of the underthings, if  made of paper, not fabric, wouldn't be big enough to start a fire with. Styles change, but some rituals don't.

As I hang up a button down dress shirt, I think back to those days of my childhood, as my Mom did the same things for those she loved. As I work, I talk face to face with God as He helps me with the biggest puzzles of all.  As the wind flutters through fabric, around me come the sound of birds, perched on lines of their own, rejoicing without fail, their ceaseless, silver voices singing as if they are eternal, and for this moment may very well be.

 - Brigid


  1. Not much smells better than line dried sheets. My mom had an ironing girl that used a pop bottle with the sprinkle head to iron all the laundry,"me". Best clothes dryer I ever had was an ol hot walker, crank that sucker up and clothes were dry in no time...

  2. Nothing makes clothes smell as good as drying on the line. You just can't get that from a can.

  3. I have a pair of clothesline poles in my back yard. Someone made two 5' tall and 2' wide "T"s out of 2-inch pipe, drilled 5 holes through the T's, put eye bolts in those and set them into the ground in concrete. When the old lady moved out and I moved in I"m sure they figured that they'd never see clothes hanging on them again. They were right. I took the clothesline off them.

    And put up plastic coated wire, as the line was too weak to hold tents, tarpaulins, sleeping bags and other camping gear that I hang on it regularly when I come home from a campout. I usually leave them up a couple of days at least to air out real good.

  4. No clothes line, but I built an industrial strength drying rack from IKEA Broder series pieces. Sadly, the series was discontinued this year.

    Florida law restricts what HOAs can say about clotheslines under laws governing "renewable energy devices". Your readers may want to review their respective state laws.

    The puckered sphincters in charge of our HOA banned vegetable gardens. "We don't want the neighborhood to look like a farm."

  5. Thanks for this trip down memory lane. I don't hang clothes, but I loved being with my great-grandmother when she did. She, too, would set up the ironing board in front of the TV and watch her "programs" as she worked.

    The older I get, the more I miss the time I spent with my great-grandma. Funny how that works, huh?

  6. Ah, the smells, emotions and the memories will always allow those days to live forever. I haven't had a clothesline since moving out in the dusty west, I miss it too. Out here it doesn't just get dry - it also gets sandblasted.

  7. They still can't quite bottle that fresh air smell from clothes dried on the line by mom... close, but not quite...

    Dann in Ohio

  8. I love my clothes line for many of the same reasons you mention in this post. I feel a connection to many of my generations through the use of it. Mine serves a double purpose, and comes in handy when dressing meat chickens. :-)

  9. My 92 y.o. mother still hangs out the clothes 12 months a year in Massachusetts. You're right, there's nothing quite like the fragrance of washed clothes or sheets or pillow cases dried in fresh air. My favorite was early spring or mid fall, when the air was cooler and drier. I miss that.

  10. Just a quick note as I spent the evening back at the hospital (not to worry, they just amped up some of my meds forgetting that whole study about redheads and pain and likely antibiotics( being the same way.

    But Catherine - you SO have to tell us the story of the chickens!!


  11. Dennis

    Oops I am bad. I realized that my post to you was bad grammar and might give the impression that the injury that I posted was mine, that would be incorrect. My last statement was from the fact that do not go to the doctor a lot. For example exploded Appendicitis (that took sometime to convenience me to go to the hospital)or nail punctures in the feet (never did).

    Sorry for my error. Glad you are getting better.


  12. You'd have to pry my freedom and independence from my cold, dead hands before you'd catch me in a 'burbian hell that is a subdivision with HOAs chock full of codes and covenants.

    If I could only convince my wife that our monthly electric bill could be half or less if we hung our clothes on the line. I hang them and she brings them in, fearful that spiders or ants might get in them while outside. (sigh)

  13. Take good care Brighid.

    The last couple of subdivisions I lived in prior to moving to the two farms prohibited clothes lines.
    When we moved to the country, I had my husband build a wooden one with multiple rows so I could walk out and hang many things standing in almost one position. It was amazing the LUXURY it was. Free quick drying faster than the dryer many times ! On the months in which I use the line dryer, we save $80. in electricity.
    I still use a dryer for some things and on days with torrential downpour, but I love using a clothes line, and occasionally, I love the smell of sheets that are ironed, and perhaps even hit with some spray starch. Laundry is one of the few chores in the house that I actually enjoy. Shhhhhh, don't tell the feminists ! LOL

  14. I remember the old bottle-top sprinkler! My Mom probably still has hers...

    No clothesline here( HOA), and it is pretty dusty in TX, with a lot of birds...but I DO love the scent of a dog that's been out laying in the sunshine. My Sunshine Hounds!

  15. I don't have a line, but rather a rack. I put clothes on the hangers straight out of the wash, then hang them on the rack. It saves me from hanging them up, taking them down, then hanging them up again--just pull the hangers off the rack and go straight to the closet.

  16. My mother used a brown beer bottle with a sprinkler cork. My Dad had painted it with flowers so it didn't look so tacky. She used that for years and years. I remember her dampening the clothes with starch and rolling them up and putting them in the refrigerator until she ironed them.
    Her favorites were Search for Tomorrow and Days of Our Lives. They were only 15 minutes long at first. Her other favorites during the day were Kate Smith and Liberace.
    Great memories - thanks Brigid.

  17. Ah, childhood memories... I too love that smell. But that was much more rural and in a different part of the country.

    Here and now, which is a city in a desert, a clothes line would be legal (absence of "creeds, covenants, and restrictions" and a Neighborhood Association of Underemployed Busybodies was one of the criteria in our home search), but we don't use one because the idea of doing the laundry is to make it cleaner. Also to still have it when you get back from work, rather than realizing that a dust devil sucked it off the clothesline and distributed it around the neighborhood.

    However, an indoor drying rack works just fine for towels, the main consumer of electricity in the dryer. We finish the towels in the dryer after they've been on the rack for most of the day, to soften them up a bit and knock the lint off. The drying is efficient, and the increment of indoor humidity is welcome, except during the few weeks of summer "monsoon".

    We got the foldable rack from Costco. It is down to a wing and a prayer after losing some of its hard plastic connectors to a teething husky/German shepherd cross,* but worked pretty well and is easy to strike when you need it to be out of the way.

    * We'll take credit for training her not to do that, even though realistically she probably just outgrew it. See also: taking the contents of the drying rack, dragging them around the house, and enticing the other dog into a game of Tug of Towel. With two big dogs and two kittens (atop a permanent population of four adult cats) we don't need a critter-cam to determine what goes on all day when we're gone; standard natural disaster / WMD forensics are usually adequate.

  18. I'm probably the only one from that era that doesn't appreciate clothes lines. I never liked hanging up and taking down clothes. And I didn't like the way towels came out - stiff and scratchy! I like things out of the dryer that usually don't need ironing! (Don't like ironing, either!) But a smile came across my face when you mentioned the bottle with the sprinkler top used to sprinkle clothes! I remember those. I admit it, I'm spoiled by my dryer. It even has a feature on it that tosses clothes around every minute or so after the time is up, so that things stay wrinkle free until I get down in the basement to take things out and neatly fold or hang them!

  19. Another great post that also brings me the memory of my Grandma doing the wash every Monday like clock work. Mom doing the same until we moved to L.A. in the 70's then she stopped hanging clothes outside due to the smog and funky smells.

    Thanks for sharing.

  20. My pastor once gave me a very funny look the day I told him that I found doing laundry to be a very spiritual process.

    While I dislike the whole folding thing (especially now, because it hurts to do so), I love making sure my family's clothing is clean, and I take special care with important things like Duckies.

  21. This is one of my favorite posts you've written. The smell of line-dried sheets is like nothing else, and I love towels a little rough from some time spent airing.

    I adore your eyeless bunny. Such a sweet and lovely treasure. Thanks for sharing this.


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