My very dear friend from Amarillo was shocked to discover that growing up my family hung our sheets on the line. That I cherished the clean scent and crisp texture of the sheets after a day in the fresh air and sun.
"Didn't you have a dryer," she asked in horror.
I returned the look of horror. Of course we had a dryer, but no one put their sheets in it. Dryers were for underwear, socks, and soft towels. Jeans. Had she never known the joy of sleeping in cotton sheets that had hung in the sun and absorbed the fresh scent of the day? Had she no idea how much fun it was to linger and hide among the sheets lined up on the clothesline? Perfect kick-the-can hiding place. Had she never experienced the sound of a back door opening and a mother yelling at the top of her lungs - Get out of my wash!
Perhaps if I'd grown up in West Texas, where the wind and dust can blow for days, I might share her dismay. But where I grew up, everybody's mother, grandmother, and aunt hung their sheets on the line. Even hung them in the basement in the winter.
In the warmer months, a homemaker could show off her skills with the art of a well hung wash, sheets neatly pinned in taut lines. With no fences to keep them from knowing who lived next door, many a woman gathered in their yards to converse with their neighbors, discuss their lives, and, of course, notice any dingy or poorly hung washes. Hanging outside also offered a cure beyond the Clorox bottle - the sun bleached the wash and made the whites whiter while they waved in the daylight.
A recent article from the Green, Inc. blog on the New York Times website asked if clotheslines might come back in style to save energy costs or would opposition to them as an eyesore quell that idea. What? Eyesore? I felt the writer hadn't done her homework. (A reading of the article suggests she is looking for us to provide the homework.) No discussion of the fact that clothes last longer when they are hung as opposed to dried in a dryer. That they keep their shape better, that slipping in between the crisp sheets that have been air dried is a sign of clean freshness. That detergents promise on the front of the boxes that they can satisfy the Clothesline Fresh concept.
And an eyesore? Did you know there are neighborhoods that actually ban clothes line poles in their deed restrictions as they are considered - what? I don't even want to think what they might be considered. Sort of like people who think vegetable gardens are a tacky advertisement of not being able to afford food. Or that pink flamingos in the front yard are somehow a big zit in the neighborhood.
I have a clothes line that is strung between two large trees in my backyard. I'd like to say I use it regularly, but I don't. When I do, I wonder why I don't take more time for this easy delight. I gain a gentle, methodical pleasure while hanging a wash. The matching of the corners of the sheet, reaching for the clothespin, shaking the wrinkles out to tautly connect to the lines. And then, at day's end, to fold them into my basket and bring the sweet smell of summer into the house.
Easier, faster to throw them in the dryer? Absolutely. But just as washing dishes by hand can provide therapy when the waters from the faucet pour soothingly over my hands, the time taken to hang a wash can bring a similarly simple joy. Not to mention a visual reminder of work well done as the hanging wash sways in the breeze, free of the dryer's buzz.
Economic aid? Certainly. Eyesore? Not in my mind's eye. Both too simple an explanation for a complex joy and healing touch so easily attained.