Friday, June 12, 2009

Current Day Eyesore A Lovely Memory

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo DaVinci

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.


  1. There is nothing like sinking your face into a pillowcase that was tried on a clothesline on a breezy, sunny day!

    I still have a clothesline that I use mostly for my husband's shirts; he loves how they feel and smell. You know something? I wouldn't want to live in a place where clotheslines and veggie gardens are banned. That's the problem with some communities these days anyway - people live in subDIVISIONS instead of NEIGHBORhoods.

    Thanks for this post. We seem to think alike on many things.

    I hope you have a great weekend,

  2. Living on a farm in the Yorkshire Dales - out in fine countryside - I do not own a drier. I hang my washing out on a line, in blows in the breeze and, as you say, smells wonderful. I still take a pride in getting my white washing WHITE - I think the death knell was sounded really when automatic washing machines came in - there is such a temptation to throw everything in together. I just love to see a line full of pure white sheets, towels and pillowcases blowing in the breeze. I suppose I am old fashioned - but I don't care!

  3. I have NEVER lived where I didn't have a clothes line! I would not want to either!
    I hang everything thing except our dress clothes out, weather permitting!

  4. I love the feel and smell of clothes dried on a line in the sun. Especially towels.

  5. I haven't used a clothes line since I was a kid. When we lived in AZ I would put my clothes outside on a drying rack, but unfortunately they would be covered in small "jumping" spiders when I took them in. I think the spiders were looking for a cool place out of the desert sun. When we moved back to RI I told my husband I wanted a clothes line. I got the "trashy" comment from him. Humph! I tried putting them out on drying racks, but those nice clean breezes blew them over. Maybe I'll bring the idea up to him again. Maybe I can convince him!

  6. I haven't lived in a house with a clothes line for eight years because it didn't come with our last two houses. But when we did have one, here in Georgia, if you didn't bring your wash in in a timely fashion, you either had to leave them out til the next day, or take in a wash that was as wet as when you first put it out! HUMIDITY!

  7. The eyesore factor is what keeps a lot of our energy from being produced. *Blogger with politically incorrect views ducking now*:

  8. Definitely not an eyesore. The sight of clothes hanging on a line to dry is a visual delight of the art of simplicity to me. I have a clothesline and I will be using it this summer! Esp for my sheets. :) Here in KS, the wind and sun are perfect for drying sheets and clothes.

    (And I remember mom hanging out the clothes when I was young, and I also remember hiding behind them when we played kick the can!!!)

  9. Clotheslines remind me of growing up in the deserts of Phoenix. Didn't take long for the wash to dry. But I know my mom loved the day she got a washer and dryer, because with six kids and a fulltime job, there just wasn't time for hanging clothes, let alone sheets and pillow cases. Still, when I see a clothesline, I think of when we were kids, running between and around those damp clothes. She didn't like that much, especially if we tugged them down. Yeah, she was happy when that dryer showed up.

  10. I haven't dried my clothes on a line in over 30 years. This brings back so many childhood memories for me because this is how, I too, grew up. For ten years I lived in one of those subdivisions that banned clotheslines... never again!! I agree, with the economy the way it is along with the energy crisis we face, clotheslines should definitely make a comeback!

  11. I love laundry that dried in the sun,a s long as it is not a pair of my pants :)!

  12. I get my fill of it whenever I visit India. :)

    "the sun bleached the wash and made the whites whiter while they waved in the daylight."

    Lovely lilt in that line.

  13. I have never been without my clothesline no matter where in the world I have lived. One of my memmories of 35 years ago before the days of disposable nappies was hanging my clean white nappies on the line every morning. That is another concept I can't get my head around - that disposable nappies are somehow more hygenic than clothe ones. Sometime I think these concepts are just a marketing ploy.


  14. I always hang my clothes out. And, I hang them in the basement by the dehumidifier in the winter! I love it.

  15. Hung out two loads of wash today AND planted a garden. I'm going to modern day hell! Who knew I was being fashionably absurd? I thought I was being smart and hey, I enjoyed myself. It is so fine to hang clothes out. It just feels right.

  16. Great post! :) We have to hang dry everything now since driers aren't as common in a lot of countries as they are in n.america. While i love the ease of line drying some things really need a drier: like towels! LOL

  17. I has no idea so many folks still used clotheslines.

    I'm having a sensory flashback too. I can feel the wooden clothes pins we used in New Mexico to hang clothes. It was one of my dreaded chores as a kid, at least the hanging heavy wet clothes part. Taking down was fine.

    What are clothes pins made of these days?

  18. I couldn't live in a house without a clothesline. Line-dried sheets and towels are among my favorite sensual pleasures. It's a challenge in the Pacific Northwest to find dry days to hang stuff out in, but not an impossible one.

  19. I think clotheslines are awesome. So fun and interesting. I grew up with them, too, and used them when I first got my own house. I had a washer but no dryer.

    Growing up it was fun to sit between the lines of sheets, cross-legged with pals and make secret whispers, plans and dream.

    Good stuff. Thanks for the reminiscing! :)

  20. I adore getting to read a piece written on something so very specific--yet so emblematic of so much. There is romance, nostalgia, deliberate living, and thoughtfulness in hanging a sheet. You have captured it, sis.

  21. We also used a clothesline in SF where I grew up till we could afford a dryer. Even now, I use a drying rack inside the house for things I don't put in the dryer. Thank you for the remembrance.

  22. As much as I love hanging sheets and clothes on a line, those of us here in Austin with allergies would sneeze our fool heads off with all the pollen that would infiltrate the fabric.
    So, for me, it's hanging them up inside...not the same smell or experience at all!

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