Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
When I was a kid, I remember my parents talking about things that were common when they were young, but had disappeared over the years. They were talking about things like buggy whips. Everyone had a buggy whip or two, but when Henry Ford came along, no one needed buggy whips anymore.
In more recent years, the same thing has happened with clotheslines. It used to be that every backyard had a clothesline, or often several clotheslines. Our yard on West Fifth Street had a permanent wire one that we never took down. Then there were a couple other rope lines that my mother put up on laundry days.
I can’t blame Henry Ford for getting rid of clotheslines. It was companies that made clothes driers, like GE and Whirlpool. I didn’t like to see clotheslines disappear because I have a lot of fond memories of them.
Monday was washday for most folks, and you could tell a lot about a family by looking at their clothesline. Let’s say a new family moved into your neighborhood, and you had never met them. You could look at their clothesline on Monday, and you could tell whether or not there were kids in that household. You could even tell if the kids were boys or girls, or maybe both.
But clotheslines were used for other things besides drying laundry. In the spring, for example, when we did our “spring cleaning,” my dad would drape our rugs over the clothesline, and then he beat the daylights out of them with a wire “carpet beater.
One of the strangest uses of a clothesline I ever saw was at a house on Walnut Street. The man who lived there, I think his name was Fancy, was a turtle hunter. He would catch hard-shelled snapping turtles, and clean and dress them to make a delicious turtle soup. I don’t know how you clean and dress a turtle, but in the process he sometimes had a couple of turtle shells hanging from his clothesline. I never tasted his soup, but my dad told me it was really good.
My favorite clothesline memory, however, is a day in 1943, when a friend of mine named Dick Foley and I were playing on our back porch on South Court Street. It was a closed-in porch, with a good-sized window overlooking the back yard. Dick and I sometimes used the porch to play “Flying Fortress.” We sat on a couple of tall stools and pretended that the porch was a B-17 bomber. It was a great place for us to bomb the daylights out of Germany.
One day as we played there, a couple of robins got in a fight just outside the window. Actually, it appeared to be one really mean robin and another one that was pretty meek. The mean robin was chasing the meek one all over the yard. He chased him and pecked at his head. He just wouldn’t leave that poor bird alone.
Finally, the meek robin had enough and decided to fly away. He took off like a rocket, flying maybe six inches above our wire clothesline. The mean robin was in hot pursuit, but he misjudged his position, and he flew right into the wire clothesline.
The whole thing happened right in front of us – no more than 10 or 12 feet away. The mean bird took a nosedive right into the ground. He flopped around a couple times, and then he took off after the meek robin once again.
In all the years I knew Dick, I saw him do a lot of laughing, but I never saw him laugh as hard as he did that day, especially when the mean bird took off again to renew the chase.
Now move the calendar foreword maybe 40 years or more. Dick was living in Florida, and he came back to Marysville to visit. He stopped at our house, and we both had a great time reliving many of our boyhood experiences. When I brought up that day on our back porch, he started laughing again, just as hard as he did on the day it happened.
That’s a really nice memory for me, for maybe a year or more later, Dick was making another trip to Ohio, and we would get together again. But he never made it to our house. I got a phone call from a friend of his who told me Dick had been killed in an auto accident on the way to Marysville.
So clotheslines today evoke a lot of memories for me. I guess that’s why I don’t like to see them disappear.
Those wishing to contact Bill Boyd can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org