The outdoor drying device known as the clothesline, used by our mothers and grandmothers, is soon to be a thing of the past. While I do remember using the clothesline a bit with my mother before she was able to have an electric dryer, most of the memories of it come from my grandmother.
She had a ringer washer, the kind that sloshed the wash around a bit, and after the water went down a drain in the floor of her cellar, the clothes were fed one by one through a crank ringer to get most of the water out. Then all the semi-dry wash went to the clothesline to finish drying.
When they dried, the clothes were stiffer than our clothes that we take out of the dryer now, but one thing that was really wonderful was the scent, especially sheets. They smelled so fresh on your bed. We may be the last generation that will remember what a clothesline was.
Some basic rules for clotheslines were: You had to hang the socks by the toes, not the tops. This might be so the top of the sock wouldn’t be crimped by the clothespin. You had to wash the clothesline before hanging any clothes on it. That meant walking the entire length of each line with a damp cloth around the lines.
You had to hang the clothes in a certain order, and always hang “whites” with “whites,” and hang them first. Washday was on a Monday. No one would hang clothes on the weekend or on Sunday for Heaven’s sake! You had to hang sheets and towels on the outside lines so you could hide your “unmentionables” on the middle ones. Clothes should be off the line before dinnertime, neatly folded in the clothesbasket, ready to be ironed. (Ironed? Well, that’s a whole other subject!)
I came across this poem recently. It describes the feeling of those times when people used a clothesline to dry their wash:
“A clothesline was a news forecast, to neighbors passing by,
There were no secrets you could keep, when clothes were hung to dry.
It also was a friendly link, for neighbors always knew
If company had stopped on by, to spend a night or two.
For then you’d see the ‘fancy sheets,’ and towels upon the line;
You’d see the ‘company table cloths,’ with intricate designs.
The line announced a baby’s birth, from folks who lived inside,
As brand new infant clothes were hung, so carefully with pride!
The ages of the children could, so readily be known
By watching how the sizes changed, you’d know how much they’d grown!
It also told when illness struck, as extra sheets were hung;
Then nightclothes and a bathrobe too, haphazardly were strung.
It also said, ‘On vacation now,’ when lines hung limp and bare.
It told, ‘We’re back!’ when full lines sagged, with not an inch to spare!
New folks in town were scorned upon, if wash was dingy and gray,
As neighbors carefully raised their brows, and looked the other way.
But clotheslines now are of the past, for dryers make work much less.
Now what goes on inside a home is anybody’s guess.
I really miss that way of life, it was a friendly sign,
When neighbors knew each other best
By what hung on the line.”
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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