The Clothesline


Recognize this?  For centuries, it was the only way to dry clean clothes.  It’s not a perfect system.  Things stretch and stiffen.  Things fade.  But once a couple thousand years ago, some woman realized that the deer skin that her husband just peeled off their dinner would dry faster if she put it out in the sun and the breeze.  She was right, and people have been using sun and wind to dry clothing for as long as we can remember.

That’s the principle of the dryer machine, isn’t it?  Warmth, air flow, and movement.  Just different.  Electric.  Faster.

My grandma had a clothesline in her backyard.  Stretched parallel to the fence on high T-shaped poles and right in front of her large corner garden.  At one end hung a bag, drooping heavy with faded plastic clothespins.  I can still see her sheets blowing in the warm summer breeze… sheets and my grandpa’s underwear.

I don’t think we ever used a clothesline.  We had a dryer in our basement that my mom broke her arm carrying clothes down to once.

So when I went to Cambridge, England for a three week summer school in college, you can imagine my surprise when the woman at the house I was staying at told me my clothes were clean and I could go hang them up.

“Excuse me?”  I blurted out without thinking.

We exchanged comical looks, but between us was centuries of progress and change and technology.

She was incredibly humoured by the whole situation (in England that would be spelled with a ‘u’) while I felt very 21st century American.  Very new generation.  Very young and small and unaware of the world that my grandma lived in.

“I’m sorry,” I finally confessed.  “I’ve never actually hung anything on a clothesline before.  Could you show me how?”

She was delighted to teach me.  I know it’s not a hard thing, but I couldn’t bear the thought of going out there and leaving something stupid for everyone in the neighborhood to see for a day.  So I took it as a teachable moment.

And as she hung up a few things and told me the importance of leaving space and making sure they were secure so they didn’t blow down, I remembered my grandma’s clothesline in the back yard.  I remembered the smell of her fabric softener.  And the fading of her clothespins.  I remembered how natural it was to use the sun and the wind to dry her clothes and only in the dead of winter or during a rainstorm would she let the dryer hum in the little laundry room off of her kitchen.

Things have gotten easier.  Progress has brought us to a place in life where everything is faster and closer and more convenient.

But as we drift farther and farther away from how simple things were not so long ago (and still are in most of the world, actually) I hope that there continue to be things we can pass on to the next generation.  I hope they don’t go zooming on ahead of us so quickly that we never have time to explain the sun and the wind and the most basic of all household duties.

I hope we never forget how to hang clothes on a clothesline… with our children.


One thought on “The Clothesline

  1. I love this!! As a child we never really hung clothes out mainly blankets if anything. Right now we rent a house and there is a small spot to hang laundry and it is one of my favorite things here. I dont do it as often as I should- I have two small girls so its a lot of laundry! But it is wonderful the few times I have!

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