As soon as the sun starts getting higher and the snow starts melting, a certain, old feeling creeps into my heart. Its that “hanging out the wash” kind of a feeling, and as soon as it is possibly warm enough to just maybe dry instead of freeze the clothes I’ve hung out to dry, the urge to get my basket, apron and pins and hang out a load or two becomes hard to resist.
In fact, the first three questions I asked Scott when he called me during our engagement to tell me about the rental he was thinking of taking for us, were if it had a real mail box, if I might be able to have a garden, and if having a clothesline was possible. When he answered yes to all three, there wasn’t much else that mattered!
Hanging out the wash to dry has always been one of my favorite chores. I’m not sure if it is the good feeling you have inside, standing out there in the fresh air, or the wonderful, wonderful smell of air-dried towels and bedding that makes me love it so much, but whatever it is, I do think I would hang all my wash out to dry. Except, of course, for that small detail of not actually having a clothesline yet (these are apparently extinct in some corners of this world, or I’m asking too much for my line to be sturdy-like, so it can bear up the weight of more than a couple towels at a time.), I think I might do just that and have everything smelling sweet and fresh as God’s good, clean air can make them!
Of course, while the “rules of clotheslines” aren’t quite so well-followed or as socially important as they may have been at one time, I can’t help but think of them a time or two, especially when I, horror of horrors, hung my wash out on the weekend.
THE BASIC RULES FOR CLOTHESLINES OF THE PAST:
1. You had to wash the clothes line before hanging any clothes – walk the entire lengths of each line with a damp cloth around the lines.
2. You had to hang the clothes in a certain order, and always hang “whites” with “whites,” and hang them first.
3. You never hung a shirt by the shoulders – always by the tail!. What would the neighbors think?
4. Wash day on a Monday! . .. . Never hang clothes on the weekend, for heaven’s sake!
5. Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines so you could hide your “unmentionables” in the middle
6. It didn’t matter if it was sub zero weather … clothes would “freeze-dry.”
7. Always gather the clothes pins when taking down dry clothes! Pins left on the lines were “tacky!”
8. If you were efficient, you would line the clothes up so that each item did not need two clothes pins, but shared one of the clothes pins with the next washed item.
9. Clothes off of the line before dinner time, neatly folded in the clothes basket, and ready to be ironed.
10. Fresh sheets on the bed guarantee a good nights rest!
I’m not the only one who loves clotheslines or hanging up the wash to dry. It seems like I’m in good company there, and with having a certain attraction (addiction, Scott says) to mail boxes. For some of us, hanging out the wash is a way of life. For some of us, its a sort of tradition of the simple, quiet life that our hearts love– a tradition we can’t quite give up most days. For others, it was only reality for Grandma, when what you hung on the line told the story of your life.
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, “Gone 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 out on the line.
The Clothesline Said So Much, by Marilyn K. Walker
With Spring just around the corner (or in my wishful thoughts, it is at least), and with the mountain of laundry I just had to dry in the drier, I got to thinking about clotheslines, and the basic rules of when hanging out the wash was the weekly chore of every housewife across the country. That’s when I think the most of that list and the accompanying poem that have made me smile over the years, and of all the happy summers I spent hanging out my wash to dry. And just as soon as it is warm enough, I’m sure those wash day heart stirrings will be hard to resist. Only, of course, I don’t think I’ll try.