Monday, October 26, 2009


Until perhaps twenty years ago, Monday in the Southern USA was also known as Wash Day. New Orleans even had a special dish you could smell simmering past the doors of almost every house---Red Beans and Rice. It was quick to put together and could perk away on the stove til the washday crew finished or became plumb tuckered out and stopped for a bite.

But I guess Maytag Man, with the ease of rush-home-from-work-put-in-a-load-of-clothes an everyday thing, put the marking of that day out of fashion, and think that is a nostalgic loss, though certainly not mourned for the labor or the drudgery of spending an entire day-a-week slapping those wet clothes around on washboards and in boiling pots in the back yard.

I’ve been thinking all this Summer how much I’d like a little clothesline strung across the back garden---our neighbors on each side have one, and the sight of their brilliant-white bed linens and quilts flapping in the sunshine is a quick flash back in time, to the days of hanging out those fresh-washed clothes. The scent of the diapers and the other small garments, washed in the gentlest of powders---Ivory Snow---was just the cleanest, most wonderful smell, and the Duz-or-Oxydol-washed sheets and cottons---the air and sun lent a freshness to them which pervaded the whole house as they were brought in for folding.

I had the neatest little pin-bag---a nice little white canvas bag looped onto a heavy wire ring, with a thick upstanding prong for hanging onto the line. I slid it along ahead of me as I reached into the basket for the wet garments, starting always with the largest and tapering to the socks. And I’m not dicey about a great deal of organization---that’s just the way I hung things, and the way I enjoyed looking at them on the line. There’s a great satisfaction in the sight of three or four lines of sweet-smelling laundry, flapping in the sun; sheets like yacht-sails and little shirts as smaller pennants for the mast---that’s a sight I miss, though I would not trade this wonderful Roper gas dryer for a Beemer.

And I do still have a box of pins in the utility room; these are probably from Dollar General, and I got what I paid for---flimsy sticks with loopy wires which plink and catapult one side or another off behind the washer at the least touch sometimes. But the pins come in handy for small things which don’t need to go into the dryer. I’ve always loved the look of those pinch-pins we used to make Christmas-tree toy soldiers out of, the smooth pale wood and the little spraddled legs for grasping, but I’ve never had any luck in learning to make those catch hold of two garment-laps---four thicknesses altogether, which is the best way to hang things. I see folks in movies and on TV, hanging clothes by the corners, two pins per garment, space, another garment---what a waste, and what a need for a historical consultant to show them how it’s really done. The only rightful owners of a pin-to-themselves are socks, and I’ve pinned many a duo of those, as well.

When my children were very young, and before I had a dryer, I had two sets of clotheslines---a neat set of three, strung from matching T-posts we set in concrete in the back yard, with long notched-top poles set aslant at whatever angle and height was required to keep the longest sheet or blanket off the ground. I can still feel the rough square of the "prop" as I'd finish the hanging, then grasp that long pole and slide it forward on the ground, lifting the long stretches of line higher and higher into the wind.

A silly memory is of my Mother, whose snippy opinion of a neighbor was formed because the woman went into great gales of laughter when the whole line of fresh-washed clothes for her four rowdy boys collapsed onto the wet, muddy ground just as she finished hanging them. Mother thought that anybody who could laugh at THAT must not be quite all there, but I thought Mrs. Freeman was the most fun Mama in the whole bunch---she'd run out and catch a forward pass or go fishing with her gaggle of elbows-and-shouts boys when other town ladies were settling the affairs of nations at the Civic Club or Town Hall. I just loved her, and still remember that hilarious washday when she LAUGHED uproariously before picking up those bedraggled, muddy clothes to start all over.

The other set was indoors, for rainy-day drying---the thin-but-stout nylon roping secured to strong hooks in the beadboard up next to the ceiling in the "spare room." And with two in diapers, twice, there was a lotta wash and hanging, out or in. On rainy days, I'd pull the stout cords over to the hooks, loop them on, and hang those saggy-wet clean Curity diapers by the dozens. It took a while for those to dry, and sometimes I'd have to rotate a line or two, but with the little gas heater on LOW and the doors closed, we had a nice little warm place for taking care of laundry.

I always felt so sorry for the children of a relative whose Wintertime house always smelled of pee from the warmed-overs drying on one of those little rickety tinkertoy racks in front of the heater. If it had meant I had to wash out all those diapers by hand in the bathroom sink and dry them over the shower rod, you do what you have to do to keep your family clean.

I may put in my request for a set of lines out back in the Spring---I'd SO love to bring in armloads of sheets and blankets and spreads to go on our beds again. Or just look out at them, blowing in the sunshine. The softener and detergent companies are missing a sure thing---bottling the scent of sun-fresh, air-dried clothes.


Kouign Aman said...

"I may put in my request for a set of lines out back in the Spring"...
Oh do! I LOVE my clothes line!

Towels and whatnot take forever to dry in the dryer - using electricity and heating up the house even more.
On the line, they are beautiful patches of color mapping the changes in wind direction, as they cool the yard a tad as well.

racheld said...

OH, KA!!

What a lovely way to express it! I'm heartened to hear of you young women with a penchant for the clothesline way of life. Nothing like it for fresh-smelling clothes.

Tonja said...

I remember learning how to hang clothes the proper way! Yes, you double up on the corners and that way you never run out of clothes pins! Nothing smells as good as sheets dried in the warm summer sun! I think 'clean' and 'fresh' and 'goodness' just get baked into those sheets!

The first time I hung out Mom's brassieres, I hung them straigh across, as oppossed to pinning one strap and letting the rest dangle. I can still see her face as she taight me the right way to hang them!

Great memories! I actually have a collection of clothesline pictures that I love to look at just for the sweet memories they bring!

racheld said...


I do hope you'll do a post about the clotheslines soon, and let us see!!

Southern Lady said...

I, too, have "clothesline memories," Rachel. There is just nothing like crisp, fresh sheets that have spent the day in the sunshine, and even though they were "scratchy," towels seemed like they dried better when they were hung outside to dry. I love the convenience of our modern day dryers, but clotheslines always invoke fond memories of helping my mama and grandmother "bring in the clothes off the line."

Anonymous said...

I think there is some kind of bond or gene running through the Everett family. Ashlea and I were just talking about getting ourselves a clothesline this morning. And so I was amazed reading this post tonight. Now we absolutely must all get us a line. Think you could talk Nail into getting one also?

love ya angel

Cape Coop said...

We want a clothesline here at the Coop! We dry almost everything on racks in the house- the drying takes forever and then a day longer!