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My family ties are made of clothesline

July 19, 2010

Halfway through building my clothesline, I recognized it as part of an ongoing attempt to recreate the backyard of my childhood. There’s a post or three right there, but at the moment I’m obsessed with the clothesline.

When I was little, every decent home had a clothesline in the yard or on a porch. An unexpected rain shower sent a “code red” sweeping through the neighborhood as screen doors banged and women dashed out to grab dry or nearly dry clothes off the lines. Yes, at the risk of dating myself, it was all up to the women back then! I even remember being sent next door to rescue our neighbor’s laundry from the rain when she wasn’t at home. Nobody objected to clothes lines in general, but it was considered tacky to hang clothes outdoors on Sundays, or in the front yard ever. (At our house an exception was made on Sundays for wet bathing suits.)

Hanging out laundry and bringing it in is probably the first chore I learned to do on my own, and it remained one of my favorites.  Handling cool, wet clothes felt good on hot days (and in the wintertime, probably offered just the right taste of hardship for an eight-year old). Dry, they smelled fresh and clean and somehow made me feel like things were being kept in order. The clothesline was a great place to examine interesting bugs–it seems to me now there were always big, weird beetles and dragonflies out there–and a wonderful place to dawdle undetected. Still, the arrival of my mother’s first automatic clothes dryer was like Christmas in July. (My sister and I honestly believed a dishwasher–our first choice, by far–couldn’t be far behind, but that didn’t come until we’d both left for college.)

I expected to use my new clothesline just when I felt like it. Mainly, I wanted it as yard art. But I haven’t turned on my dryer in over a month. I like the crisp feeling of my t-shirts and nightgowns and sheets, and find towels are more absorbent when air-dried. Everything has a fresh, clean smell that no dryer sheet can replicate. Most of all, I like feeling connected with my mother and grandmothers and great-grandmothers and aunts whenever I use it. Hardly anything else I do around the house gives me that feeling of connectedness. I hope I never have to do without a backyard clothesline again.

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