Friday, October 21, 2011

On hanging laundry.

The only color in my yard this summer came from clean laundry 
flapping in the breeze and backlit by the sun.

When our children were very young, we lived on 10 acres of Blackland Prairie east of Austin, home to Johnson grass, bluebonnets, two trees and scads of fire ants. We were poor as church mice. When our second-hand dryer broke down, I was forced to engage in the vintage activity of hanging laundry out to dry. My husband built an iconic clothesline behind our rent house, with two galvanized iron T posts and four lines strung between.

I hated it.  I hated it as much for its symbolism of our status in the world as for its inconveniences. In summer, the clothes were stiff as boards, and about as comfortable to wear. Our underwear dangled for the world to ogle. Yellow jackets crawled over the clothes, pins and lines, waiting to zap the laundress. In winter, clothes wouldn’t dry, and so we draped them all about our very small house. But more pressingly in my young mind, CIVILIZED PEOPLE SHOULD OWN A CLOTHES DRYER!

When our fortunes improved, I bought a dryer and never looked back.

That is, until we faced the same situation here on the hill. Broken dryer, not enough scratch to purchase another. This time Dan strung clothesline between oaks in a small motte outside the laundry room. It was winter, and we frequently resorted to drying clothes over the stair rail and on hangers in doorways.

My in-laws saw our plight, and very generously gave us a dryer for Christmas.

But something had changed in me since those early years. Perhaps it was a deeper appreciation of nature, or a diminished concern for what others think, or a greater interest in the wellbeing of the planet (sounds lofty).

I now enjoy hanging laundry. Saving electricity - for my pocketbook and the planet - is how I justify the extra time it requires.  But really, I just love it.

I love the small break from inside work. Standing outside with clean, fragrant laundry in my hands, I feel the breeze and the warm, healing sunshine on my face; listen to birds singing, insects whirring, and maybe far overhead an airplane droning; look around at the trees, grass, flowers, and a vulture soaring overhead in the blue, blue sky.  These are stolen moments of peace in a cacophonous world.

Did my great-grandmothers feel this way about laundry? Their world was simpler. Perhaps this was just another household chore among many, without the luxury of a stand-by dryer. I hope that they stopped occasionally to enjoy their natural surroundings, took a deep breath of clean air as I do, and returned to their other chores rejuvenated.

Now, it’s time to bring in the laundry.

Favorite spot in the garden:

This may not look like much to you, but – hallelujah! - green stuff is growing in my yard! It seems like eons since we had a green lawn, but probably it’s been about four months. (I use the term “lawn” very loosely. These green seedlings are probably grass, wildflowers and  . . .  well, weeds.) Whenever I glance out, I must smile.


  1. Love this post, the thoughts and progression. And pictures. You're right on all counts, to be glad of frugality and to enjoy the moments outside.

    I've begun to want a clothesline but found out our homeowner's restrictions don't allow them! Or chickens either, not that it relates here but I like the mental image of hanging laundry with contented cluckers in the background...

    Re: your comment at Hill Country Mysteries, I have leftover Potion in the fridge if you want to meet to get some for your husband.

  2. My days of hanging laundry are far in the past. We were living in Germany...with a baby. Mr P was stationed there. We lived in a small village off base. Getting to the laundry on base was not only difficult, but I actually had rank pulled on me one time, and had to give up my machine. So, from then on, I washed laundry by hand in the bathtub...sheets, diapers and all. Had to build a coal fire in the water heater for hot water. Hauled them down two flights of stairs and out back to hang to dry. They froze in winter, and we'd bring them in and stand them near the heater to thaw out.

    Ha ha....Sounds quaint and romantic from this distance, but it was work. I'm very glad to have those modern appliances now. Laundry flapping the breeze is nice, too. But, I'll take my moments with nature in some other way.

    Thanks for the memories....

    And, yes....this green stuff coming up everywhere is a beautiful sight.

  3. I remember the clotheline my mom had when I was growing up. I liked to walk between the bed sheets hanging there, it was like a mysterious place, shutting out the world. You have beautifully articulated all the joys of drying clothes in the outdoors. My absolute favorite is the incredible fragrance, especially for pillowcases and sheets.

  4. Kathleen - Thanks for reading! Re the potion - my husband is leary, but thanks for the offer!

    @Linda - Good lord, that sounds awful. Not quaint and romantic at all! I don't blame you at all for forgoing this way of enjoying nature.

    @linnie - Isn't it interesting how our enjoyment of things is colored by memories? I'm glad your memories are sweet!

  5. I hung all my washing out last week. I loved it. I hardly had to iron anything because it came off the line when I was ready. I like the hard towels. they dry so much better and they all smell wonderful. I grew up with my mother hanging washing out and that was in the rainy cold north of England. Many a wash day she had to hang things on the rack in the kitchen. It was a steamy room but I can well remember the dry days when the washing was blowing in the wind. I hung my washing out in Canada( sometimes it froze) and when I moved to California got a note from the HOA about hanging out washing. That was in Reagan's time!!! Now I am hanging my washing out again. If I save some electricity- great. I still like it better than the clothes dryer.

  6. Your post makes me smile... doesn't laundry just smell wonderful when it has hung in the fresh air?
    Besides, it's solace to the soul to take in all of nature while hanging it... much better than a stuffy laundry room. Yes, I'm envious.

  7. My laundry pales (literally) next to yours. What beautiful colors!
    As a line-dryer I'm used to crunchy towels, and limp clothes out of a dryer feel too much like they felt when they went into the washer! I love to take the crisp wash off the line and as Lancashire rose said, the wind irons it.

  8. @LR - I've enjoyed reading others memories of line-drying laundry. I'm glad you live where you can line dry once again. You're right about the ironing - my son's work requires ironed white button-downs. We get that look from the clothesline!

    @Carolyn - Anything that makes household chores more enjoyable is a good thing!

    @Lona - I guess we're a colorful bunch - at least our clothes are!

  9. All i can do is close my eyes and pray my friends will not see my dads boxers.

  10. You are right. Your laundry is the only thing there that gives color to the surrounding. I can see that even the color of the trees looks appalling. Nevertheless, even if your garden doesn’t look all that great, I know it can still grow greener and healthier grass, and with a little tender loving care, and some flowers here and there, you’ll see your whole garden bloom in no time. You’re on your way, Cynthia! :D You just have to give your lawn the proper care that it truly needs to keep it healthy.