We outdoor types believe in solar drying systems, aka clotheslines. Who has not strung a line between two trees or on a cabin’s front porch, in order to dry hunting clothes or fishing duds? I hang my waders from my kids’ old swingset, but that’s another story: 101 ways to use your kids’ swingset.
Outdoor folks are a lot like folks in my neck of the woods — the Ozarks. They’re not all that particular about the “look” of the line.
In the Dakotas it has always been, and still is, a matter of pride to hang a wash. In fact my Grandma Gutie in Oberon, N.D.,, used to say, “Hang a pretty wash.” And she meant it. Her wash was always color-sorted on the line. The bloomers and undergarments went to the back, where the neighbors couldn’t snicker at them.
Here in the Ozarks, and I’m not trying to run you people down, clotheslines seem to be strung between any two objects. I’ve seen clotheslines strung across front porches, between buildings, and I even saw one hooked up under a billboard near a major highway.
And folks here don’t even use proper lines, sometimes. You see towels and swimsuits flopped over porch railings and on balconies. I’ve even seen clothes stretched out on trunks of cars.
Back in the Dakotas, everyone uses a proper clothesline, with about a 50-50 split between the original T-shaped, crosspiece design and the newfangled sort-of-circular contraption – the type that my kids loved to take for a ride when we lived in England.
And don’t even get me started about England. Very few women owned dryers, even in the Officers’ Housing Area, so they’d be out in their tiny backyards on gray, damp days, which was almost every day, hanging out their clothes.
“If they can do it, so can I,” said I, before hanging a load of blacks and blues, with underwear to the back (unless one of my kids spun the clothesline later) on a dreary day.
Later, when I went out to collect my half-baked clothes, I noticed white splotches all over them. When I got closer to the lines, I noticed that the splotches were very runny and very sticky. Furthermore, the white splotches (which by now you’ve probably assumed correctly was bird excrement) bleached the clothes. Our clothes sported a tie-dyed effect.
Although we have a multitude of birds here, they’ve never seemed interested in dive-bombing my clothesline, and they don’t do that in North Dakota, either. There must be a mean streak in the English bird population.
I read somewhere that you save an average of 66 cents per load when you hang out your clothes. Well, you may save a few pennies, but whether here or in North Dakota, England, or Timbuktu, I think you can save your sanity when you hang out clothes, and that’s worth a lot more than 66 cents.
Remember the birds? Well, in this country you get to hear them chirping, and you can feel the breeze blowing, and smell the clean scent of the clothes while you’re out there. Later, if you crawl into fresh sheets off the line on your bed, you’ll smell the sky. Can you smell blue? Yes, if you hang out your sheets, you will.
Mothers with little kids should get clotheslines (probably not the spinning kind) and take the kids outside so the kids have another good excuse to run around while Mommy hangs the wash. Mom beware, though. Keep an eye on the kiddos. One time, our baby boy ran into me with his bicycle and took me out at the knees because I was hanging a sheet and he didn’t know how to use his brakes on his bicycle very well.
When not in use for its intended purpose, a clothesline can support two blankets pinned to one line, draped down on either side and anchored by bricks and rocks. My sisters and I spent many hours inside our homemade “tents,” imagining that we were either pioneer women or veterinarians in Africa.
But most importantly, I want to put to rest the notion that owning and using a clothesline, whether strung between two power poles or properly constructed, signifies living at the poverty level. Why, even Barbra Streisand has purportedly urged Californians to use clotheslines, rather than dryers, whenever possible. I wonder if she has one in her backyard?
Regardless of what Streisand does or says, having a clothesline just makes sense/cents. I like to think you can tell a lot about some folks when you look at how they hang their wash.
So, just know that when I’m driving around, looking for the next story or trying to find your deer or fishing camp that you invited me to visit, I’ll probably look at your clothesline. Just make sure you hang your bloomers to the back.
Hey Barb! Great article! We grew up with a clothesline at almost every house we lived in up in Nebraska and I do believe it is a lost art. My mom still uses hers every chance she gets, as long as it isn’t below freezing! You brought back some good memories – thanks!
I LOVE my clothesline…even in Colorado! My only problem is that my Great Danes tend to pull clothing off the line when we are gone…I typically will find my whites in flowerbeds or sagebrush…bad dogs.
Georgette: Some people will put up a clothesline for you if you pay them money! 😉
Kirstie Pike: I didn’t know you had Great Danes, but then again, I wouldn’t have taken you for a Schnauzer sort of chick either.
Barb Hannon: We Midwest gals have to stick together. Just wait until I write about sewing my own clothes!