Though it was a lifetime ago, I can still remember the beauty of it all — colorful clothes and sheets hanging on the long lines in our backyard in Warner Robins. Shirts and towels waved in the breeze like flags along sagging wires. Sometimes, as I sat in an old swing surveying the neighborhood, a warm wind would fill and lift a bed sheet, transforming it into a magnificent ship’s sail. I watched it rise and dreamed of pirates, peg legs, eye patches and chests full of gold. Other times, I lifted my nose to smell the sweet freshness of our laundry detergent or fabric softener. I loved the fragrance of Downy.
We had a clothesline, and all of our neighbors had clotheslines. It was how everyone dried their clothes back then. And because the yards in our subdivision were divided by wire fencing, and there was no real privacy from one backyard to the next, we saw their unmentionables — underwear and bras — flapping away, and they saw ours.
My father was a Fruit of the Loom man. He preferred white briefs with extra fabric a couple of inches down each leg and plain white crew socks. When Mom did the laundry, she hung the “whites” (Daddy’s underwear, undershirts, socks and handkerchiefs) in a straight line, placing clothespins here and there so they wouldn’t fall to the ground as they dried. Our neighbor’s clothesline showcased boxer shorts sometimes, which I found quite odd.
It was the lady folk who hung out the laundry and folded it when it was dry and somewhat stiff. When I got old enough, I helped, too. I still remember the squeaky creak sound some of the wooden clothespins made as I pinched the legs together to open the spring-loaded mouth. There was an art to hanging the laundry — a preferred technique, like the particular ways people like to load their dishwashers. I learned to hang out laundry from my mother, so I adopted her technique. We hung shirts upside down by clipping the bottom to the wire. And Mom taught me to hang shirts and underwear close together so that they could share clothespins.
When we visited my Grandmother Lanier and Aunt Colleen outside of Metter, and found ourselves bored, sometimes we’d borrow some of her clothespins, connect three or four together by cocking them in a line (front to back), and transform the wooden objects into weapons of mass destruction. I still remember sitting on the side porch of the farmhouse threatening to lob my crude clothespin missile toward my sister and my cousin, Stuart, so that it would snap them like little alligators. They never worked as planned, and no one ever got pinched (as I recall), but the endeavor and the taunting filled gaps of time for us young ‘uns. Call me crazy, but I still hang my laundry on a clothesline sometimes to let it dry in the hot Georgia sun — not every load, and not year round, but a lot. In the spring, summer and fall months, I carry armfuls of wet garments and linens out to the back deck, shake out or snap each item and hang along the handrails, a metal clothing rack that folds up like an accordion, or a coated clothesline that spans from our garage door to the breakfast room window. Clothes dry quickly in our south-facing location, and what’s even more interesting, they smell fresh and clean when I carry them back in, less than an hour later.
Of course, hanging out laundry isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Last week, a thunderstorm popped up and dumped buckets of rain on a load of my sun-drying towels. By the time I heard the clack of thunder, it was too late to get out there and retrieve them. Afterwards, they were saturated and I had to re-spin them and hang them all over again. Oh well. It wasn’t the first time that has happened, and it won’t be the last.
I’m not sure why I choose to hang my laundry. Part of me has a longing to conserve energy and save money by letting the sun and the heat work their magic, but there’s something more to my decision. I think it’s nostalgia.
Don’t get me wrong. We have a nice LG clothes dryer in our laundry room with more features and functions than you can shake a stick at. I especially love the “steam dewrinkle” function, and I use it a lot on days when I need to refresh a garment before rushing out the door. And I use our dryer when I’m in a hurry or do the laundry in the evenings.
But there’s something calming and peaceful about clotheslines full of laundry. Something dazzling. Something ancient. Something that connects me to my past.