Saturday, June 25, 2011

I've been clotheslined

My great-grandmother described her Mondays in her diary as "monster wash day", or "worked liked beavers" or "did mine and Carol's wash today - done in". That was back before electric washers, when you shaved pieces of soap from a big bar, when you did all your washing one day, and all your ironing the next, when you hung everything on a line whether it was sunny, rainy, or even snowy. I wondered about those snowy days. I know one can't always predict rain, but I never could understand how anyone could put out the wash when there was snow.

There was one entry when she described hanging up the wash IN THE BASEMENT. (I've been in that basement. I don't know that I would hang a wash there for fear the spiders would think I'd built new condominiums in the sky just for them.) I guess the basement was a little better than hanging the wash out to freezedry. There was another entry, I think during the spring months, when she noted she had to bail out the basement. (Flooding? Did the washtub get tipped over?)

Decades later, my grandmother took me out to her backyard to hang out the wash. She had a dryer inside, but on sunny days, the wash went outside. I was too short to actually hang clothes with her, but she had me hand her each piece of laundry out of the basket. She would take a damp rag out and wipe down the lines before she hung up the clothes. I asked her why and she said, "To clean off the spider webs." I nervously looked for spiders on the metal poles that supported the lines. I was relieved when I didn't find any.

She told me "When you do a shirt, you hang it upside down and stretch it as tight as you can so there are fewer wrinkles to iron out later." I squirreled that tip away in my little brain. (Grandpa almost never wore t-shirts. They were always white button-downs. My dad almost never wore t-shirts either. Being a lawyer, he always had on a suit. And then on Sundays he wore a suit to church. Even his "casual" shirts were button-downs.)

I loved when grandmother would hang her bedsheets out there. They billowed in the wind, brushing my cheek with a light moist kiss as I repeatedly raced underneath them. The dry air, tempered under the lines with evaporating moisture, felt sweeter, purer.

My mom occasionally put the wash out on the line in the summer. Especially if she had to wash a blanket or a quilt. They became dark tunnels, thick tents or whatever else the imagination required, providing a respite from the hot sun.

I finally got my own clothesline this week. I showed my kids how to stretch the shirts. There aren't many button-downs there, but there are sheets and blankets. My daughter remarked how the sheets looked like sails on a pirate ship. (Must have been lady pirates - the sheets were pink.) The younger ones exclaimed how the new clothesline would be a tent to hide in, or a cave to explore in.

I think once my kids get married and start having families of their own, I'm going to give them a clothesline and see what they remember.


Pam said...

YUP! I REMEMBER wash day too! I would help your Grandmother put the clothes through the ringer, that was always fun to try and keep from getting pulled in WITH IT! I remember the recipe for the water: 3 buckets hot to 1 bucket cold..
AND the reason for the flood was because in the process of dumping the water into the drain in the floor, it became clogged. The plumber came MANY times to unclog the drain and get the water out of the basement. I ALSO remember the clothes being hung IN the basement in the winter, pretty crowded!! SOOOO glad they invented automatic washers by the time I was married!!!!!

Lourie said...

What a wonderful memory and written so well. I felt like I was there with you.