Tuesday, January 5, 2010

March anticipation

This is the first time I've been without a clothesline. I was reminded of this one blustery day in November when I visited my folks' farm and they met me at the car with their empty laundry basket and yesterday's work clothes whipping on the line. In their case the clothesline runs from one of the barns to a pretty serious antenna tower. They have another short clothes line for dish towels and washrags outside the back door. The dish clothes don't grow mold at Redbarn.
Our first little house didn't offer much in the way of amenities: no pavement, no furnace, no closets. And even though we built our first little greenhouse there, I don't remember having the pleasure of a clothes line.
Our first house in town was a solid move up. Not only were there lovely shade trees in front and back yards, but a large garden spot in one side yard, an attached garage, and a substantial t-bar clothesline with multiple wires behind the house. That was fortunate: by that time I was washing not just overalls and t shirts, but two sets of little girl clothing and all the concomitant sheets, towels, bibs, and blankies associated with small people. Hanging out clothes with children is a chore I never minded. Kids can be all kinds of help...just today Lizzie helped me put laundry away at her house. One trip up the stairs with one of Aaron's socks. A second trip up the stairs with her mommy's purple pullover. Yet another trip with her "shiny" jeans. We would all burn calories if we did chores like Lizzie does. My kids would find their clothes, would hand me clothes pins, or just use the opportunity to chase around the back yard. It was a first rate clothesline and I would duplicate it in an instant here at Spruce.
Back to the farm we went and with a dryer that was becoming a relic, a new line was extended from the back door out to the elm tree. At first I had a fancy retractable line, but it proved no match for either the weight of our denim or the force of the back door when the wind caught it. A longer lag screw higher up on the house and nylon rope with a test weight heavy enough to tow a boat made the whole set up more durable. I wasn't quite prepared for the increased wind force on the hilltop as compared to the bottom, so there were days when I scurried around the yard chasing shirts and especially sheets that ripped free. That clothesline was death to clothespins; no cheap little short clips would do, no pretty colored plastic pins and even the sturdy old fashioned pins we made dolls from would fly away. Long new pins studded the sheets and towels three per on days when the wind came scudding from the south over the corn field. At least the line was in the back of the house, away from the limy road dust on dry summer days. When the auger, trucks and combines rolled in for harvest, the season for drying clothes outdoors came to a halt.
I had more than one spring when I fought our furry friends to a draw over clothing property rights. Tommy and Holly outgrew the clothesline before they quit digging up newly planted shrubs or perennials. Charlie never showed much interest in the clothes; she would rather dig her way into the greenhouses. But Frisky, who was a gorgeous movie star of a lab, tried my patience to its limit as she grabbed the flapping towels and hauled them away. She did outgrow that sin because she was a smart animal. But someone else recognized her beauty and spirit and stole her just a quickly as she appeared at our door. I never could leave sheets out overnight; the birds roosting in the elm would leave their calling cards with their carols for the morn.
The moment that stands out the most was the spring we were expecting Ben. Someone had given me a whole basket of little green and yellow shirts, baby towels, and socks. By then it had been more than several years since I'd washed and sorted little bitty clothes. It was touching, exciting, full of portent, anticipation and hope. I've changed, dressed, and washed countless little clothes since then, but every woman counts the events she does for the final time with her growing children.
Last summer we reinstated the vegetable garden here at Spruce; hadn't had one at home since we moved. Last summer I set four posts to trellis grapes. Nothing to stop me from digging some holes, securing some treated posts, and stretching some heavy duty rope. I don't have as many little clothes to wash these days, but the grandkids come to play in the sand and potting soil so they can be hosed off. And even without basketball unis, volleyball knee pads, practice pants, and other temporal clothing, there are still lots of overalls, towels and sheets to bake to a crisp in the sun.


  1. Love it. See www.laundrylist.org and spread the word.

  2. nothing makes your jeans stand up on their own quite like a Deadman Hollow's wind...