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Yesterday I received a post from my daughter forwarded to her from friends. It was a wonderful revelation of the story clotheslines once told about a family's life. I had to laugh at the rules listed, for they were exactly those my mother and later I followed. There was a special way to hang out the clothes. Oh, yes, we once actually hung our washed laundry on lines out in the sunlight and wind.

Though we lived in the country when I was small, a place where there were no clotheslines but rather nearby bushes or fences and fence rows held the wet laundry, we moved to town when I started to school.

Being an author, I was intrigued by the stories that drying laundry often told. If you looked at the lines of laundry hung by my grandmother, you saw that she did not want anyone passing by to see her unmentionables. They were hung on the center line with sheets flapping on one side and towels on the other to make sure no one could even catch a glimpse of what she wore under her slip and dress.

When a new baby came to the family down the street, then out went diapers and tiny bits of clothing always hung proudly so as to be very visible. Families wanted everyone to know about the additions\ to their fold. By checking the sizes of jeans and dresses one could tell about how many children lived in every house up and down each block. 

Another hard and fast rule was that wash was done every Monday morning and hung to dry. It was left out until the sun went down to catch every last ray. We had to fold the clothes as we gathered them, dropping them into baskets to carry inside. That made them easier to iron than if we wadded them one on top of the other.

You might wonder why this memory tickled my author's fancy. It caused my imagination to soar. One could easily walk down any block on a Monday and envision what stories lived behind the doors of each house by checking out the laundry. Dad worked in an office in the one with white starched shirts on the line; Mom liked to wear a fresh apron each day to protect her two or three dresses that had to last for a week. Johnny had been sick because the small bed sheets were many on the line. And oh, there next door, a new baby had arrived.

And so the stories went. Being an historical writer, I'm more interested in things of the past than of the present. Other rules intrigued me. Never leave the clothespins on the line, it looks tacky. Hang socks by the toes, shirts by the bottom hems and pants from the cuffs. I used to fold them on the crease and hang them that way so the ironing wouldn't be so tedious.

Oh yes, we ironed. Today, my iron would clatter and bang if I took it off the storage shelf, for it hasn't been used in many years. When we think of all the conveniences that have displaced such things as clotheslines, phonograph records, irons; Oh, my, I won't even try to list them.

Do you have a fond memory of something you once did that has become obsolete? It might be fun to write about it.

Views: 22

Tags: clotheslines, family, history, laundry, of, rules, stories, washday

Comment by Dean Bryant Johnson on July 10, 2012 at 1:34am

When I was a kid we had big family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Independence Day. Thanksgiving was dominated by the big dinner, cakes and pies my grandmother had made and stored in the deep freeze over several months, and hunting in the fields and forests around my grandparents' homestead. Independence Day was all about Grandaddy's barbeque (slow smoked pork shoulder) and home made ice cream.


We would have five or size of the hand-crank freezers and make that many different kinds of ice cream--usually banana, chocolate, peanut butter, strawberry, peach, or blackberry. All of us grandkids would want to help so the adults put us on the cranks at the beginning when the going was easier. We would laugh and talk about what was going on with everyone in our family. The adults would keep checking the ice and salt and adding to it as needed. The hot Alabama summers made the ice melt pretty fast, so Granny would bring out towels to cover the tops of the freezers to slow how fast it melted. As the ice cream froze and got thicker, it was harder to turn the crank so our dad's took over and turned them until it was ready.  The adults would talk about their aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, people we didn't know but who were integral to the the meaning and personality of our family. We would pack more ice and salt in and let it all freeze for what to us kids felt like an eternity and then it was ready!


You can still find hand-crank ice cream freezers--I looked them up on the internet the other day--but they are quite expensive. Almost any ice cream freezer you find now that is reasonably priced has an electric heart or is one of the soulless "chef" machines. Those old hand-crank freezers were the mechanism through which memories and family bonds were forged.

Comment by Velda Brotherton on July 10, 2012 at 5:52pm

What a wonderful memory to share. We too loved making ice cream in the old hand crank machines. Another memory I have of family gatherings is my Aunt made sweet tea in a #2 washtub, pouring the hot, sugared tea over a huge block of ice. It was so good and strong. Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Libby Belle Bryer on July 16, 2012 at 5:20pm
We had a device that squeezed the water out of the clothes before hanging them to dry. My mother let me try it once. It was simply two rolling pins being turned by a crank, sliding the clothes through and squeezing the life out of them. Of course, clothes are made so cheaply now, I doubt they could withstand the pressure. Still, a fond memory and mostly because my mother had this neat smile on her face when showing it to me.
Comment by Dean Bryant Johnson on July 16, 2012 at 6:13pm

Granny had a wringer-washer on the porch when I was real little. Showed me how it worked once just for the heck of it and ended by saying, "but those days are gone..."  Kinda sad, really.

Comment by Velda Brotherton on July 16, 2012 at 8:25pm

You made me recall my grandmother's wringer washing machine that was kerosene powered. I was little and was so afraid of the noise it made. A hose ran from the little motor out into the yard. There was a funnel on the end and out of it came puffs of smoke and blatt-blatt. My mother said I would run around in the yard screaming like it was some sort of monster. It too sat on the front porch and had a wringer to run the clothes through. We still used one of those when we moved to Wichita, though it was electric, of course. What memories one little post can bring out.

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