Singing the Praises of Hanging the Laundry

Hedy Hustedde - Davenport, Iowa
Entered on April 5, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: nature
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It has been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. I believe laundry is another certainty. I have seen it drying on the balconies of Europe, across rooms in Asia, and on riverbanks in South America. It’s considered picturesque in those places and often photographed by tourists. However, more and more in America, visible laundry seems to be considered an eyesore or perhaps evidence of poverty. There are even written neighborhood association covenants against the drying of laundry in one’s own yard.

Fortunately, when my family moved into our first (and current) home, it was in an older, kinder neighborhood that allowed visible laundry. Our backyard happened to already sport one of the best clotheslines around: two sturdy T-shaped metal poles strung with four lines down the length of one side of our backyard. I was pleased and proud to be able to use this clothesline for its practical and historic purpose.

There is still a smattering of lesser clotheslines in the neighborhood but fewer and fewer of them. It is a tradition possibly deemed old-fashioned and certainly unnecessary by younger families moving in. Perhaps they’re embarrassed to hang their underwear in full view of supposedly prying judgmental eyes. Thus, for reasons of propriety, I always hang our underwear on the inside line. The line closest to the neighbors’ eyes is festooned with outerwear like jeans and khaki slacks.

I adhere to certain rituals of segregation and placement in my hanging of laundry: big items hung first; T-shirts shaken out with a smart “snap” before being hung; socks paired; heavy or longer items hung at the ends and light or shorter items in the middle.

This penchant for outdoor laundry drying runs in my family. My mother still doesn’t own a dryer, and once in a conversation with my then-90-plus-year-old grandmother, she reminisced that after she hung her laundry out, she would take a seat in her lawn chair in the shade of a tree feeling a profound sense of satisfaction as she watched it flap colorfully in the breeze.

I have this same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. For me, there’s even a certain mystical sense of being closer to nature: out of the box of the dryer with its machine-manufactured hot air, out of the box of the house with its regulated temperature, into the wide-open fresh air with its extreme temperature variations, its constant possibility of precipitation despite weather forecasts, its sunniness or cloudiness, its time of day, its seasonal cast of light, all filtered through the textures, shapes, and hues of a particular load of laundry.

I thrill to the rhythm of the basket, the pin, and the line and the feel of the sun and the wind. I believe hanging laundry to dry is a simple, easy, natural, energy-saving, ecological, even artistic thing to do.