You made your way down the stairs gingerly not wanting to fall and get hurt, but also because you had an armload of clean, wet clothes headed to the line. The clothes line was strung wherever you could position it. I remember as a child in old Wilmington, North Carolina, that the back stairs were steep - houses in the old section were built high off the ground. That is the Southern way to keep things cool - allow lots of air flow underneath the house. Well, back to the clothes line. Mama's line was strung from the edge of the house to the garage standing at the back of the yard. Mama had 3 lines. Each was held up in the center by a board to keep the line from sagging under the weight of the clothes.
I remember Mama washing our clothes early in the mornings and getting them right out on the line. She wanted them dried, in the house, folded, and put away by mid-afternoon. There was a schedule and rhythm to Mama's work around the house. Everything done and on a regular basis and everything in its rightful place.
But back to washing clothes and the clothes line. I married young and began our family. No dryers. We first got a wringer washer (what a chore). When the clothes got washed (early in the day, just like Mama), I'd take them out to the clothes line. our clothes line was strung from the house to a storage shed and then another line strung between the Elm and the Cherry trees.
I can remember good things and bad things about those line-dried clothes. They smelled so good. They were so bright-white. And sometimes, they were stiff. They were visited by birds who liked the wild cherry trees, sometimes. They got rained on, sometimes. And then sometimes they just didn't get quite dry and I had to spread them around the house to finish drying - hard to do in the hot, humid, South. And did I tell you that they smelled so good?
Hanging diapers, sheets, towels, jeans, shirts out when there was snow on the ground wasn't a bit of fun. It was hard on the hands. It was hard if you were prone to winter colds and coughs. But they would dry.
Your clothes on the line told a lot about you to your neighbors. They told a story of your organization - did you get them out early enough to dry. They told if you were alert to your surroundings - did you get them in before it rained on them? If you were clean living and did a good job of keeping your family clean, they told the neighbors your story. Because your whites were white and your darks were dark told stories of how you did your laundry and how much you cared for your family. Laundry was serious business to the lady of the house.
I remember when we got a dryer. We really couldn't afford to buy one. Nor could we afford the cost of running it. But my husband felt I needed it. We had five children and I stayed sick a lot in the winter. So joy of joys, we got a dryer. After that I didn't get sick as much. I could wash and dry clothes any time of the day or night - didn't have to keep that special schedule and rhythm that my Mama did. But gone were the crisp sheets. The fresh outdoorsy smell of just brought in clothes.But mama never had a dryer and still was hanging her clothes on the clothes line in her mid-80s. Mama was quite the lady, quite the lady of the house, quite the person to emulate.
I miss it. But then again, I don't.
Readers: Won't you share your stories about doing laundry or your mama's laundry chore? We'd all love to hear a bit of your tale, too.