Clothesline Memories



When I woke up yesterday morning, the sun was shining and the breeze was blowing.  It was only in the upper 20’s Fahrenheit, but it looked like a perfect day to get the bedding washed and on the line.  We haven’t had line-dried sheets since last fall.

When I was a little girl, we had a wringer washer and the only dryer was the clothesline.  In the first house I remember living in, Ma strung clothesline across the huge kitchen, in front of the windows.  They were high enough to not be in the way with nothing hanging on them and it was a great way to dry clothes in the winter.  In the summer of course, the clothes were hung outside and wash was only done if the weather was fine.

When I was 8 we moved to a different house, with a full basement under it.  Ma put up clothesline in the basement but it was dark down there and there was a dirt floor.  Not the most pleasant place to hang clothes.  But in the summer, I loved hanging clothes out on the line.  Even when the weather was cold in the spring or fall, I would hang them outside rather than be in the basement to hang them.  The real attraction was that it was an outside chore.

We got an automatic washer and dryer when I was 10 or 11.  My sisters were no longer enslaved to the wringer washer and in danger of catching their hair, hands, and clothing in it.  And I could wash and dry the clothes now.


We still used the line for towels, sheets, and jeans because they dried best outside anyway, but I was so happy to not have to wear line-dried socks and underwear.  I still cringe at the feel of a sock that has been slow-dried: rather crunchy and grating as you pull it up over your foot and the toes don’t fit properly until you’ve sweated into it a bit.  Like socks that continually fall down, it is the feeling of being poor.

We were the 2nd poorest family in our town, no doubt about it.  With the stigma of a single mother who had to return to the work force with no skills, absent father who didn’t contribute to our upbringing, and five children still at home, money was a stretch.  We got a few new clothes for school in the fall, but that was it.  We all worked as soon as we could – yard work, paper routes, babysitting, shoveling snow – anything that we could do to bring in a bit of money.  When I was 15, I was able to work my first real job with a paycheck and it made me feel like a lottery winner.

While I am better off in my 50’s than my mother was – and all of my children grown and on their own for a few years – I still enjoy line-dried laundry.  I love to pull on a crisp, cotton-blend shirt, to dry myself off with a towel that is fluffy because it has been beaten into softness by the wind, to sleep between fresh sheets that smell of sunshine.

But hang a sock on the line?  Never.  I will put it in the next load of clothes to go in the dryer, or lay it out to dry, then re-wash it.

And if a sock falls down, it goes in the trash.  My simple revenge against that feeling of being poor!

6 thoughts on “Clothesline Memories

  1. Helped my mother do her washing in her maytag wringer many times. First one was run by a gas motor and when it wore out Dad bought one with an electric motor. Liked putting the washing through the wringer into the two rinse tubs and hanging the clothes outside to dry on her clothes lines. She finally consented to a modern washer and dryer, but she still continued to hang some of her washing out on the line. Thanks for jerking my memory chain.


  2. I remember the wringer washer, and one day getting my arm caught in it up to past my elbow until my shocked mind finally realized I had to push the release bar. It wasn’t broken, but hurt, and I got out of finishing the wash that day.


    1. I was so glad I never had to use that wringer washer – I was scared to death of it. Then I used one when Rachel was a baby. It eventually broke down. I’d love to have one again for washing all the really nasty barn clothes, calf jackets, etc. They sure do a good job, even if they are tough on the body to use.


  3. Mom used a wringer washer up until the time I married. She used to hang clothes out in, even in the winter. I can remember her bringing in clothes that were stiff from the cold. Her hands used to get so chapped and red. We were poor also. My older sister used to give my her old clothes. They didn’t fit well and were really not appropriate for my age, but we wore what we had.


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