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Memories of the old clothesline

July 24, 2014
Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Last week, I received an e-mail that opened a flood-gate of sweet memories. The message, from my sister-in-law, Vera, focused on that family staple of yesterday, the clothesline.

Looking at the pictures included in the e-mail took me back to those long-ago washdays in the Texas of my childhood.

Like every other house on Carleton Street, our place boasted a well-used line for drying the family wash. Our clothesline was stretched from the "T" shaped post next to the back porch, across the old swing set to the "T" post beside the garage, then back again.

Our family of six... mom and dad, two sons and two daughters... required plenty of hanging room for the Monday morning wash.

Since wash day was a tradition with most of the families on the block, there was always plenty of neighborly conversation as mothers and daughters dealt with the clean contents of the wash basket.

The process of hanging the wash, taking it down and folding it into the basket took most of the day. The next day, Tuesday, was reserved for ironing. but that was another story.

As the youngest member of the family, I was sometimes able to prevail on mom to hang the clean sheets across the two parallel lines, giving me something of a play tent area as the items dried.

I'd often take my lunch out into the yard and eat under the breezy shade of the drying linens.

There was nothing to equal the smell of those air- dried sheets as we took them off the line and folded them. When the beds were remade with the fresh linens, it was like bringing the outdoors inside.

In those clothesline days, family life was readily displayed for anyone willing to decipher the signs. Week after week, the clothesline contents would change as life inside the home went through transitions.

Maternity clothes gave way to tiny baby garments and lines full of freshly-washed diapers. Rompers and dresses progressed from small to ever larger sizes. Eventually, these were replaced by blue jeans and tee shirts. Finally, the lines held only the clothing and other items used by the mother and father, now empty nesters.

When I left the clothesline of my childhood and established one for my own family, I devised a game my little ones all enjoyed.

On washdays, my little ones would join me in the back yard. As I got ready to hang various clothing items, I'd give each of them "clothes pin math" to calculate.

"Becky, I need two pins for Dad's sox and two more for your blouse."

With that, little Becky would proudly bring me four pins.

Sherri and Tim happily joined the game, filling their "pin" assignments and learning their addition at the same time.

For those living in Chautauqua County and other areas across the country that are also home to Amish folks, family clotheslines are still a part of the landscape.

But generally, in most suburbs clotheslines are as rare as the milk man, the neighborhood butcher and doctors who make house calls.

I don't think any of us want to give up our trusty clothes dryers and go back to the old labor-intensive washdays. But you can't deny the feel-good nostalgia that comes from looking back at those clothesline days of long ago.



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