Hang-Ups On The Clothesline

It is sure amazing how things have changed around the old homestead these days. We have all gone to looking for ways to save time in our chores so that we may spend more time doing other work elsewhere.  

For example, take a look at the way laundry is now accomplished in the modern day home. Since I have become a widower, washing my own clothes is now part of my weekly routine, explaining my wardrobe with the “lived-in” look. We have washing machines that are computerized and have “brains” in them that can sense the proper temperature setting and water level at the push of a button. However, I still have problems trying to determine how to wash colors and whites. Do you use cold water on whites or hot water on colors? Wait a minute! I believe that is backwards, but I’m still never sure which button to push for what. Not having anyone to ask, I spend a lot of time reading bottle labels and doing the wash in total wonderment.  

I’ll never forget the time I was washing some clothes and had a sweatshirt in the pile of clothing. I asked my wife how I should set the machine for washing the shirt. She replied back from the kitchen asking me, “What does it say on the shirt?” I answered back as any lame brain husband would do and said, “Tennessee Titans.”  

My ability at using the washing appliances is not that great, but I do manage. I grew up in the days of the clothesline and remember helping my mother hang up her wash on Saturdays. Taking a cue from the old gospel hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves,” I would sing “Bringing in the Sheets” whenever the wash would be dry. It’s not that funny today, but I thought it was a riot as a ten-year-old. I can still feel what wet clothes felt like against your face as you reached high to clip a clothespin to the wire. A sort of heavy, damp but refreshing feeling would strike you on the cheek and linger there until you took your shirtsleeve and wiped it off. However, I can also remember what that clothesline felt like whenever I forgot about it while riding my bicycle around the house at dusky dark in the summertime. I didn’t make that mistake too often, but the times I did were not pretty.  

My mama never had a clothes dryer. She always said a dryer just does not give the same smell and feel that a clothesline does. And you know, she’s right. Sheets dried on a clothesline do bring a bit of the outside inside along with the sunshine. I can still remember what those sheets felt like on Saturday night after washday was conducted. Saturday night was also bath night for all the family as well. Climbing into a featherbed of clean sheets from the line, along with a clean body and pajamas, was what I pictured heaven to be like from a child’s point of view.  

You just don’t see clotheslines much anymore. The site of white posts with a cross arm constructed of a two by four nailed to the top and two heavy wires going from post to post is now a feature that is no longer a part of the Tennessee countryside. The modern dryer has replaced them with a vent to the outside and the fragrance of lemon-fresh dryer sheets floating across the backyard fence.  

Clotheslines were a form of neighborhood communications in times past as I have said before. You could determine who was at home and who had company by the size of the wash on the line. Ladies would judge each other’s wash by how bright their colors were and the whiteness of their whites. You didn’t dare allow your whites to look the least bit gray in any way. Clothes where always hung in a certain order. Sheets on the front line facing the roadway and your unmentionables on the back line so everyone could not see what you wished to keep a secret.  

Fuller Brush salesmen could easily determine how many members were in a family and the ages of the children by the clothes hanging on the line in the backyard. You could also recognize when your neighbor had illness due to the number of extra sheets, nightclothes and maybe a bathrobe. And when a new arrival graced a family, the clothesline seemed to serve as a birth announcement for the community as white cloth diapers now appeared on the line.  

You could easily tell what went on in a family by their clothesline. Now, what goes on inside a home stays there. That’s all right, and I do really appreciate the modern day conveniences, even if I don’t know how to use them. But it was kind of nice back when we knew each other by our clothesline.  

It seems we didn’t have as many “hang-ups” back then as we do today. Instead, we hung them on the line for everyone to see.  


– Pettus L. Read may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com