6.17.2008

sugar city guest: my mom, on the subject of pleasant labor


sunny day
laundry collected
wash
line dry
birds and breeze
alone in thought
gather in
smell
fold

night time
exhaustion
turned down bed
ease between cool sheets
feel of fresh
scent of earth
peaceful slumber

The most over used appliance in our modern world, in my over wrought opinion, is the clothes dryer. I am an advocate of line drying under the bleaching aid of the sun and the drying agent of the breeze. But there is deeper meaning and value for me in quelling the impulse to throw the laundry from the washing machine into the dryer. Piling my laundry basket high with whites and escaping over the grass to the clothes line becomes MY time. Organizing, ordering and hanging my wash to dry is a creative task – an art form. Socks are pinned together here, sheets there, and under-garments are privately tucked away on the inside line.

Hanging clothes is the ultimate nature experience. The smell of newly washed laundry mingling with fresh outside air is a sensory high. Sun warms your skin. Listen closely and you hear the cooing of the Morning Dove or the chirping of the Chick-e-dee-dee-dee. Insects buzz around you A cob web has formed in the corner of the line. It is a oneness – a belonging in the middle of natural earth where Mother Nature once again works with us.

The reflective nature of the “hanging clothes” chore is probably the most profound for me. As I fulfill this pleasant labor, I always feel closeness to the women of my past. I think of the countless generations of women who have done this before. But often, I remember my mother. I think of her outside in most any weather humming to herself, making order in her laundry while the children inside wreak havoc. I can almost climb into her skin and feel for a moment that I am her and she is me. We are bonded together as mother and daughter and the space of time and place dissolves.

Hanging clothes is a simple act of womanly duty. Here is peace and order amid hectic lives and connection between our generations.

54 comments:

Rebecca Ramsey said...

How beautifully put!
And how I wish my silly neighborhood would allow a clothesline. I so miss the scent, and the whole process.

melissa said...

I'm going to go hang up a clothes line. I hope my neighbors don't mind. It's funny that this iconic symbol has disappeared from most back yards. In some places it's not even allowed!

I love your beautiful words, mom; I almost feel myself transported to my mom's backyard as I smell the fresh clean white sheets blowing in the wind.

Daria said...

Yes, I need a clothes line too! Beautifully written!

Mary said...

What sweet images. We live in a townhouse without the option of having a clothes line, but when we discuss future houses, we always include this:

A backyard with room for a garden and a clothesline.

That would be bliss!

(I'm not sure how I found this blog, but it is lovely)

scophotch said...

I've always wanted to have a clothesline. It's funny how the act of "airing one's laundry" can be seen in such different ways. I live in a condo association where the hanging of laundry outdoors is forbidden, punishable by a fine. I guess I don't want my neighbors to leave their underwear out for a week at a time without taking it inside, but then again, I'm not sure I really care. And I'm not sure that they would do that... who has enough underwear to leave them out for weeks at a time? : )

lynne said...

I know! It's too bad it's a little dusty in my town - I think our whites might end up tan.

Mom -I have SO many memories of watching you hang the sheets, mom, and then that great sheet smell crawling into bed into them that night. And I especially love the part where you talk about your mom. I love you!

Sarah S said...

Thank you for such a beautiful post.

Stevi said...

Yes! thank you for writing about the fine art of laundry! I get such a sense of accomplishment and proud duty when I wash, dry, fold and stack. I love ironing, too! Thank you for "allowing" those of us that actually like keeping house to have a "voice"!

sew nancy said...

i recently moved to a house with a clothesline (and an amazing garden too by artist fritz haeg) and i love hanging the laundry especially sheets & my 4 month old daughters clothes as little things look so cute blowing in the breeze
the smell can not be replicated.
i recently turned a vintage baby bubble/shortall that had a few holes into a clothespin holder that i hope to post on my blog this week. i'm happy that others share this sentiment

Joslyn said...

this is beautiful. one of my fondest childhood memories is of hanging sheets on the clothes line to dry with my grandmother. lovely.

p.s. you have raised an awfully talented daughter!

erica e said...

this is beautiful. i remember running through and playing hide and seek in the sheets hung out on the clothesline as a child. i think we should all take more pride in the tasks we are asked to perform. does our attitude make something drudgery? probably contributes alot.

Anonymous said...

Oh you so brought a tear to my eye...the feeling of becoming your mom is so true as you hang the laundry! I feel this, too. I also remember my Nana out there hanging away! It really is a special "me" time. Thank you so much for sharing and helping us all to rememer those precious and wonderful times!

teri said...

amen.

shellyfish said...

I grew up with a clothes line and a garden in my back yard- it was great, seeing the moms & dads in the neighboring yards hanging clothes, other kids playing outside.
I am now in a tiny little apartment with no hopes for a yard, let alone a line...how different my daughter's childhood is from my own!

Jen said...

I've always wanted a clothesline, I just can't find a good plae for it.

I love the writing and I , especially, love the painting!

allydru said...

(you're a poet too?!?! aunt K, you astound me. how the laundry must smell coming off the line from your place . . . oh la la.)

the clotheslines are my favorite part of the complex where we live, and with five kids I'm out there A LOT. I think I'll just print off this post and have cards of it handy to give to every new move-in who stops me outside and asks why in the world I hang the laundry when there is a perfectly good dryer inside. you put it beautifully and e. x. a. c. t. l. y.

Rubyellen said...

I hang our clothes all over our stair railings!!!

Hanging clothes outside on a line sound so peaceful.

Prue said...

I don't think I will ever look at hanging out the washing in quite the same way! Thankyou Lynne's mum!

floating world views said...

Oh, I so agree. Here in Australia washing is almost always dried outside - I have a dryer, but only use it on rainy days. When I lived in London and Tokyo I had to dry my clothes indoors. One of the things I missed most about home was the wonderful smell and crunchiness of sheets and towels that dried in the sunshine. Now I am back home I love hanging my washing out - it is like my meditation time. In these days of global warming it's great to be able to save a little electricity too.

(I live in an apartment, but have a retractable line like this on the balcony. Are these available in the US?)

Kathryn said...

Thank you for honoring my words with your painting, dear. The willow, the oak and the chestnut tree have held up our clothes line for years. This new generation of daughters leaves me in awe.

Heather said...

what a gorgeous, perfect image.

Linnea said...

We just moved out of a HOA and the first thought that came to my mind was "Now I can have a clothesline!"
What a great description.

Linnea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily said...

Aunt K: Reading your thoughts on laundry just completely relaxed me; you made doing load after load of wash sound so romantic! I really would love to have a clothesline. After all, I have two buckets full of clothes pins from my mother-in-law and nowhere to use them! For now nature and I get together in the garden. That's where I can be with my mom.

melissa said...

Lynne:
I LOVE your sweet little drawing too!

Mandi said...

wonderful post!

Alison said...

Mmmm I can smell the cotton sheets warm from the sun. Great post. I have many happy memories of swinging around on the hills hoist in the backyard with my sister when we were little (do you have hills hoists in the US?)

incaknits said...

I love me some line dried laundry. And the post sums up just about everything perfectly. Thanks for the great post.

Alexandra said...

Who would have thought that an essay on hanging laundry could bring tears in the eyes of a reader? I love the idea of you feeling bonded to your mother through the task. Thanks for sharing this!

elliebelle said...

What a wonderful post. It brings beauty to such a simple everyday task. Makes me want to go hang some clothes outside! :)

esther said...

this post connects reminds me of something i read recently about Hestia, the Greek goddess of the hearth.
"tending to household details is a centering activity equivalent to meditation if we want to make it so" and
"The goddess knows what it takes to run a household and she has deemed it holy. So should you."

coffeechris said...

Thank you. Your words capture exactly how I feel about hanging clothes on the line. It's funny, I too hang the personal items close to the house on the inside line. Sometimes I sort by color sometimes by size sometimes by item - it's an tactical art form in itself and pleases me to be in the green of the grass and yellow of the sun.

Lauren said...

I love this mom! It makes me homesick - soo many great memories being outside and being with you. I remember we had so much fun washing and hanging our little doll clothes.

If we ever leave manhattan we will move to a place that allows us to have a clothes line!!

Erica-Jane said...

I whole heartedly agree!
I absolutely love hanging all of Sienna's little floaty dresses out on the line, it's one of life's simple pleasures, I feel.

Take care,

Erica
xoxo

Martha said...

I adore the smell of line dried laundry. I love how even days later, you can open the linen closet and still smell sunshine.

Shannon said...

Lovely, and I so agree. Doing laundry is my favourite chore (except the folding part...)

Kim said...

This sure does sum things up well. Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

I really like your story!

Page said...

For all the years I've known you, Kathryn, you've shared your love of sheets "fresh from the line." The pleasure derived from such a seemingly ordinary task is as deep, true, and personal as you are, my friend.

I too remember running through the sheets as a child and letting the wind tangle them around my body or playing hide-and-go-seek with my brother.

I handed my Mom the spring-type clothespins by wearing them on each of my fingers--and when we visited my grandmother in Florida, I painted faces on her single, push-type clothespins with the little "heads."

Best of all was the anticipation and waiting for Mom and Dad to swing me in the deliciously warm sheets that smelled so good--a happy cocoon that I would love to experience just one more time. I will be 60 in a few days, but your poetry and thoughts make me feel like that little girl again.

Hi to Melissa and Lynne--Your blog is as warm and wonderful as those sheets. Page

Claire - Matching Pegs said...

Here in Melbourne, Australia, I use my rotary washing line (Hills Hoist) almost every single day. I have a very old dryer in the garage that I use about twice a year. It is certainly more work, but I love being outside in the fresh air. Hanging the washing is almost meditative. Laundry is the only domestic chore that I somewhat enjoy, and I have a little quirk; I always hang my washing with matching pegs (clothespins), hence the name of my blog. Since I started it, quite a few people have admitted to the same quirk.

Bethany Hissong said...

I was just thinking of doing this while on the long drive home from vacation and here your mom has advocated it, so lovely in words!!! Now I must!

Margo said...

I am known as a "laundry sniffer" in my family - I'm so addicted to the fresh smell and I just love burying my face in line-dried laundry.

Monica said...

god I wish I had a clothes line.
lovely post.
I am sad for the lack of outdoor space on which to hang a line...the dryer just doesn't do it.

Sarah said...

I live overseas and it is completely uncommon to have a clothes dryer - everyone dries their clothes outside or on a drying racks inside. At first this whole thing seemed crazy to me, but I have learned to love it. There is an order and an art in hanging out the laundry and a deep feeling of satisfaction. Now it seems crazy to pay for electricity to do something that mother nature does for free. Thank you for the beautiful post. I was nodding my head and smiling the whole time.

Anonymous said...

Mom and Lynne, what a great collaborative effort! I love the piece as well as the beautiful picture.
I don't think I properly appreciated the fresh towels and sheets you were providing our family Mom. I'm afraid I was a preoccupied teenager when the girls were running through the sheets and hanging up their doll clothes. What sweet memories for them to have though!
You have inspired me to figure out a way to use a retractable clothes line (what can the covenants committee really do, right?!) for sheets and towels. It won't be up that often but it sure sounds like a process, and end result, I'd enjoy!

Charity Grace said...

New to your blog, I love this. Great clothesline art, too! Funny, ever since my dryer broke a couple weeks ago I'm seeing clothesline stuff everywhere. Maybe it was always there. Anyway, even though my machine was replaced, I got a retractable clothesline and some drying racks as a backup. I love a clothesline.

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog today- I am entranced with your Mom's writing- PLEASE tell me she has a blog as well!

I wish there were more blogs from a mature woman's viewpoint who also enjoys 'pleasant labor'- her words rang true, and I would dearly love to read more .

Catherine

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog today- I am entranced with your Mom's writing- PLEASE tell me she has a blog as well!

I wish there were more blogs from a mature woman's viewpoint who also enjoys 'pleasant labor'- her words rang true, and I would dearly love to read more .

Catherine

Content in a Cottage said...

This is my favorite post ever on the subject of hanging out laundry. I recently posted about an OCD event at my clothes line. It comforts me to see that you hang like things together too! I am still looking for vintage clothes pins. The new ones don't feel like the ones I remember from my childhood. ♥Rosemary

Freckles2stars said...

Years ago I purchased a clothesline from a thrift store. It is the kind that retracts and has 6 lines for your laundry to hang in the breeze. I think it is from Sears. Well after reading this I am going to have to dig those post holes and get it hung up for the spring. Thank you for reminding me why it is I wanted a clothesline.

Melissa said...

I love the clothesline! I wax poetic about it all the time, but another wonderful thing about it is how things often end up so much more crisp and "pressed" looking after being on the line on a warm day. I posted about my clothesline on my blog, too!

Anonymous said...

I pine for the mounted fold out clotheslines in a recent trendy catalog. Mr Ramsey says, "NO", so the old accordion style one will have to do for now. It's still a pleasant ritual to perform...

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