Karen Schwaller

When I think of things I have had to do without in my adult life, a clothesline would rank high on the list of things I wish I had back.

A clothesline is like a chocolate cake; you don’t think anything of it when it’s there, but after it’s gone you panic a little, then wonder what you are going to do now.

As a kid, our very long triple-decker clothesline dried a ton of clothes for a family of nine. Mom’s homemade clothespin apron held the thousands of clothespins it took to hang a department store’s clothing section out in the farm breeze (which wasn’t always pleasant).

I’m pretty sure that when I was a child I drew pictures of Mom with clothespins in her mouth, because I saw her that way so much. But with my artistic prowess, I’m also sure the teacher must have wondered if my mother should pay a visit an orthodontist.  

Mom would often tell us girls to bring the clothes in off the line. It seemed such a daunting task, but it was my first experience with the futuristic notion of “off-line” as a kid.

By the time she was finished with wash day, I’m pretty sure Mom felt like she had run herself through the wringer. And she still had supper to make. Without a microwave.

My sister and I became our high school badminton champions from our constant volleying back and forth over the clothesline. It helped us dream of Wimbledon participation, kept us out of Mom’s hair, served as boundary markers for other backyard games and even was the skeleton for a good fort.

A clothesline can put the ‘fun’ in ‘functional.’

When I had a family of my own, we had a clothesline and I used it often as the children were growing up. This time it was my job to lug the clothes out of the basement and out to the clothesline. The line worked like a dream with a good south breeze and earned its place among laundry day royalty … and it also made me look like I may have needed to visit the orthodontist.

It used to be so satisfying to hang the diapers out. The sunshine kept them as white as you could keep diapers, and just the thought of saving so much money on the disposable kind kept me okay with washing and folding them. The trade-off was that nose hairs are now just a memory for us after the bleach and ammonia assaulted them every week in our tiny house.

Occasionally, when the south breeze wouldn’t try to blow our cats away, folding jeans turned into hand-to-hand combat, and our towels had better posture than we did.

Now and again as I would hang out the sheets or clothing, we would be visited by bird doo-doo fairies. You know them — they would keep your wash day on their calendar and proved most boastful of their regularity, which was spot-on when they found themselves directly aligned with whatever was on the clothesline.

I’m not a fan of having to wash something I’ve just washed.

I have loaded my fair share of manure-covered clothing into the washing machine (as hog farm families do) — even without bird doo-doo fairies adding to my angst. It’s hard to stay ahead of that game when the manure falls out of the sky, too.

A clothesline today is a window to the past … to an era when people had more time and less money to spend on the laundry. It was both exhausting and exhilarating to hang a clothesline full of clothes, and just as much so when it came time to remove them, fold it all and put it away. And yet, it was one of my favorite sights out of our kitchen window.

Full lines meant we had been blessed with a family, that we all had clothes to wear, and also kept me active enough to avoid always having to wear those stretchy pants I normally would reserve for Thanksgiving Day.

Our old clothesline no longer exists, and a clothesline doesn’t work where we live today because the south winds would pummel our newly-washed clothes full of gravel road dust.

Pity, really, that those punctual and loose bird fairies probably also had to relocate.

Karen Schwaller brings “Table Talk” to The Land from her home near Milford, Iowa. She can be reached at kschwaller@evertek.net.

Trending Video