Jo Ann Rebane: Ah, the sweet smell of laundry on the line
Summer’s joys – ripe Bing cherries, sunburned shoulders, home grown tomatoes, and clothes drying outside on a line.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Michelle Slatalla extolled the virtues of a beautiful laundry line. She discovered that her laundry could be a work of art hanging on the line. She saw a row of socks casting a shadow against a wall could look like soldiers marching. She discussed the cultural differences between Americans and Europeans about clothesline use. According to one of her sources, British filmmaker Steven Lake, director of the documentary “Drying for Freedom,” “… if you were middle class in the U.S., you got your house electrified. Clotheslines became associated with poverty.”
Yes, but many of us continue to let the sun and air do the drying even though we have an electric or gas dryer next to our washer. We have the law with us too, according to Mr. Lake as California protects “a right to dry” with regulations that prevent municipalities and homeowners’ associations from outlawing laundry lines.
As the principal laundress for my family I offer here some thoughts about drying clothes. In the days of apartment living or when my dryer died in winter, I have used a row of washers at the laundromat and then the giant dryers, taking care not to over-cook my laundry in the hard-to-control massive dryer. There are strict rules of etiquette one must follow at the laundromat. Bring enough coins, don’t remove someone else’s clothes from the machines, be prompt about removing your things, and be tidy about using the folding table.
It is possible to hang clothes to dry in winter. Inside a warm room you can use a folding rack that when deployed looks like a giant lattice or the type with five lines strung between rods and folds up in the same way an ironing board folds flat. When we lived in Germany, our landlord provided clothes lines both outside in the garden and upstairs in the attic. Diapers hung to dry in the attic in winter yielded dozens of frozen stiff white slabs. Not exactly art, but rows of precisely hung diapers, or dish towels do have a satisfying, symmetrical evenness about how they look.
Another landlord provided the upside down umbrella style clothes line located in the shade of a giant avocado tree. Here I learned to routinely wipe the lines first before hanging anything and to hang small items on the inner lines, saving the outer, higher lines for larger items like towels and sheets. That is called strategic drying — it’s a satisfying task arranging one’s things so that everything fits.
Although I’ve used the retractable kind of clothes line and found it both handy to stretch out and easy to put away, today my clothes line is a permanent line strung from rafters in the shade of our porch roof. Because this line is shaded I hang colored items and towels there with no fear of being sun bleached.
Here is the hanging protocol I recommend. Working left to right, start with the T-shirts, give each a little shake, hang them by their tails so as not to leave a pinch mark in the shoulders, and finally give each a little stretch to straighten out any wrinkles. Next, hang the briefs and undies followed by small towels. Finally, take the time to match up the socks in proper pairs and hang each pair together using a single clothespin.
Next, stand back, admire the good order, and watch the breeze start to do its job.
When everything is dry, take the laundry down in reverse order, socks first.
Depending on how much time you have just then, you can fold things as you go, ending with the largest items on top in the laundry basket. This is a good time to pause, to take a deep breath.
Nothing smells sweeter than laundry just taken down from the clothes line. Enjoy.
Jo Ann Rebane, who lives in Nevada City, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members.
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