Grit Blogs > A Well-Worn Path

Hanging It Out to Dry

Lou Ann head shotWhatever happened to clotheslines? When I was growing up, everyone had a clothesline. Ours was strung between two steel Ts in the backyard and every Monday, my mother's wash day, the metal lines would sag with sheets, socks, jeans and the rest of our laundry.

I feel sorry for anyone who hasn't experienced pulling on a shirt that's dried naturally in the sun. And there was nothing like the smell of fresh, outdoor-dried sheets. I'd often help my mother get the laundry off the line, and as we folded those sheets I'd press my face into their crisp whiteness, breathing deeply of the sweetness that was now a part of them.

You don't see many clotheslines anymore. I suspect it's simply easier to toss everything in the dryer and be done with it, but I miss the smell of line-dried sheets, shirts and socks. I also miss seeing those large, white sheets snapping in a spring breeze like billowing sails on the prairie. If you've never experienced the smell of sheets that have flapped freely in the sun all day you've truly missed one of life's greatest pleasures.

There was a technique for hanging the clothes on the line. My mother taught me the proper way to hang them so they wouldn't blow off the line and would dry with a minimum of wrinkles. Sheets needed to be doubled over the line and clipped tightly so they wouldn't drag on the ground. We used wooden clothespins, never plastic ones and not the kind with metal springs, but the longer old-fashioned ones that slipped over the line and clothes snuggly.

Socks were hung in matching pairs, whenever possible, and with just enough toe folded over the line to secure them. Shirts were clipped at the side seams after being stretched tightly. My father's jeans were hung by the waist with metal stretchers in the legs to create a straight crease in each one. Everything smelled like springtime and innocence after hanging on the clothesline for a good part of the day.

I always knew when it was time to put away the heavy coats and sweaters. It was the day my mother first hung the laundry on the clothesline to dry. That was the sign that it'd soon be warm enough for outdoor play, mowing the lawn and going barefoot again.

It also meant a good night's sleep was ahead. Knowing that fresh, line-dried sheets were on my bed, I could hardly wait for dark so I could crawl between them, and when I did, the sweet smell of musky earth, hyacinths and spring breezes floated around me. I rarely slept so well.

There aren't as many clotheslines in use anymore, but soap companies try to replicate the aromas of laundry dried on them. They come in "Spring Breeze" or "Fresh Lavender," but as hard as they try, and despite all our modern technology, the delight of fresh, sun-dried sheets can't be captured in a bottle. For that you need a clothesline.