The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 28, 2001


Carlisle Comments Hanging out the wash

Now that most people have automatic clothes washing machines and dryers, I think an interesting part of Americana has disappeared. Have you ever heard the expression, "Airing dirty laundry in public?" People used to hang their laundry out to dry in the fresh air on clotheslines. Some of us still do.

In days gone by, the neighborhood clotheslines were secretly eyed every washday Monday. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they hang their wash, it was said. Some are known to "Hang a nice wash." That meant neat and orderly, with things and sizes hung together. People were able to tell how often you washed your underwear and sheets. "She hangs her wash out any which way," was not very flattering. Remember, this was in the days before television. Summer and winter, the wash went out. I can remember taking a frozen pair of trousers off the line in mid-January and standing them in the middle of the kitchen floor.

You had to be smart to hang a proper wash, and something of a scientist too. Just how hard or soft the water is affects the amount of soap, bleach or softener you had to use. You had to know which end of the line had the most sun and where the wind hit the hardest. Thick heavy laundry dries fastest in a sunny breeze. Your technique was noted­are the clothespins attached to the seams of shirts and dresses or to the armpits; are trousers placed in pants stretchers or just loose on the line? Did the young housewife know enough to snap her towels before hanging them out so that they would not be so stiff? People even noticed who had the whitest wash on the street. Yes, there was more than just wash hanging out there. The clothesline had a story to tell.

I still hang my wash out, but I do so in back of the house. I still have odd socks hanging together most of the time, and occasionally a bird leaves me a calling card. I dry inside all winter, and can't wait for the good weather and the sweet smell of outdoors on the sheets. I have to wait until after the burning season is over because of the smoke. It seems that the DPW picks my first outside drying day to sweep my street, and all that dust makes the smoke almost bearable. I also have to remember not to mow the grass when the wash is drying. Exhaust fumes smell almost as bad as smoke and road dust.

One of my neighbors tells of her aunt, who used to do her laundry using soapstone set tubs to rinse in, while the household cat sat and watched. She says that each week after rinsing the clothes, her aunt used to rinse the cat. The animal didn't run away, so I guess the cat didn't mind as long as she didn't get hung out on the line.

Norman Rockwell's country scenes often had barns and laundry in the background, and we all thought that it was beautiful and "down to earth." Today, some communities ban the outside hanging of laundry. Yes it makes for a tidier town, but it is so much less interesting and less countrified.

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito