There were indicators of our social status—our raisin’, we would say—aside from the things that we could afford to buy. One such indicator was the clothesline.
A feature article in a recent Sunday Courier-Journal gave advice on proper air drying of laundry. The tips were practical and good, but nothing was said about how the clothesline was a reflection of who we are, other than good citizens striving to save energy.
In the first place, “decent folks” had their clothesline in the backyard. It was considered tacky to display the weekly wash at the front of the house.
A sturdy clothesline gave the impression that the husband was a good provider. A woman’s having to drape laundry on the barnyard fence put the man of the house in a poor light. My mother did make it a point to hang cleaning rags on the fence rather than on the clothesline so passersby would not think they were some of our wearing apparel.
Because of the way he did things, my father dug the holes deep to set the clothesline posts and tamped the dirt hard around them. He stretched the heavy wire tight so it would not sag and let the wet laundry touch the ground—but not so high that it was hard to reach.
Respecting the importance of the clothesline, I never defied the rule not to swing on it, although it was a temptation.
Thought was given to where the clothesline was placed. One end needed to be under the maple tree so colored clothes could be hung in the shade to prevent fading from the direct sun. It should not extend across paths to the woodpile or henhouse where we would swipe against the wet laundry.
How the laundry was organized on the ‘line suggested what sort of housekeeper the woman was: socks hung together by pairs to facilitate sorting; towels separated from what would be sprinkled and ironed—timesavers like that.
We learned to take note of the direction from which the breeze was blowing and hung heavy britches open, facing the breeze to facilitate drying. We didn’t hang shirts and dresses by the shoulders as the clothespins would make pinch marks that would have to be ironed out later. Also, we modestly hung undergarments on the back ‘line hidden behind the sheets so they would not be on display.
One more thing. My mother disliked the conventional clothespins. No matter how well they were pushed down over the folded fabric, a strong wind could flop the laundry and work them loose. As soon as she could direct some egg money to that purchase, she replaced them with spring clothespins. She felt that our status had moved up a notch.