Once upon a time, or maybe I should say many years ago, there was a simple, environmentally friendly device widely used in our homes. Today, you rarely find one, except in the homes of our Amish neighbors. That device, or appliance or whatever you want to call it, was a clothesline.
Some of you may wonder just what is a clothesline? Years ago it could be a heavy wire, plastic-covered wire or a white rope known as clothesline rope. It was stretched from post to post or maybe from tree to tree, but trees were not the best. Too many birds roosting in them.
On wash day, the clothes were carried out in a basket of some kind and hung on the line. But before they could be hung, I remember Mom going the full length of the line with a damp cloth to wash the line. Too bad if clean clothes were hung on a dirty line.
Clothes were hung outside almost regardless of the weather, unless it was pouring down rain. And it was no fun hanging clothes on a day when temperatures were 10 degrees above zero with the wind blowing. Hands would get very cold, and I remember Mom saying hers turned blue before she was done. Not an easy job.
With zero-degree or freezing weather, clothes would "freeze dry." They could be stacked in the basket stiff as a board but, as I vaguely remember, they did smell nice.
An accessory was necessary for a clothesline to work. That was the long, wooden clothes pole with a hook on the end. It was used to push the clothesline up so the line, as it sagged with clothes, didn't let the clothes hit the ground and get dirty. Nothing made Mom any more unhappy than to have the line sag down and a bunch of clean clothes hit the ground and get dirty. Re-washing them was not on her agenda.
Also, little devices called clothespins were necessary. There are two types. One is a split flexible wooden pin that slides over the clothes on the line and hold them in place. The other is a spring-loaded wooden pin that grips heavier clothes to the line.
It seems like there were some kind of rules for using the clothesline. First, wash day was usually on Monday. You never washed on Sunday. My memory says there was some kind of order for hanging clothes. Sheets and towels were hung on the outside so personal items, sometimes called "unmentionables," were hung where they were less obvious.
An accomplished homemaker would line the clothes up so that each item didn't need two clothes pins, but shared a pin with the next washed item. "Whites" were usually hung with "whites" and hung first, such as the sheets and towels.
Neighbors would "keep tab" on each other by watching what was hung on the clothesline. If there were extra clothes on the line, maybe someone was sick or they had company. Fancy table cloths or linens would suggest company.
Friendly competition took place over who had the whitest clothes on the line. Judging was informal and often not too accurate but up to individual homemakers.
Yes, except in the Amish communities, clotheslines are a thing of the past. Travel around the area, and you will sometimes see one in the backyard of other homes. In some ways, they were a sign of the way of life we lived years ago. But now they are replaced by clothes dryers, much handier and easier to use. They don't use solar and wind power, however.
I'm not recommending we all go back to clothes lines, just reflecting on a way of life that I remember while growing up. But if you want a clothesline, you can find one in a good hardware store for a reasonable price, somewhat less than a new clothes dryer.
Parker grew up in Trumbull County and is an independent writer for the Tribune