I find sleeping on sheets that have been hung outside to dry to be an indescribable pleasure. That first aromatic whiff of sunshine that greets my nostrils when I slip into bed is pure bliss. I daresay this old world would be a calmer less frantic place if everyone could snuggle into a clean, sundried pillowcase when they lay their heads down at night. Bright sunshine and fresh breezes are the Professor Higgins of the laundry world, transforming wet gnarly cotton into delicately-scented, heaven-imbued deeeeliciousness.
I come from a long line of clothes hanging women. One of my earliest memories is accompanying my mom and grandmother to the backyard to hang line after line of sheets, towels, aprons, shirts, dresses and tablecloths, taking care to hide the unmentionables on the inner lines. Every line was a model of economy and organization with like items hung together, overlapping each other just a bit to make the best use of clothespins. And none of these newfangled clippy clothespins for my grandmother, either. She used the straight clothespins that looked like two flat immovable legs and always left the corners of the bathtowels looking like they had ears.
For all of the cleavage, buttcheeks and prideful indiscretions that television and the internet offer up today, nothing compares to what you could learn from someone's laundry hung out on their line to dry. Every frayed hem, stained towel and patched tablecloth spoke volumes. Mrs. Thomas didn't like mending. Mr. Franklin with the tobacco-stained fingers dropped ashes on the doilies. Mr. Ellis was still out of work. My mom and grandma always tended to our lost buttons and torn lace, but they also delivered a casserole or two in their day as well.
Like the laundry itself, ironing also took an entire day. "Wash and wear" and "permanent press" were miracles not yet invented so everything from underwear to play clothes to pajamas had to be ironed. It was all sprinkled with water, rolled up in a towel and stored in the refrigerator before bed, to be resprinkled the next day with water from a Coke bottle fitted with a special red rubber stopper.
All of this came back to me like some vestigial memory when I had my own home and my own little family. For all my preoccupation with brightshinynew, I felt a surprising sense of pride to see lines of neatly arranged laundry hanging in my backyard. My children, however, eventually reached an age where they were aghast when I hung out rows of little Spiderman Underoos and My Pretty Pony Panties. Didn't I understand that THE NEIGHBORS WOULD SEE?? My explanation that THE NEIGHBORS wore underwear, too, was no comfort. It was all over, though, when I brought in a basket of satisfyingly white socks, all warm and sweet from the sun, and they found A BUG on one of them. As time went by and schedules became increasingly crazy, nearly everything ended up drying by strangulation in a small little dryer shoved into the corner of the dark basement with only a filmy dryer sheet for scent.
With the emphasis on energy conservation and simplicity in the past few years, though, you can now Google up instructions for hanging out laundry if you're challenged by the concept of using a clothespin. You can even buy "vintage clothespins" on eBay which would send my poor dead grandmother reeling for sure. And if the time and labor of hanging out laundry is too much, you can get fake - excuse me, I mean "faux" - fresh air scent by from "linen water" that comes in a bottle with French words on the label.
Me? I've got no kids offering up tiny little kid opinions about what's hanging out in my backyard anymore and am free to leave our belongings flapping around at will in front of God, the neighbors and their barking dogs. And while they might never admit it, I like to think my all- grown-up kids find a little bit of heaven when they're home to visit as they slip between the fresh air-dried sheets on their old beds.
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