What comes to mind when you see this photo? Crisp air, fresh scent, a stiff sleeve that lovingly conforms to your arm as if softens to your unique form.
I cribbed the image from Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter. Ms. Richardson, a professor of American History at Boston College, writes the brilliant daily “Letters from an American,” an intelligent blend of current events and historical perspective. Five nights a week she publishes polished essays that put the events of our day in context. On weekends, she frequently posts an evocative image, often from her family camp in Maine. A few weeks ago, she offered this yesteryear photo of laundry on the line.
The photo caught my eye because, not long ago, I created my own, urban, telescoping clothesline. When I posted pics on Facebook, I received glowing comments, like, “there’s nothing better than air-dried clothes,” “heavenly,” and, “reminiscent of grandmother.”
Clotheslines were part of my youth. Behind every house on our street was a slab of concrete in which a vertical pole supported an awkward square of galvanized metal and cotton ropes. I wonder how many, if any, still remain.
It’s been decades since I’ve seen an active clothesline. If you live in a covenant development or gated community, clotheslines are likely prohibited. Even along traditional streets, they’re rare as hitching posts.
If air-dried clothes are so wonderful and evocative, why don’t we see more clotheslines? The answer is easy. American life is the steady march of time-saving convenience over sensory experience. Mechanical dryers are simple and quick. They free us from the uncertainties of weather. So what if they use energy already swirling free in the wind. So what if our clothes smell a bit musty. We add Snuggle or Downy or Bounce to our load; something else to purchase that simulates what we’re too busy to get for free.
I love the image of the clothes drying near the sea. Ms. Richardson apparently does as well. Never mind that there are more grey, drizzly days on the Maine coast than sunny ones; that hanging laundry is an arduous task; collecting it later as well. That air-dried laundry is time consuming work, almost always relegated to women, binding them to the home.
Most anyone would give up their clothesline for a gas dryer. And yet we romanticize laundry on the line. Another picturesque of a bygone, simpler time in when our existence was rooted in rudimentary tasks that, incidentally, bound us to nature.