I heard author, Sarah Weeks, speak at Teachers College Saturday Reunion at the beginning of the month. She encouraged the audience to look around and pay attention-something many of us participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge are putting to the test with more regularity these days, I’m sure.

Sarah recommended paying attention to teachers. She said “they do really weird stuff.” She went on to describe a story that had me laughing out loud. During a school visit, Sarah watched as kids were filing in with their teachers for her presentation. She watched as one teacher formed an L with her fingers and placed it on her forehead, not once…but three times as they waited for all of the classes to settle in. Sarah described wondering what this class had done for their teacher to silently call them all “losers” three times. She went on to tell us that she went through her author spiel and then hurried over to the “L” teacher. She said something like, “I just have to know what happened when your class was settling down?” The teacher must have been confused, so Sarah made an L with her fingers and put it to her forehead.

“Oh!” The teacher said, “That’s our signal to lower our voices.”

During her keynote, Sarah also threw out the idea of studying people’s clotheslines. This too, she informed, can tell you a lot about a person.

As she shared this tip, I was immediately brought back to my childhood. We were a clothesline family. I remember waiting impatiently for my mom to hang out the laundry after every load…and there were many-we were a family of five. I also remember the annoyance of being the one asked to pull the clothes in once dry, or even worse, when it was about to rain.

Our neighbors, Bill and Anita, were also clotheliners. My Mom and Anita both had a system. At our house, kid clothes got washed together, adult clothes, and then again by darks and lights. Anita’s laundry was sorted by item and size. All of the pants together. Then the shirts, with smaller articles of clothing finishing off the row.

The act of hanging out clothes often turned social. My mom would  end up chatting with Anita, or us kids would wander over and sit on Anita’s deck while she hung her clothes. How many nights, we all ended up in Bill and Anita’s yard chatting and chasing fireflies. Many of my childhood memories took place between our clothesline and Anita’s. Gathering worms after the rain or the sweet pink flowers that fell from Anita’s mimosa tree.

When I was in college, Anita passed away after a long battle with cancer. Her husband, Bill, was left to carry on the clothesline duties. He had a system all his own. I think his system may have involved waiting until he was in dire need of an article of clothing and then washing all of those items together. There were t-shirt days, where all of his white tees would be lined up on the line. Then sock days, each sock clipped with a single pin, looking like a row of birds sitting on a telephone wire. And then there was underwear day. These days were few and far between. What I learned about Bill, he had enough underwear to last him a long time. Those days always made me chuckle.


17 thoughts on “Clotheslines

  1. I enjoyed reading both captures of every day things not normally noticed.
    The whole social side of laundry and now with everything so automatic the sight of laundry is a very rare thing for a backyard-as if none of has any-lol. Communication with neighbors is not so automatic these days.

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    1. This is so true. While at my parents’ house yesterday I looked at Bill and Anita’s clothesline. The rope is long gone. Just the pulley wheel remains. My mom’s line is still there but only used occasionally. This is also a sign of the neighborhood- so different and less social than when we were little. Although, a new family moved I. A few doors down just a few years ago. They have young kids that have become staples on my parents’ patio. They give me glimpses of the good old days!

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  2. I love how Sarah’s comments inspired this delightful, reminiscence about clotheslines and the social interactions that surrounded them in your childhood. I never considered the different systems that might be involved and so enjoyed reading those details. We tend to line dry in summer but have no close neighbors to chat with while we hang clothing. I love to see the clothes on clotheslines along our street, especially when there’s a good wind blowing. Now, I’m definitely going to look a little more closely. Yet another reason to wish for spring!

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  3. Funny where inspiration can come from, isn’t it? Clotheslines, and the chatting over the fence while hanging clothes, make community. Maybe Bill went commando and didn’t need much underwear!

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  4. You reminded me of some of my own clothesline memories. We didn’t have a clothesline at home, but when we went to Block Island in the summers we used a clothesline. I remember how the clothes smelled of the salty sea air and powerful sunshine. Thanks for the memory. My favorite part of your slice is about the different systems. What great observations. You’ve always been a writer, I see.

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  5. Wow. You were a really observant kid. I wonder if Bill knew you were watching so closely. He could have started freaking you out with unexpected items or strange sortings for you to figure out. It seems like something that should be in a novel, something a minor character does to amuse the main character.

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  6. “A clothesline family…” Love that line. Thanks for the reminder of Sarah’s story. I have retold the microscope story many times and have remembered her message about “payoff” this entire month. Love the endearing detail you in this post as you recount the memories of your dear neighbors.

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  7. There is so much in the Slice that makes me think! I wonder how much better we would know our neighbors now if we did still have clotheslines? My mom never used one, but our next door neighbors did—and I grew up living next to a convent. 😀 I love, love the inspiration from Sarah Weeks and the message of this piece!


  8. What a fun memory and slice. I’ve never been a clothesline family but I can remember my grandmother talking about that’s how she got her exercise…a family of 9 must be a lot of laundry and arm work.


  9. We were a clothesline family too! I vivid memory is my mom shaking the sheets to rid them of any bugs or japanese beetles. I always admired the little bag that held the clothespins. My mom sorted our clothes by darks and lights – that was her system. I don’t think she hung our underwear out, hmm, you, no Bill, has me thinking about that one. I’ll have to ask my mom! Thanks for sharing!


  10. We are a clothesline family too. We moved 4 years ago, bought a new home in 2015 and this is the first time in over 25 years, I do not have a clothesline. We are putting one up as soon as snow thaws. I just told my husband yesterday, hanging comforters on deck rail is not as good as on clothesline.

    I have fond memories of kids playing in yard, using bed sheets on clothesline as tent and such.

    Thanks for sharing your slice.



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