Drying clothes the old fashioned way
Two T-shaped metal poles stand sentinel, about 30 feet apart, disconnected and without purpose.
In days past, they may have connected by wire and lined with linens, soaking up sunshine and becoming infused with scents of the season.
Unused clothesline posts are a common sight in backyards anymore.
For those that still do use clotheslines, however, they’re both a practical resource and an item of nostalgia.
“I’m kind of a stay-at-home person,” Kathy Noriega said. “Having that time outside is very nice.”
“It’s therapeutic,” her husband, Ralph, added.
Ralph and Kathy, Marion, both grew up in Queens, New York. Ralph remembers the clothesline that hung from a window of his apartment there. It was connected to a window in a neighboring apartment building, rigged on a pulley system. Either neighbor could use it from their window and set clothes out or pull them in when necessary.
“I remember my mother with the basket at the window,” Ralph said. “She’d sit there, and hang the clothes, and out they’d go. Then she’d bring the empty basket to the window and open the window (to bring them in). She had a little bag clipped to the basket, for the clothespins.”
The Noriegas use their clothesline during warm months with heavy sun, usually in the mornings. During the winter they use their dryer, which “warms up the garage,” Ralph said.
Margaret Wilson of Marion uses her clothesline year-round.
“I pretty much don’t stop,” she said. “There’s a few really, really cold days that I don’t, but I sort of wait and do laundry when it’s a little nicer.”
She has childhood memories of a clothesline as well.
She remembers the “humble circumstances” her family endured while her father studied for his master’s degree, leaving them without a drying machine.
“My mother would hang laundry, and it’d be nice and cool and wet,” she said. “My brother and I were terrible. We would stand between the clotheslines and just sort of pat our bodies against the clothes. I don’t know if we were just so desperately hot, but it felt good.”
In addition to saving money, clotheslines save on the electricity that would have been used to power a drying machine, Wilson said.
“It behooves us to use our utilities in a way that lets somebody use the utilities after us and not use all the electricity,” Wilson said. “I like clothes line-dried because they smell fresh — thank goodness we live in a place with nice, fresh air — and the economics.”
Wilson said in hot, dry months, it can work quicker than a dryer, too.
“Before you have the last pin on, the first pin is dry,” she said.
For the Noriegas, the clothesline is a source of recreation.
“When the grandkids come over, they use it for volleyball,” Kathy Noriega said. “It’s the badminton net, they use it for pull-ups, you know, ‘Look at me!’”
While he appreciates the indoor convenience of his dryer, Ralph Noriega said he would miss his clothesline if it was taken away.
“I never thought about it,” he said, “but it is an integral part of our life, isn’t it?”
Last modified Aug. 5, 2015