You can't bottle neighborliness

I don't often pay much attention to television commercials, but one caught my attention the other night. A well-known brand of fabric softener was suggesting that its latest product would make your clothes smell as fresh as if they'd been dried on a line outdoors.

My first thought was that they were asking people to pay for something – an aroma – they could get perfectly free. (Of course, who has clotheslines anymore?)

Then I wondered: How many people in that under-50 demographic that advertisers court so assiduously have any idea of what line-dried clothes really smell like?

When I was a little girl and spent time each summer with my grandmother, I loved the day she washed clothes and carried them in a big wicker basket from the basement out to the clothesline.

It was quite a ritual. Sheets and dish towels were stretched taut between straight wooden pins with little knobs on top. Shirts and blouses were hung by their tails to catch a billowing breeze.

But what I remember most about grandmother's washday was the neighborliness of it.

All the other women were also out in their back or side yards, hanging up the week's washing. And as they did, the conversations flowed across the fences – who was under the weather and might need cheering up, how children were doing in school, and whose plum or peach tree had an abundance of ripefruit ready for canning or preserving.

By the time the shirts, overalls, aprons, blouses, and homey housedresses had dried in the sun and were ready to be taken down, each woman had caught up on what was happening with her neighbors.

I'd like to see a fabric softener try to emulate that.

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