I'm still hung up on clotheslines

I don't know why the carpenter was so reluctant when I asked for a five-foot clothesline along the side of our new southern California patio. "If you can put up some tight lattice behind it," I added, "that will keep things like stockings from whipping in the sea breeze."

"Well, I guess I could," he said reflectively, rubbing the tip of his nose with the back of his hand. "But nobody ever asked me to do such a thing before."

Didn't he know that every woman needs a clothesline? I could hardly remember a time without one.

In the farmyard of my childhood, long rows of sheets, towels, dresses, aprons, shirts, overalls, and underclothes billowed toward the sky on hot summer afternoons. In winter, they froze stiff as boards. The long underwear looked like cutouts of the people who wore them. The sheets crackled as though they might break at every crease. The ice whitened them like bleach.

When we moved to a nearby village, our lines were uncomfortably close to a neighbor. She complained that Mother hung tattered cleaning cloths just where her family had to look at them. Yet that same neighbor's pig made hanging clothes on our side of the fence a very smelly chore. Mother moved the offending rags, but their pig remained.

My teenage sense of justice was outraged. Why should one neighbor concede everything and the other nothing? My wiser, more tolerant mother only said in her firm yet quiet way, "My dear, you know I wouldn't have trouble over a little thing like a clothesline or a pig."

My married life began in an apartment house on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. I had only a secondhand wringer-washer. The bathtub was used for rinsing. To dry our clothes, my new husband strung clotheslines on one of our three balconies. It was shielded from the sand-spiked wind, and it was high enough to protect our clothes from the Bedouins' goats that were herded past each day. The only problem: The walls that supported the line were soft and crumbly. I never knew when I would find all the heavy wet sheets and towels on the gritty concrete floor.

Later, when we moved to Hawaii, I learned what a joy drying clothes outdoors could be. The posts that held the taut lines were set firmly in rock-hard lava soil. As I pinned garments in place, my view was of pure blue sky, exotic flowers, and the verdant slope of a mountain so close that we called it our own.

We returned to the Mainland in 1961, and the Space Age had begun. In the spirit of embracing technology, we bought a dryer. But beside it, in our Maryland basement, Bob strung two short lines for delicate laundry. By then I had turned from using the doll-shapedpins of Grandma's era to the more efficient spring-style ones. Still, the reason for keeping a basketful of them was the same. A clothesline is indispensable - even if it's only five feet from the end of a patio.

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