Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Clothesline Blues

You know, I have a totally new appreciation for now much work my mom did for twenty three years when it came to laundry. You see, my mom didn't have a clothes dryer until 1971. Up until that time, she hung our clothes to dry on a clothesline. All of them. This includes sheets, blankets, and bedspreads, too.

Let me tell you something, that's hard work.

The reason I have this new appreciation is because our clothes dryer is on the fritz. Well, actually, the dryer runs just fine, it just doesn't heat. So the clothes take forever to dry. I suspect an issue with the igniter or something (it's a gas dryer). Therefore, I've started hanging our clothes out on a clothesline in the backyard. And it takes all day.

It's hot and dry in Central Texas, which is a good thing for drying clothes, but not so good when it comes to having to be out in it. But I have remembered little things my mom used to do, like... turning all the pants and shorts inside out so the pockets get dry. Then I remembered that I should basically turn everything inside out to reduce fading from the sun.

I remember dancing through the sheets when I was a kid, loving the way the cool fabric felt against my hot skin, and Mom fussing at me about getting sweat, or dirt on her clean sheets.

I completely understand why she wasn't happy when I got dirt on the sheets. Because it meant she had to do it all again.

I also remember her snapping the clothes sharply as she removed them from the line, to get lint and pollen off, before folding them and putting them in the basket. My son said, "Why don't you just dump them in the basket and fold them inside?"

"Because I don't want to drag them inside, and then fold them and then put them away. I'd rather fold it now, so it doesn't have a chance to get more wrinkled before I put them away," I said.

"What's wrong with them being wrinkled?" he asked with a frown.

"If they're wrinkled," I said, turning to look at him, "then I have to iron them. And believe me, I do not want to iron the clothes. Not if I don't have to."

"What do you mean, iron them?" he asked. "Why don't you just throw them in the dryer to get the wrinkles out?"

*insert hysterical laughter HERE*

Mom would do laundry one day, washing, and hanging stuff out to dry, folding it and bringing it back in. Then the next day... she'd iron everything Shirts, dresses, Dad's boxer shorts and handkerchiefs, his undershirts, her dresses, shirts, and pants, my sisters' clothes, my clothes... AND... all the bed sheets and pillow cases, as well as any curtains she might have washed.

EVERYTHING got ironed.

And yes, she taught me to iron, too. And you know what? I hate it, every bit as much as she did. And I really, really, really don't want to do it now. My family can sleep on wrinkled sheets, I really don't care. I'm not embarrassed about wrinkled sheets, and I'm also not worried about germs in the bedclothes, so... I see no need to iron them.

My mom, though... she ironed. She folded and put away. She hung clothes. She baked from scratch. She sewed all my sisters' and my clothes. And you know, I had no clue. I had no clue how much work she was doing. I knew she worked and worked hard. But I had no appreciation for it, for what she did, and how much drudgery was involved.

Because it is. It's drudgery. It's never-ending, because no matter how much of it you do, it is never done. As soon as you finish up one load of clothing, there's more waiting to be done. People like to talk so nostalgically about how happy the fifties were, and how women knew their place and were so happy doing it and wouldn't it be great to go back to the fifties??


I do not find satisfaction in housework. I don't feel complete because I just did three loads of laundry and put it all away for people who don't seem to appreciate it and end up throwing most of it, still clean, mind you, on the floor. I don't find joy in washing dishes, nor do I hum with satisfaction as I dust the shelves, or sweep the floor. I don't enjoy endless, repetitive tasks. I don't know very many people who do, male or female. So no, I don't think the fifties were so great, and I bet if you ask a lot of the women who had spent the forties working as Rosie the Riveter if they enjoyed giving that up and spending their time doing grunt work at home, being good little homemakers and baby raisers, you'd probably hear a lukewarm, "I did the best I could with what I had."

I should know. I've asked. There's a reason feminism went big in the early sixties.

And I have to tell you, if that dryer doesn't get fixed soon, my "Feminine Mystique" will be a mystery to my family no longer, and I will be declaring my independence and maybe even burning my bra in the backyard. By the clothesline.

Because, seriously, this BITES!!!


  1. I completely understand this. I am a student of history, and was taught to do all of those chores. My parents were very much of the opinion that boys and girls should be able to do housework, yardwork, and automotive maintenance. Add in the fact that they were both military, and it results in me folding Celia's undies and believing that everything should be in its proper place.

    I have to agree on why feminism became possible in the 1960s. Technology finally made it possible and affordable to have both adults in the household out in the work place. I also admit that I wish Celia made enough money to make it possible for me to stay home and take care of the house. There are some parts of house work I enjoy, like cooking and certain aspects of keeping the house picked up.

    1. There are things I know how to do that I have no clue where or how I learned them. Or why. I suspect one of my numerous farm-raised great aunts and uncles taught me some of them.

      Some housework, I don't mind. I find dishwashing to be very zen, for example. But I don't enjoy the endless Sisyphean tasks that come with a household, because... they're never done. Ever. As soon as you're done, you turn around... and there's more to do!!! Of course, the free slave labor... I mean... er... kids help, and have their chores, but I freely admit that I would love to have my own personal version of Alice Nelson so I could sit around and do ugly needlepoint in brown, like Carol Brady. Just... not as chirpy. Or blonde.