the clothesline talks

the clothesline talks

The clothesline talks if you’re listening to it. I and some friends discuss our experiences with this bygone item in the clothesline talks.

Thanks for reading this. I love to share memories because I know that maybe a few words that I write might just resonate with your memories, especially those loving good memories. 

For more of my storytelling, click here! 

Drying Laundry

The clothesline talks if you listen to it. If you’re of a certain age or lived in a certain part of the country, you probably remember clotheslines fondly.

I know I do. Wherever I go, I always look for these bygone drying implements of days long ago, and I want to share a story of finding one. Then, I’ll share some other’s stories. 

Sun Dried Clothes

Backroads when driving offer the most charming glimpses into history and the past. Unless you’re really in a hurry to get somewhere, I say avoid those big highways and Interstates.

It’s worth the time. Sometimes getting to your destination means finding lonesome and scenic country roads and maybe backroads. That’s the case when our family gathered for a big reunion in the heat of July at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia.

How to Dry Clothes with Dryer

To get to our rental property meant windy and narrow roads, passing by vintage –looking general stores and gas stations, and seeing the backbone of America, the people, in their yards doing their chores on a Sunday afternoon.

Outdoor Laundry Line

One thing that caught my eye when we turned yet another corner to meander the last mile to the hidden property was a 1940s style house on the corner, nestled in a large green yard, more like a pasture, and there in the rear of the house was a clothesline.

Outdoor Laundry Line

Not just a small clothesline, mind you, but one of considerable length with triple lines, weathered crooked posts holding it from end to end, and relics of history, like an old birdhouse, adorning these posts. I knew I had to know more about this clothesline and who lived there.

Dry Clothes Outside

The next day Ben and I decided to take a long walk, and, yep, I wanted to head back up the curvy road to the house with the clothesline.

As we got there, I felt like the heavens had opened up, as if Norman Rockwell had painted a magnificent photo for me—there was a wiry small grey-headed little woman stretching her arms hanging laundry, lots of it.

Hanging Clothes to Dry Outside

As the wind gently blew breezes that were oven-temperature, the garments and large white eyelet dust ruffle, already hung, would flap and billow. I just stood there in amazement at the beauty.

Sun Dry Laundry

Now you might ask, why I was so moved by this scene. Well, it reminded me of my past.

Yes, of my history, my life, living back in Southern Appalachia. Funny how that happens more as we enter our third chapters of life.  

With the exception of during the winter (and still sometimes on sunny days), Mom would carry outside loads of washed and rung out laundry piled high in baskets.

Hanging Laundry Outside

She’d lumber up the 15 or so wooden steps from our cave-like dark musty dank basement to the backyard where there was what seemed to me as a child, an endless clothesline.

With four kids, there was a lot of washing and laundry to do, plus cooking, gardening, canning, sewing and more. No wonder she was in great shape and slim and svelte.

Wooden clothespins on table

Line Drying Clothes Outside

The memories of the feel of those tattered and worn all-cotton terry cloth towels and worn and well-used sheets after they’d dried in the open warm air—yes, stiff and with a gentle roughness of sandpaper.

Little did I know then that these towels were perfect for the exfoliation of dead skin cells!

Benefits of Drying Clothes in the Sun

The aromas of the clothing—everything I put on my body smelled of summer rain, fresh sunshine, and mountain air. The sheets, no high thread count, were clean and seemed ‘ironed’ by Mother Nature.

Is it Better to Dry Clothes Outside

And, Mom’s organization of the clothesline and the things she hung was impeccable.

From the beautiful wooden pins that were in the trusty bag to the arrangement of the things draping from the sturdy lines—it was as if it was a department store’s showcase window.

The colors. The styles. The textures. The patterns. Yes, a work of art.

Sun Dried Clothes

Of course, I didn’t think that at all as a kid. All I saw was work and more work. Like when Mom made me, yes, ‘made’ me, go and pull off and fold the dried clothes.

I can remember dreaming of a thing called a dryer. Oh, lawdy, what I’d give to go back in time and pull those clothes off the line.

How to Line Dry without a Line

Oh, yes, it can be done. If you have a rail use it. A small drying rack that you can unfold and stand up. Even pieces of outdoor furniture can be used to throw clothing and washed items on to dry.

So, back to this little woman. You can imagine seeing two strangers standing across the road looking at you as you’re hanging out your laundry.

She glanced at me and Ben with some trepidation. I crossed the road, walked through the grass, Ben followed me. We smiled, extended our hands, and said we were renting property down the road. I shared with her that her laundry was, for me, an art form and brought back memories of growing up in West Virginia.

I don’t think she really bought that ‘art’ comment as she had this expression of ‘child, you must be delirious…here I am in 95-degree weather hanging clothes and you see art’.

Hang Laundry Outside

We continued to talk. We learned that she and her sisters, all ‘old maids’, lived in the little house. They were taking care of another elderly relative who’d just had surgery for cancer. Oh, yes, and that relative’s youngens were flying in from Arkansas the next day to help out. She talked more about growing up in this area and life, her relatives, her name and more—just amazing how we stood in that ankle-high emerald green grass the sun toasting our skin and listening to her as she hung piece after piece not losing a beat and sharing her life story. As she moved a few steps to hang a piece, we moved a few steps to continue to listen. It was like a Lifetime movie!

Dry Outside

I told her I was a photographer and asked her if she’d mind if I came back with my camera and take some shots of her laundry. Her expression was even more confounding. I mean I almost laughed. For her, she saw this laundry and the clothesline as her everyday necessity of life, something that was what she’d probably done for 60 to 70 years.

Why in the world would someone want to take ‘peeekchurs’. But, she graciously agreed saying, in her silky Virginia drawl, ‘Well, I sooopppose if that’s whatchu wanner do…I don’t have no problem with it.’

Air Dry Clothes Outside

So, later that day, I hopped in the car camera in hand and spent almost an hour just taking pictures, waiting for a breeze to billow the clothing and languishing in memories of growing up. Shortly before I was finished, a big truck turned that corner and stopped in the road.

The man was looking at me—again, I knew he was probably a local, so I walked over (in hopes of explaining what in the devil I was doing and why). Before I could get a word out, he poked his head out his window and said in his slow Southern drawl with a deadpan look on his face, “Now, missy, donchu know it’ eeemmmmpooooolite to take peeekchurs of other people’s underware?”

Line Drying Clothes

After explaining that I did have permission and why I was doing it, he proceeded to tell me about them thar three ol’ maid sisters who’d always dressed alike.

They’d lived in the house all their lives and were now elderly yet still spry and spunky. Only on the backroads do you find colorful insightful and charming experiences of life.

Best Childhood Memories

You never know what strikes a chord and interests folks. I posted on my FB page a picture of vintage clothespins that my hillbillie WV bestie had given me.

They were her Italian Mom’s and she’d used them several times weekly since the 1930s and up until she stopped in her older age. Here are just some of the comments about clothespins & interspersed throughout are my photos are ‘peeekchurs’ of my Rockwell clothesline. Leave your thoughts about clotheslines & I’ll add it!

Enjoy~  xoxo ~peace & namaste~ ally

Childhood Best Memories

Linda Pelaschier Mihlebach My grandmother and mother also always hung all of our clothing outside. I used to as a young bride as well but busy lives, modern conveniences pollen, and Lyme disease on the rise have put an end to that for me sadly. What a lovely gift of precious memories you were given Ally.

Sherri A Marchese, I remember those. My mom had a basket full of those wooden clothespins. What memories!

Terry Wiley Alice…did you know your clothespins were probably made in Richwood, Nicholas County West Virginia..? There was a clothespin factory there and the pins were made by hand …

Checkered pants hanging from a clothesline

Billie Bj Helms Hillier Awesome. I sent you a PM. Check your other folder.

Billie Bj Helms Hillier I was born in Richwood!

June J Jordan Remember playing with the clothespins?

Terry Wiley, I have a bag of those that were made in Richwood…..a friend’s grandfather made them….

Various items of clothing on the line - the clothesline talks

Jim Linton The question. You gonna use them?

Alyson Pisani, I love even the smallest nostalgic pieces of long ago. They hold such special memories!

Joseph Gollie Women used to drop clothespins in a milk jug at baby showers for prizes.

JoAnn Belack Definitely remember those…..and when they brought those cotton sheets in, my grandmother ironed them on a ‘mangle’……so crisp and cool, but a ton of work.

Clothesline post with birdhouse at top

Missy McCoy, I think they also got used for babies to cut their teeth on. We had a bag hanging on our line too

Jim Linton And they made great rubber band projectiles.

Sherri A Marchese, you described that scene so well that when I finally scrolled through the pictures it was exactly how I had imagined in my mind. The most poignant photo to me was the one with the 3 pairs of matching checkered drawstring britches! Funny how a clothesline can tell such a story. Great piece and photos!

Patti Flannery May Alice D’Antoni Phillips, I still have my Mothers and Grandmothers. They are both mixed together in the bag that my Grandmother made for them. I use them more often than you can imagine on the clothesline that Dad put up for Mom. I use it mostly for our sheets….just love that smell💕

Various blouses hanging from a clothesline

Patsy O’Brien Such sweet memories…

Rich Fletcher, I hung my towels out today.

Sue Harris My washing goes out on the line every day..still a very common practice in UK..can’t beat line-dried linens.

Sonjia Sharp I still hang laundry out Alice D’Antoni Phillips and yes, that smell is one of a kind.

Deborah Whitworth Beck Remembering how fresh the sheets and towels were especially! I am about a year older I think than Adele, great times we grew up in!
Various articles of clothing hanging from a clothesline with a white building in background

Nanou Bip Bip a treasure.

Lee Kokubun Rogers Use to paint a face on it and we played dolls with them.

Susan Weller Bickta I remember my mother hanging clothes out on the washline ….. not so good when the mulberry tree had fruit on it!!!

Wyatt Brenda Wayne Yes, clothes never smelled so good. Of course, I hate ironing now. I had six brothers.

Kim Banick My memory of the clothesline in the backyard is the great tents and houses we built by throwing the blankets over the lines and used every clothespin we could find to connect the edges. smile emoticon Great memory, thanks, Alice!!!!

Jeans and blouses handing from the line

Lori Cripe McLain Such a joy of simpler times! The Amish folks had theirs in the front of their houses in Indiana

Sue Harris a lovely written article heart emoticon .. my friends and I have had much fun also about the etiquette of how you hang your linens on the line..just thrown on any old how, or do you colour match, do you match the colour of the you put them in order of size… do you turn jeans inside out, so pockets dry ?? large linens near the house, unmentionables furthest away.. the different ways can be endless lol..

Sarah Burgess Wolfe Oh yes!

Mary Marshall Love this! Yes, they smelled so good. After we moved back to the states from Germany, I had a clothesline I used myself all the way into the mid-1990s (saving to buy a dryer). I love the smell of sheets dried on the line, that crisp smell you just can’t get in a clothes dryer.

Deborah Biggs Old school. Brings back lots of great memories.

Dreama B. Perry Brings back many memories.

Wooden shed in a field

Linda Pelaschier Mihlebach Thank you for the enjoyment of reading that and a glimpse into the past as well as your travels

Faye Kilgore, do you remember how stiff the clothes would freeze in the winter?

Barbara McCarty Brookhart, I helped hang clothes outside.

Sharon Sullivan, I remember the smells of fresh sheets dried outside.

Robin McGlamery, I loved my clothesline

Nataša Pajestková I still have lines on my balcony (living on the 9th floor). The balcony is turned out of the town; I live on the edge of town. I am not going to buy a drier, and I have two reasons for it: I am single, no reason for a dryer, not a big batch of washing; I love things dried on fresh air. I remember long lines in our garden when I was a child. Great memories, not only because of it but also my loving home, our big garden, and my happy childhood!

Laura Mohr Still have a few of my mothers. Most all our clothes were dried outside. Nothing like the smell of sun-dried sheets and towels.

Spunky Laferrera I have a clothesline and I just brought in some clothes that I put out this morning.

Denise Collins, I remember & loved those days

Shirts and dresses hanging from the line - the clothesline talks

Hochstetter-Fowler Colleen My mom always had some sort of clothesline outside! Clothes never smelled better than hanging outside to dry.

Nanou Bip Bip got very nostalgic reading your story, and of course, you made me laugh, from now on I will say peekchurs hahaha, thank you for sharing with us your sweet memories. God bless you, Ally.

Tony Belda Yes, girlfriend I remember them well!! I helped mamma bring the clothes in off the clothesline! She would unclasp them and either hands me the pins to put in the clothespin bag or she would give me the item to fold and place into the basket. The baskets were bushel baskets from the farm lined with cloth or some had a type of plastic. I remember the red-lined one for sure!! Anyway, I always liked folding the towels or pillowcases into the basket as they were so easy!! LOL, Do you remember sprinkling the items that needed to be ironed and rolling them up and then putting them in the ironing basket? Our folks sure did work hard!! Makes one thankful for the modern conveniences of life we now have. Thanks for the memories!! smile emoticon heart emoticon Lizz
Wooden clothespins lying on white towel



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  1. Kathy Blair says:

    Ally…. What a lovely story…. I so loved it! I grew up hanging out clothes before dryers, and some how I grew to love doing it! We had plenty of laundry with my Mom & 4 kids!! Bless her she needed all the help she could get! But, Mama was really particular about how our clothes was hung… she said “ we don’t hang out clothes like we’ve had no raising”…. I guess also known as
    “ clothes line etiquette “ !! First we had a wet rag that we had to run down the line to be sure it was clean, then we would hang out the clothes. She taught us that you hang all your towels together, all the wash rags together so on & so forth… sheets and clothes hung on the outside lines & the personal pieces ( step-ins & braziers my Big Mama called them) always hung in the middle for privacy! Then we would take the stick with a fork end and prop the line up so the clothes wouldn’t drag the ground. I remember my Momma would hang the clothes out in the winter , especially jeans & the rest she would hang on hangers & hang them all over our apartment to dry from the heat off the heater! But, when the jeans came off the line you could stand them in the corner they would be so stiff! Then we would use a RC bottle with a sprinkler on it & we would sprinkle the clothes that had to be ironed, roll them up tight & put them in the refrigerator to be ironed later….. so laundry day was a day of work…and to think I hear people say
    “ gosh, I have to laundry “ have no idea how easy the task is now no matter of the weather!! I sure wish I had a clothes line now!! I miss those sweet easy days & sleeping on those wonderful fresh smelling sheets!!
    Thanks Ally for a sweet story … ❤️❤️

    1. OMG, dear, Kathy! We were raised by the very same kind of Mama! Lawsy, there was an art and science and a ‘strategy’ to hanging clothes, and ironing! Yes, I loved to iron, too. And, I’m equally as neurotic about it. But, it’s more than hanging clothing or just ironing, it’s a kind of therapy, a peace and understanding that we’re investing energy into something that bring us and others joy. You are a beautiful writer. Thank you for taking the time to share with me your memories. It brings me immense joy just knowing that we are kindred spirits! Alas, our line drying and ironing are slowly going the way of the dinosaur. Lost arts. Sending lots of love, my sweet friend xoxx ally

  2. Barbara Donahue says:

    Alice, love the photos. It does bring back memories from my childhood in WV as well. I remember that my mother and aunt had a pole with a forked limb at the end that they used to prop up the line to counter the weight of the wet clothes pulling the line downward. Odd, the things that you remember from childhood. Totally unimportant fact makes me smile.

    1. I so agree, Barbara…it’s those little things that we remember from childhood that are seared in our minds…and, to think, our grands are doing that now. Thanks for enjoying this post…clothes lines are a remnant of the past, but hey it may make a comeback!! xoxo ~alice

  3. Beautifully written and photographed Al; however, I think both Mom and Katie would agree with your newfound friend about the “art” aspect. Time does have a way of altering our perspective.

    1. Miss T!!!!! Thank you for visiting my virtual keeeechin…we are together so so much in the real kitchen that it’s a treat to be talking to you here. I think you’re right about your Mama and mine…time does change our worlds, and we hope for the better as we face the realities out there xoxo ~al, alice, ally (you know all my egos!)

  4. Ally, not only was this a beautiful bit of nostalgia, it was a poignant bit of writing — yours and those who shared their memories with you. (Imagine that… clothes lines and cast iron skillets… I think you’re onto somethin’, girl!) Prompted by your loving glimpses of this particular clothesline and the loving hands that tended it, you’ve captured and inspired a rare glimpse of Americana. It’s lovely beyond words! (So were your photos.) Can’t tell you how much this meant to me, or how much I miss my clothesline and clothes pins… xoxo.

    1. My Kim! Your words ARE here, AND I always love you even more for how much you share your heart…thank you thank you. Yes, we both try to preserve Americana in our own small ways…gifts to future generations…and, like you, I’m overwhelmed by the memories that clothesline stirred…that’s good stuff…thank you, luv! xoxo PS…I want to do a clothesline and think I will, somehow!

  5. Take me home.. Country road..
    Your commentary brings back fond memories, Ally. We were a clothes line family, as were the older people in the family. Oh, the stories I could tell about how much I learned about the fairer sex between the hanging sheets. 😉

    1. I am chuckling right now, dear cowboy…oh, I know you have some stories to share, and we’ll talk about those over a good glass of wine someday! Thanks for reading, luv, and knowing that our histories aren’t too far apart! xo ~ally

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