On this particularly beautiful September morning, the temperature is in the sixties and the wind is blowing slightly through the foliage, still green, but soon to be varietals of colors and more than just picturesque. On a day such as this, I feel that man should never have invented the dryer. My apologies to George T. Sampson, who invented the first clothes dryer in the late 1800s.
Even though the now familiar electric clothes dryer was invented in 1915, the Strange family didn’t own a clothes dryer until the late fifties. Instead, Mother transported the wet laundry from the washing machine to the backyard to hang on the clothesline that stretched across the expanse of the lawn. Some of our neighbors owned the metallic rotary clothesline that resembled a large beach umbrella with internal lines designed like a spider web. The contraption spun around which made it easier to pull the clothes from the lines when they were dry. Most people merely had multiple lines of rope stretched horizontally between two posts sectioned off, away from the house, and in the sun. For us, a simple rope extended between two trees sufficed.
The Strange laundry was usually done in the morning, so there would be an entire day for the clothes to line dry. With the wind blowing and the sun shining, Mother ventured out to the clothes lines with basket and clothespins bag in hand. The clothespins were wooden and either made out of one long strip of wood with a split up the middle, or two pieces of wood held together by a metal spring. The two styles were mixed in together and it didn’t make any difference whether they matched or not. Their job was to hold the clothes securely on the line regardless of the amount of wind that might whip through the air on any given day.
One of the trees holding up the clothesline was a large Weeping Willow standing almost exactly in the middle of the back yard. In the spring, a very ornery pair of Blue Jays arrived and nested in the Willow. The birds went about their business of creating their nest and at first made no ruckus during their construction project. That is, until the eggs hatched, and then, depending on the incubation stage of the eggs, the Jays entire demeanor changed.
Mother would nonchalantly begin her task of hanging out the laundry and here came the Blue Jays. They swooped down on her, almost in an attack-like mode and squawked voraciously at her as though she were intruding on their nest. Apparently the nest, the tree and most of the backyard became part of their territory. Trespassing anywhere near their claimed stake was verboten.
Mother was barely able to get the laundry pinned up as they repeatedly attacked her. When everything was dry, all of us would run out to the clothesline and quickly pull the clothes and sheets and towels from the line, dropping them into the basket. The clothespins spilled on the ground all around us and later in the day Mother retrieved them from the ground when the Blue Jays were quiet and not in view. Their protective behavior generally lasted a few weeks and once the baby birds were born the adult Jays settled down and didn’t bother Mother after that-at least not as much.
Once dry, Mother sprinkled the cotton laundry, folded the pieces and placed them in a pillowcase in the refrigerator. Once cooled, she brought out the clothes and ironed them. There were no permanent press clothes so many garments required ironing. Once folded or placed on hangers, the clothes were put away in their respective drawers and closets-waiting for their next adventure with the Blue Jays.
Other than the excitement of the attacking birds, doing laundry was I suspect, a tedious and boring chore. But the image of the cotton sheets blowing in the wind, with the fresh air engulfing the fabric and the ultimate pleasure of breathing in the outdoors as a cotton undershirt was slipped over my head, is a childhood memory that brings pleasure to my senses.
Once we bought a clothes dryer, the line dried laundry went by the wayside. The Blue Jays moved on and eventually the Weeping Willow died and had to be cut down. I don’t remember exactly when that happened, but on a day such as this, I can still see the laundry hanging on the clothesline, blowing in the wind. Mother is still ducking the attacks of those loquacious Blue Jays and the sun is shining through the weeping limbs of the Willow.
I like to sleep on freshly laundered, fully cotton, ironed sheets that smell crisp and clean. I know that they have not been dried by the sun and the breeze, but I like to imagine that they have. And perhaps as humanity looks to ways in which to reduce global warming, the clothesline will come back out, clothespins will make a resurgence and the Blue Jays and other birds will once again stake out their rightful claim to backyards across the world.