Grandma's Solar-Powered Wisdom

An early memory of my Grandma Imel is playing around her legs while she clipped laundry on and off her backyard clothesline.  I remember the distinct fresh smell of crisp white sheets and kitchen linens at her house.  I remember how she wore a special smock with pockets in the front, full of wooden clothespins. She'd sewn the smock of blue and white cotton ticking, with its thin red piping, herself.  It must have been a key to how she could work so quickly along the line.

My mom would occasionally hang out a heavy quilt and a few other things on her line.  But she had discovered the convenience of an electric clothes dryer and the wonder of artificially scented dryer sheets with their now-suspect ingredients.  With all of her responsibilities on the farm, including endless loads of dirty jeans, she became too busy to appreciate the solar power that her mother knew worked just fine. For several years, including those when I lived in a subdivision where clotheslines were forbidden, I never questioned the wisdom of using the electric dryer.

This summer, my husband and I are trying a clothesline for the first time.  It is distinctly our own, with wooden poles he constructed himself.  Being a sort of engineer about anything he does, my husband is still fretting about the tension on the line and whether the poles are staying in place without warping.  He reminds me of the grandfather he never met who probably built that other clothesline anchored with metal poles.  Grandpa Polk was an accomplished machinist who could weld.

Talking about clotheslines, and particularly about women doing most of the laundry work, gives an uneasy pinch to my feminist sensibilities.  Women of my generation all got a higher education so we wouldn't be caught dead doing our own laundry, didn't we?  Economics and concern for the environment bring us all back to this simpler place, where the naturally air-dried freshness of my towels makes me feel strangely empowered.

Tomorrow:  the latest in the global resurgence of the clothesline and the right to air your laundry!

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