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I used to live in a town that had been home to a clothespin mill. The mills were long-gone, which was too bad, because they made the kind of clothespin I like. It’s the kind we used to turn into little dolls, with yarn hair and fabric scrap dresses, and I could sometimes get my grandmother to draw the faces for me, since she had a good artist’s hand at that sort of thing. A little girl with a shoebox full of “peg” clothespins, Nana’s rag bag and yarn basket, and some glue, would be busy all afternoon. (I make it sound as if I had some idyllic Little House on the Big Prairie childhood. I didn’t. We were a rural Baptist family with a black and white television and a Chevrolet station wagon. I had fashion dolls and a bike with an orange vinyl “banana” type seat. But I liked the old crafts even as a child, and I was naturally happy.)

I like peg clothespins, but I can’t find them, just the spring kind that come apart after a few uses. Don’t even offer me the plastic ones! They break and split way too fast.

My husband is really dissatisfied with the clothesline we just bought. It is braided nylon and according to him, not heavy enough, so it stretches when I get heavy, wet clothes on it. He is an old sailor, and he knows a good piece of line when he sees it, and this ain’t it. But it is doing the work for now. The heavier line is too thick for these scaled down spring pins, anyway.

I really, really dislike the plastic covered wire kind of line, since the plastic soons rots in the sun and then there are bare, rusty places, which leave marks on your white clothes if you’re not careful. When I did mission work in Honduras, another missionary and I went to buy new clothesline for the girls’ home where we worked. We never found “clothesline” – it was either horrid yellow polypropylene or the plastic covered wire. So we settled for the wire, took it back, and strung it up in the drying yard. It was an improvement on the string that had been there before!

Drying yards are so nice, if you can have one. They are enclosed, walled structures – like a hut without a roof – and have a concrete floor. The one at the girls’ home had a rather terrifying well, covered with a heavy concrete cap. When the electricity went out (and it did regularly) we had to heave this cap off the well and dip out the water with buckets. I was always worried that one of the little girls would go pitching into it, since they were immensely curious about the well, as they were about anything out of the ordinary. The home had a laundry room that had modern machines, but it also had two pilas, deep sinks with built in scrubboards. They were made of some cast stone mixture, and they were great for getting things really clean, as long as you were mindful not to scrub a hole right through the fabric. Most Latin American homes had a pila. I wish I had one sometimes. They are not portable, though.

Of course, Honduras has the kind of climate where you can hang clothes out year round (not counting the rainy season.)  Bad weather in the North sometimes limits clothesdrying days. If it is clear and cold, the clothes will freeze dry on the line eventually, but rain and wet snow can be devastating to the line and the cleanliness of the clothes! I had the sheets sag down into the sheep pen once, from the high position of the double pulley clothesline. The sheep found this very interesting, and trampled everything into the muck.

So, rule number one: Avoid clotheslines over sheep pens! This was an odd situation, as I had to remove some young ewes from the pasture, but had nowhere to put them but immediately behind the house. The clothesline was already in place. It was an unusually wet and gloomy winter!

I don’t like the double pulley “lazy woman” clotheslines. They never hold enough, you can’t take down clothes as they are dried, or rearrange items to dry better. The worst pulley line I ever had was at a little house that was built into the hillside, with the front door at ground level and the back door one story up. The clothesline was in the back, off a platform about the size of a desktop, no steps to the ground, and one false move away from a broken leg or worse. 

Nicholas did put up clotheslines in the basement after the sheep stole the sheets, attaching them to boards screwed to the walls. There was a woodstove in the basement, which facilitated drying if I cared to light it, but I found that a couple of ordinary room fans (the oscillating kind) got the clothes dry pretty quickly. My mother had basement clotheslines when I was small, and one of those wringer washers. During the summer drying was done in the backyard. I doubt if the washer made the trip upstairs seasonally; those babies are little monsters.

A porch line is nice, if you have a big porch and can put up several parallel lines. It’s not really protection against rain, but it keeps the sun from fading the clothes quite as much, and you don’t have to work in weather.

When we travelled in our little travel trailer, I took my washtubs and stand with us, along with clothesline and pins, and did the laundry wherever I could. Some parks – the “resort” kind – don’t want to see clotheslines, ruins the vacation experience, I suppose. We stayed the longest at a park on a native reserve, and they had no problem with looking at clean laundry.

A breeze helps dry the clothes and softens the towels and sheets. Too much wind, as I had at the rectory in New Denmark, means you never know where your clothes may land. It was rather embarrassing to have parishioners bring over my pillow cases and nightgowns from the church yard or cemetery. Still, the view from the back deck at that parish was breathtaking, across the green or snow-covered fields, over the forests, to the blue haze of the mountains.

That’s the best part of clotheslines – gentle exercise under the blue sky God gave us.

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