Backyard Clotheslines and Fresh Country Breezes

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The Story

Chores were a constant duty to perform, although they were not referred to as such; they were just work. There were things that had to be done, and we children were required to do our parts. It was never much, but we had our little jobs to do, and we’d volunteer to help our elders.

My grandmother had this big white washing machine that she kept on her front porch. I hope you are not picturing a modern-day washing machine — oh, no! This was a big potbellied washing machine that stood on four legs. Using a wringer on top, we would feed wet clothes through it to remove excess water. My mother said sometimes that their hands and arms would get caught in the wringer if they became careless when they put in clothes. This must have been extremely painful! We were not allowed to put clothes through the wringer for this reason. We were allowed to use the tin washing board to scrub the stains out our clothes before washing them in the washing machine. This took strong arms and determination, for you had to dunk the clothes into soapy water before, using all your strength, rubbing them against the washing board’s ridges to loosen the dirt and stains.

We were also allowed to assist in hanging up clothes on the backyard clotheslines. One of those clotheslines had long, V-shaped stick poles that were meant to hold the line high off the ground once clothes were hung. We lowered the line when it was time to hang the clothes, raising it once more when the clothes were neatly and orderly arranged so they could not be snatched off by animals. Some people, including my family, were very systematic in the way they hung clothes on their clotheslines.

You could not just hang the shirts with the pants, the underwear with the dresses, or the colored clothes with the white clothes. To hang the clothes correctly, you needed to order the pants by color and length, and the shirts by color and type. There was also a unique way of hanging sheets: you brought the ends together, like the way you might fold a slice of bread, and then you’d fasten the ends neatly on the clothesline with clothespins to secure them on the line. And, you had better not let anything touch the ground in the process! It took a while to learn to do it correctly, but once you learned how, there was pride in doing a job well, no matter how big or small the task.

We would have lots of fun running under the clothes and playing hide-and-seek behind the thin sheets that would flap reluctantly when a strong wind blew. Of course, we did this without the knowledge or permission of the grownups. We also had the grand responsibility of taking the clothes off the line before it rained, or before they became soaked from an unexpected shower. This was fun for me, because it gave me an opportunity to play in the rain.

My older cousin’s garden also provided a place for us to work, learning about seed time and harvest. We had to help hoe neat rows, plant seeds, shell peas and beans, shuck corn, and clean mustard greens. We would hide from each other when the cornstalks grew tall and firm. All these tasks were fulfilling and fun. I would work until the inevitable occurred; I’d see a bug on the corn when I pulled back the shucks. Then, I would throw whatever I had in my hands to the ground and quickly sprint back into the house to do a less stressful chore, like washing the dishes.

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