The Art and Craft of Hanging Out the Wash

You think it's a chore? Think again.

Hi friends. Happy weekend! I’m guessing the last thing you’re thinking about right now are chores. Me too! But don’t worry—I’m not talking about work here. It’s more like play. You’ll see why in a minute.

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We live simply here in the boondocks. We’re surrounded by the outdoors and not much else. I love to be outdoors when the air is warm in the sun and cool in the shade and a breeze is moving in off the water. On days like that, if I’m going to be home anyway, I’m thinking, “Great day to hang out the wash!”

(You were expecting adventure here? Silly you.)

I have a dryer in the garage but that doohickey that keeps the temperature steady and shuts the dryer off when it senses no more moisture is broken, and the dryer won’t stop until I manually hit the button. I have to set the timer on the fridge in order to remember to go out there to the detached garage and shut the thing down. If I forget to set the timer that load could tumble in that sizzling drum for hours, making a simple laundry day fraught with danger.

But who needs fussy modern conveniences when I have clotheslines? And a view that never gets old? There’s almost always a breeze coming off the water and it fluffs those things just right. Everything lasts longer when they’re wind-dried vs overheated-air dried. And there’s something satisfying about pinning the wash onto clotheslines in pleasing patterns.

Yes. I said that.

I mean…I hang pants and jeans by the hems, two clothespins to each leg to keep them straight. I line up the sheets top hem to bottom hem and clip them to the line so they form an air pocket any little breeze has no trouble finding. Tee shirts are hung just below the shoulders, not right on them, because we all know what happens if you clip at the shoulders: you get bumps.

Sometimes I color-coordinate my line-bound laundry, even to the point of shading from dark to light. Socks always face the same direction, tallest to shortest, heels to the left. Well, yes, symmetry — it’s a thing with me and I’m trying to break it — but I never thought it was odd until I began writing this. Now I’m feeling a little silly. But I probably won’t stop doing it.

No, I know I won’t.

I have a clothes prop.

I have a hand wringer for beach towels and bathing suits. (My son, when he was a toddler, called them ‘babing suits’. You probably say ‘swim suits’.)

And I have stories. Things happen when you’re out hanging the wash. In this early piece, Frog Stories: Tales of Pursuit, Hope and Suicide, when I wasn’t talking about my grandson Jonathan’s famous frog exploits (which are really quite cute and not at all gross; he didn’t end up being a mass murderer because of them) I told this story:

As I watched those hapless amphibians being caught and released over and over again, I got to thinking about the time I tried to save a suicidal frog.

It was a warm, sunny, early spring day with a breeze off the lake that cried out for sheets to be drying on the line. I had just set my laundry basket down when I sensed something in the grass to my left. It was a big green frog and I don’t know how I knew it was there, because it could have been a frog statue, still as a stone. It sat there with its head turned away from me the entire time I was hanging the sheets, and that seemed mighty odd, considering I could be the enemy for all it knew.

But then I saw what it was watching. It was a snake in the grass. A REAL snake in the grass. And it was poised, head up, in strike mode. But the frog just sat there, waiting.

“Go!” I whispered to that frog, but if it heard me it didn’t acknowledge it. “Get out of here!” I said out loud, but it never twitched a muscle. I stomped my foot, and again — nothing.

Finally I turned my attention to the snake. I was not going to be a witness to this. No frog on my watch was going to die-by-snake. I had a long clothes prop nearby and I reached for it, but then thought better of it. What if that snake crawled up the prop and got me before I could send it flying?

What to do, what to do? “Get out of here!” I yelled to the snake. But once again I might as well have been a thousand miles away. Neither of them were paying any attention to me. I was afraid to move. I had it in my head that my presence was the only thing keeping that frog alive. If I moved in any direction–toward the frog, away from the frog–the snake would strike for sure. There were no rocks within reach, nothing to throw, so I yelled louder: “Come on you guys, stop this!”

My husband came around the corner to see what all the fuss was about, and, without a thought to his own safety, he calmly kicked the snake away from the grass and onto the beach, where it slithered into the water and went out of sight.

So what did the frog do? It looked at me as if to say, Fool!”, and hopped down to the beach in hot pursuit of its executioner.

The moral of this story is, when a frog wants to die it’s going to die, no matter what kind of intervention you desperately attempt. Saving the world is a sorry, unappreciated business. Take your victories where you find them, and forget about the ingrates — amphibians included.

So all I’m really saying here is the next time you see someone out hanging laundry, don’t feel sorry for them. It’s a whole different world for us washerfolk. Sometimes, as with most things mundane and potentially repetitive, we creatives look for ways to turn them into art. Or maybe playtime.

And sometimes there’s drama. Real drama. And then we have a story.

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