With Jean Ponzi

On housework days when the weather is fine, any time of year, my laundry gets sun-dried out on the clothesline.

My line strings around a triangle of trees. I loop the nylon rope over an old iron hook that some earlier dwellers in our home screwed into the Ailanthus tree to hold their hammock.  I stretch it taut past the head-high nub of a branch lopped off the skinny pine, throw its coiled end through the crotch of the box elder and pull it straight to the hook again.

This arboreal array gives me just enough space to hang the heavy-fabric stuff from a couple of washer loads: blue jeans, t-shirts long and short sleeved, all the towels, our flannel sheets. Out in the air where energy is free I hang our yellow, orange, green and purple clothing, solids for my husband Dale, stripes for me. I pin up the colors in patterns, just for fun.

My Grandma hung her wash out too, relying on her gas dryer only in the dead of Wisconsin winters. Grandma’s line ran like guitar strings, six parallel stretches between her house and a clothesline rail Grandpa built, its whitewashed board and knob-topped posts fitted with big hooks he screwed in exactly opposite their twins on the house wall.

Most of Grandma and Grandpa’s yard was lush with trees.  But closest to the house, their yard ran up a little rise to a sunny open square.  On washdays, here’s where the cotton clothesline reeled off the heavy wooden “H” Grandpa sanded smooth enough for little hands to help rewind it.

These long lines drooped before any wet wash weight was added, but Grandma had a system for laundry hanging that used all the upper yard space, stretchy clothesline notwithstanding. Before she pinned them full, Grandma slightly propped up every line with stout bamboo poles, trimmed to an exact length and notched by Grandpa. Once they were laden with laundry, she jacked the poles up straight so nothing clean touched the ground. My cousins and I played hide and seek between the flapping rows, dodging poles and our bustling Grandma.

Grandma hung out everything. Socks and drawers, skirts and slips, work shirts and dress shirts, towels and trousers. Her work cut down the electric bills covered by Grandpa’s paychecks. But even in stickiest July, she indulged in a ten-minute tumble to fluff certain things in her Kenmore dryer. Line-dried towels are tolerable but you don’t want the underwear feeling like cardboard.

She used slide-on wooden clothespins, the ones you can paint into soldiers or dress with tulle as ballerinas. She scorned the two-piece, metal-spring clip-on pins as an excessive gimmick. “I don’t believe in those,” she’d say. I guess there’s a continuity lapse in my clothesline gene sequencing. I prefer the clippy kind. I keep one of Grandma’s well-worn sliders, a talisman in my clothespin bag.

I know some communities prohibit hanging wash on lines. Maybe they need some women mayors, or a talking-to about energy efficiency.

When I visited Italy, every balcony of every tenement and home flew laundry as proudly as national flags. There was so much Italian wash on lines I wondered if anybody owned a dryer. From black lingerie to flowered curtains, clean goods hung boldly on display. The clotheslines stitched medieval streets into a

tapestry of human life, magnificent and ordinary.

Some people invest in fancy backyard clothesline apparatuses, spider webs on metal poles that spin your wash like merry-go-rounds. I believe in simple lines strung around trees in my city yard. A church-bazaar cloth bag, sewn over a wire hanger, dangles from the hammock hook, full of little wooden clips.

Like Grandma I busily bob and turn, shake out wrinkles, reach and pin, hanging things to dry in sunshine.

Join Jean Ponzi Mondays, 7-8 pm, for a chat over clotheslines of the air, on her FM-88 KDHX environmental radio talk show “Earthworms,” or listen online anytime at www.kdhx.org.