By Leigh Ann Hubbard
May: The grass tickles my bare feet. Something is blooming somewhere — honeysuckle? The sun heats my back and shoulders, tight from deskwork.
August: Dripping sweat. Dark sky. No thunder yet; a little time left … maybe. The breeze edges toward wind.
January: Cold whips. My muscles tense, feet dance. Why didn’t I put on a coat?
Gotta get the clothes on the line.
I don’t own a clothes dryer.
“Look at that sun!” I thought, after I bought my little house last April. “Who needs a dryer in Mississippi? Think what else I could do with that money — and that space.”
Deep down, though, I knew: I wouldn’t last. Give it three months. I’d get me one o’ them newfangled drying machines. Silly to live without one these days.
Now, almost a year later — I never want a dryer again.
It’s both nostalgia and being usually tethered to electronics that, for me, turn the chore of clothes-hanging into a soul-nourishing, meditation-like experience.
Not what I expected.
For one thing, there’s an ethereal connection to the women who came before, baskets by their feet.
When I tell people I have a clothesline, they often immediately mention their mothers. Today, most adults probably either used a clothesline or have a mother or grandmother who did. It wasn’t until the late 1930s that electric dryers were even available. By the mid-1950s, only about 10% of American households had one, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At that time, they cost about $2,600 in today’s dollars.
People also immediately remember a “fresh smell” from the clothes, which, by the way, is chemicals — pretty sure. The only time my laundry smells like anything other than pollen is when I use scented detergent. It fades in the breeze, leaving a more subtle freshness, mixed a bit with that outdoorsy scent — but basically still detergent.
Funny how different things are when we experience them than when we imagine them, or even remember them.
“Our residents don’t want technology.” Eye roll.
“Mrs. Dunkins doesn’t own a cellphone.” Sigh.
“He doesn’t even have an email address.” Head shake.
A loved one of mine refused to get a smartphone for years. “What if you get lost?” I’d ask. “What if you have an emergency? I want to text you pictures!”
Of course, many older people use modern tech as often — and as adeptly — as people who grew up with it. Six in 10 Americans 65 and older own a smartphone, for example, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey. And often, any resistance to tech is mostly fear of looking stupid or messing something up.
But when we do interact with people who just plain don’t want those electronic tethers … is it possible that we — the enlightened, the informed, the forward-focused denizens of modern society — could be the ones who are missing something?
Drying clothes outside necessitates a more practical connection to the weather, which feels like tuning into an atrophied instinct, like something we were made to do but forgot about. Your ears, eyes, hairs twitch to analyze clues for when a storm will hit. Milder winter and summer days become Important — catch ’em while you can. You learn the angles of the sun, and when it will start to set. You notice when the waning days flip to waxing after the solstice.
There’s also a disconnection — from worry and anxiety. This happens without effort. No deep breaths in, slowly blow out. No pressure point massages, no conscious attempts at mindfulness. You’re just gently focused.
Double the towel over enough to stay on the line but not impede drying.
Will one clothespin hold this? How many do I have left?
Is this shirt still damp, or is it just cold?
What would it be like to show someone from the 1950s how we live today? They would be amazed at some things. And appalled at some things. Same with us if we went back to their time.
But we’d agree on a few things.
It’s nice to feel the sun on your shoulders. To study the storm clouds. To hear the songbirds talk to each other across the breeze.
It’s nice, sometimes, to feel connected — to something other than the Wi-Fi.