Saturday, August 18, 2012

So Now a Clothesline is Homesteading?

          This was the teaser on the front page of our local paper's Fluff section a couple of Sundays ago:

          Hooray! for the comeback of the clothesline—although I never realized it had gone away. Hooray! for the sunshine smell of line-dried sheets and the zen loveliness of walking a basket of freshly-washed clothes out into the fresh air and sun and clipping them to the line one-by-one as you listen to the birds natter and the leaves rustling in the breeze. Hooray! for any excuse at all to go outside and enjoy the day while actually accomplishing a Necessary Task.
          I am going to have to rant about that last sentence, though.
          Because, really.
          How to use a clothesline?
          How to use a clothesline?
          It's not like there's any mystery there.
          Even if, say, the operation of the spring-clip clothespin eludes you*, you are still completely capable of slinging a wet shirt over the clothesline, just like you sling a towel over the shower rod.
          Done and done. Easy schmeasy. That's all there is to it.
          And yet the article in the paper (which I dutifully read, because I simply boggled at the idea that anyone could come up with enough column inches about using clotheslines to fill up half a page) seems to think that many (perhaps most) of us are dumber than three cubic yards of grass clippings, and therefore require instructions on the use of the mysteriously incomprehensible clothesline.
          To which end, they recommend a book, which I will not name because I'm going to brazenly mock it. Apparently it's all part of a resurgence in interest in traditional home arts and homesteading.** 
          Homesteading? Hanging laundry out to dry on a nice summer's day is homesteading?
          Nope, sorry. Homesteading is 160 acres of the poorest, windiest land Kansas has to offer. Homesteading is trying to make it to harvest on a dryland wheat farm in a drought year. Homesteading is the nearest grocery store being 44 years away. Homesteading is a starvation winter in a drafty tarpaper shack with only blizzards for entertainment.
          Sure, homesteaders hung their laundry out to dry (apparently they were smart enough not only to figure out how to use a clothesline without an instruction manual, but also how to make one), but this was not a choice on their parts; it was a necessity. They didn't have electricity-powered dryers to renounce. If they had had dryers, they would have fallen to their knees weeping tears of joy, embraced the dryer, and never hauled another heavy basket of wet laundry out to the clothesline in the middle of January ever again in their entire lives***.
          I've lived in houses with and without clotheslines. When I've had one, I've used it. This does not make me a homesteader. This doesn't even make me someone who has a hazy, golden-glowy mental picture of herself in a fetching sunbonnet and gingham dress, picturesquely hanging lace-trimmed bloomers out to dry.
          The real homesteader, the one who would have said, "Are you crazy out of your mind?" if I'd told her I was renouncing my dryer, was an overworked drudge, prematurely old, in a sweat-stained dress, whose survival depended partially on the completion of a chore list you couldn't finish with a platoon of workers and partially on the weather, which was almost always too much of one thing and not enough of the other.
          Who among us would really want to be a homesteader? It was a miserable, difficult life, totally bereft of smartphones and iPads and filled to the brim with aching joints, walking miles to get to the nearest town, a complete lack of electricity of any sort, and vanishingly few hot showers.
          So let us be clear: if I hang my clothes on the clothesline, it is not because I am "homesteading." It is because I like the smell of line-dried sheets.

*Grasp the open ends, thumb on one side, index finger on the other. Pinch together. Notice how the bottom end opens? Clip it to something and release. See? So easy even a teenage boy can master it.

**I have a small request. If you are interested in traditional home arts, contact me. Because as I have noted before, I hate to vacuum. But I would love to teach you to do it for me. And think how traditional and homey you'd then feel with your new domestic skill. And if I'm reading the tea leaves of this trendy new trend correctly, you will also feel morally superior.

***Yes, they used their clotheslines summer and winter. Yes, the clothes froze. It was much less fun than one is led to believe in the "homesteading" books.

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