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Poland Column: The clothesline: The gentle cycle

on Monday, 15 March 2021. Posted in Columns, Opinions

Poland Column: The clothesline: The gentle cycle

A neighbor suggested I join a community website where people post about restaurant openings and closings, shady repairmen, and snakes. “What kind of snake is this?” The answer is always, “I don’t know but it looks poisonous to me.” 

Forget snakes. I took the bait and signed up. Mostly the neighborhood network is about Spots and Boots, lost dogs and cats, but last week a post caught my eye. A woman had bought a home in the community and she needed some gallant man to take down the old clothesline out back. 

Take it down? 

How about use it. 

Here we are wringing our hands over global warming and feeling guilty about driving fossil fuel burners, and what do we do? We turn our back on the clothesline, a simple, earth-friendly way to dry clothes. My friend, folk artist Harold Branham, summed things up with some nifty verses. 

“When life was on the gentle cycle/All you needed was two trees/You could hang your clothes on a line/And let them dry in the breeze/Now it takes two tall poles/With high voltage lines/To dry the clothes that you wear/Because you don’t have the time.” 

How well I remember being sent to fetch dry clothes off the line when a summer storm was blowing in. The cotton shirts were stiff and starchy and smelled like sunshine. What? You say you can’t smell sunshine. Sure you can. Gather up some fresh cotton towels and shirts from a day on the clothesline. That airy clean fragrance? That’s the sun you smell. But no, we are too good for that today. Now we need fabric softener to get a fresh fragrance. And lint screens. Did you ever see a clothesline create a bunch of lint? I haven’t. 

Why’d we give up on the clothesline? Was it seeing someone’s bloomers flying in the wind like the sail of a seagoing schooner? Was it the occasional dog that pulled Dad’s work pants from the line and chewed ’em up good? Was it rain that set in for days meaning no fresh clothes? Maybe. Was it the desire to be modern like our neighbors? 

I say the latter with a tad of laziness thrown in. We like gadgets and appliances. Stuff that makes work easier. Electric dryers. Blow dryers. Electric can openers. Battery powered blowers. Electric and gasoline weedeaters. Anyone out there remember sling blades? They made no noise and they worked fairly well. 

The clothesline. Going, going, gone. Enjoy Harold’s art of an institution going the way of some extinct species. I stumbled onto at an abandoned home. 

Abandoned. Now that’s the word we seek. We abandoned clotheslines even though they worked just fine. And yet we complain about the environment and utility bills when the truth is we can do something good for Mother Nature, if we want to. 

As for that lady and her new home, I hope some old-timer gave her a pack of wooden clothespins (hard to find) and explained just how to use that line strung across her back yard. In Harold’s words, why not put at least a part of her life “on the gentle cycle,” something many of can do … if we so choose. 

Visit Tom Poland at Email him at tompol@

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