The Luxury of Laundry (July 17, 2002 - 2003)
The laundry line has been banned in many a slick new housing tract. But those developers may want to rethink their marketing thrust after reading "Clothesline" by Irene Rawlings and Andrea Vansteenhouse (Gibbs Smith, 96 pages, $21.95), a nostalgic tribute to the days when doing the household wash was a ritual part of a housewife's week.
A devoted careerist may sniff at the suggestion that she should revel in doing the wash, but, again, perhaps not after reading Rawlings and Vansteenhouse's little book.
"Clothesline" could find its place naturally in the current madness for nesting, cocooning and whatever. But its great value is twofold: as a practical guide for caring for one's clothes and as a suggestion that such activities can nurture us spiritually and emotionally.
"Hanging laundry on a line is one of life's luxuries. It represents time," the authors wisely observe. "Time to be alone. Time to think, even to meditate, accompanied by the repeated actions of hanging clothes -- stooping, straightening, lifting, hanging, breathing, watching the clouds."
Time is indeed the necessary luxury for following all the well-researched prescriptions for lifting stains, whitening aged linens, reshaping blue jeans and leather gloves, airing bedding, making lavender moth bags and doing your delicates. But it's useful for those who want to revisit those times and are wondering how to preserve the old things that have come down to them or want to move away from harsh chemicals.
Our grandmothers were experts at these things. In nostalgic letters between a mother and daughter, several old washing lessons are conveyed. For example, the confusion over whether hot water sets or lifts stains. "Dear Bessie," the mother writes, "Scalding water sets stains while briskly boiling removes them. Pour boiling water through stained laundry and all discoloration will be removed if you have not let it set in a previous washing."
The authors, one the editor of two Colorado magazines and the other a psychologist, met while doing gigs as radio show hosts and shared their love of clotheslines.
They began five years of researching clothesline lore, history and memorabilia and taking photographs around the country. The household diary spanning the 1890s to 1940s and belonging to three generations of women, including one called Bessie, fell into their hands and formed the basis of the letters with washing tips.
"People were enchanted with the idea and had clothesline recollections of some sort. They would tell us their stories," said Rawlings, the editor of Mountain Living and Log and Timber Style. Her book includes amusing recollections of Monday washday competitions in which housewives tried to be the first to get their wash out, the virtues of "hanging a proper line" and hiding one's underwear between lines of sheets. "Clothesline" is both a quick bit of people's history and a unique handbook of some of the lost arts of our foremothers and is delightful in both respects. "Clothesline" is available at Barnes and Noble, Borders and some local bookstores as well as online at www.theclotheslinebook.com.
VanSteenhouse is a Denver Colorado public speaker, psychologist, and author of Empty
Nest, The Clothesline, and A Woman's Guide to a Simpler Life.
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