Daily Archives: June 22, 2012

Guest Blog by Linda Shook – The Almighty Clothesline

Guest-blogging today is a friend Lavada and I met through Tacoma Reader’s Group, which is the largest and oldest reader’s group in the U.S. Linda has been an inspirational support to us  as authors, and we’re also delighted to call her friend. She has a great sense of humor, as evidenced by her ready laugh and quotes like this one she posted on her website:

“I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes, and six months later you have to start all over again!”
**Joan Rivers**

I love it! 🙂 Well, without further ado, please welcome today’s guest-blogger, Linda Shook.

The Almighty Clothesline

“A clothesline was a news forecast, to neighbors passing by. There were no secrets you could keep, when clothes were hung to dry.”

Last summer, my grand daughter and I spent a Saturday morning driving around visiting various yard sales. I was down to the last $8.00 that I had allotted for this adventure, when we stopped at this big older home, with so much stuff set out, it would take hours to check it all out.  As I walked up their driveway, I spotted a treasure (at least in my mind). 

 It was a genuine umbrella type clothesline.  Now there’s a rule here in the mobile home park where I live~NO OUTDOOR CLOTHESLINES!  But I have a private back yard and I’ve always felt it wouldn’t be a problem for me to have one secreted in the back yard behind my house, not visible in anyway from the street. My neighbors never use their back yards so they wouldn’t be bothered by one either. There’s full sun all day~a perfect spot!

I asked the people what they wanted for their clothesline and an older lady said “$30.00…it’s only been used a couple times.”  “Oh” I moaned…”I don’t have that much cash left today.”  “How much do you have?” was her reply.   “Eight dollars” as I pulled it out of my pocket.  “SOLD” was her reply!  I handed over the $8.00. I couldn’t believe it. Her son even took it out and put it in my car for me.

I had to have Bob put a pipe down in the ground to hold the thing up and we put it down thru the umbrella hole in an old plastic outdoor table, which gives me a place to set the clothes basket when I’m out there hanging the wet clothes up and taking the dry ones down. 
I’m sure we can all remember the smell of line dried sheets and pillow cases from our childhood. And yes, even the towels…..even though they weren’t dryer soft, the fresh outdoor smell was worth the rough texture.

One thing I’ve discovered is that they don’t make clothes pins like they used to.  The ones sold today are pathetic replicas of the ones that mom used.  But I love hanging out clothes, towels, sheets & pillowcases.  For some reason I find it not only a way to save energy but calming. And the view from my side of the pegs is…..well delightful!

I hope to continue to hang clothes out during those sunny winter days too.  I remember was a kid, that mom would do that and yes they might freeze but she’d leave them out for as long as possible and then bring them in and hang them around the house on wooden racks.  They might finish drying in the house but they’d still have that fresh outdoor scent.  

The clothesline has played a huge part in America’s history.  Here’s a story from the Civil War days.
While the Union used many devious methods of spying during the Civil War, the clothesline telegraph was one of the most ingenious for relaying information about the Confederates’ movements. When the Union army was camped along the banks of the Rappahannock River in Virginia in early 1863, a black man named Dabney left a farm across the river and got a job as a cook and body servant at the Union headquarters. Becoming fascinated with the army’s system of telegraphs, he got the operators to explain the signs to him, and he immediately grasped and remembered them.

A short time later Dabney’s wife, who had accompanied him to the Union camp, asked permission to cross the river and work. She was allowed to go, and landed a job as a laundress at the headquarters of a prominent Confederate general. Soon after, Dabney seemed to know all the Rebels’ movements, and relayed the information to Union General Joseph Hooker within an hour after they were discussed among the Rebel generals.

One Union officer finally persuaded Dabney to reveal how he came by his information. Dabney took the officer to where they could view a cabin on the other side of the river and pointed out the clothes hanging on a line. He explained how his wife moved the clothes on the line according to the information she had gleaned from working around the Rebel officers at Lee’s headquarters.

“That there gray shirt is Longstreet; and when she takes it off, it means he’s gone down about Richmond. That white shirt means Hill; and when she moves it up to the west end of the line…[Hill] has moved upstream. That red one is Stonewall. He’s down on the right now, and if he moves, she will move that red shirt.” As long as the armies were camped across the river from each other, Dabney and his wife remained reliable sources of information.

One morning Dabney reported movements on the Rebel side, but said they were just a ruse. When asked how he knew, Dabney said his wife had pinned the bottom of two blankets together on the line, her way of symbolizing a fish trap into which Lee was trying to lure the Union soldiers.