The World Through The Hole in a Hanging Sock

Walker hangs laundry 1999

The World Through the Hole in a Hanging Sock

 

UNITED STATESIAN LAUNDRY CULTURE

 

Texas, 1996, a rural location

My dad stared at our laundry line.  “We used to do that.”

“I remember helping Mother hang it when I was little,” I said.

“Yep,” he continued.  “We hung it up in the 60’s, then in the 70s people started buying dryers, and we broke down and got one.  I guess to save time and effort.”

“It doesn’t take that much time,” I said, “and we like the way it smells.”

“I imagine you have lots of fresh air out here.”  He was still staring.

Back in the city, I usually didn’t hang my laundry.  Because most there didn’t.  Because I had a dryer.  I only hung out hand wash items, vintage dresses and swim suits.  But when we moved to the country, we had no dryer and loads of space to hang it, and plenty of dry sunny days in that north-central Texas climate.  The equipment needed was simple:  a line, damp laundry, a basket and a hat–our faces were getting burned to a crisp working outside a lot, living a rural life.

There, I learned a lot about this under-acknowledged art.

Statistics:  Drying time in the sun at 113F/45C = 7 minutes.  At 75F/24C = 1 hour 17 minutes.  At 43F/6C = three hours.  With wind, less time!

Disadvantages:

In the hot summer, towels dried outside turned to a stiff cardboard texture and had to be karate-chopped to fold.

An occasional bird flies overhead and . . .

In times of wind and drought, laundry gets dusty.

Laura and kids hang laundry #1 1999
Hanging Laundry With The Kids  in Texas 1999

 

EUROPEAN LAUNDRY CULTURE

 

When I moved to Europe, I was startled to learn that many hung laundry to dry.  I didn’t expect it in those climes.

Austria

In 2000 we moved to a farm in Austria at 1000 meters altitude, a region some only half-jokingly called Siberia because it was famous for being cold, often damp, with long snowy winters and two week summers.  Yet I saw that these people were dedicated hangers.  I learned it from the grandmother (oma) Ottilie who came with the farm we bought.  She lived with us and taught me by showing, since I could not understand a word of her obscure dialect, except for the words mice and lice.  She was quicker than I, though, and soon picked up my English word okay.

In spring, summer and fall when the weather was sunny or cloudy, she motioned me to hang it outside.  “Okay?”  She’d give me a look.  If rain or snow, she took me to hang it in the large utility room (took 3 days to dry).  Sometimes, she hung hers in her room over the radiators and on lines strung across the room.  (I wish I had photos.)  She still had a scrub board which she used to hand wash if I couldn’t wrest the laundry from her to do in the machine.  She also had a spinner machine to spin out the water after handwashing.  This relic sadly broke one day and flooded her room, which already tended to mustiness due to the laundry.  Afterward, I tried to get her to hang her wash in the utility room if the weather was bad.  Her room was molding over!

She was 86.  It was hard for her to change her habits, which included 78 years of scything and raking the meadows to make hay and chopping binkl for firewood starter kits.  She knew that work kept her going.  “Okay?”

She wasn’t alone.  The neighboring small farms all had laundry lines.  On the next farm the Oma Maria even hung outside during winter.  We’d see the shirts and pants hanging above the snow on icy days.  Freeze drying, I suppose.

Laundry hanging in Upper Austria showed the amazing resilience of those people, over 600 years, in a raw area inhabited since 1400.  I picked up some of their strength:  I confess I broke down and got a dryer for winter usage.

Italy

We moved to Italy in 2006.  In Verona, most people lived in apartments.  Even these people, with no land attached to their living quarters, were dedicated hangers.  They hung laundry on lines and drying racks on their pristine and flowery balconies—year round—though winter in Verona could be a frigid gray affair, and in summer, dust accumulated from the streets has to vacuumed off the floors every three days.  They hung even in the time of the afa, the pollution, which does lower the air quality and breathing ability substantially.  Cough!

I liked to set up our drying rack on the balcony and look out at the neighboring apartments and see the friendly grandmother across the way.  She’d hang on her little rack, and then sit beside it, and wave over at me, “Cara!  Come visit me!  With the children!  I’ll give them caramellas!”

“Sì,” I’d call back, “pronto, domani, Nonna Zampieri!”

Ciao, bella!” she’d sing, blowing me a kiss.

Italians could even make laundry a passionate community affair.  Laundry was joyful and colourful, artfully arranged.  It brightened balconies—red hues on that one, blues over there, a yellow range on the floor below.

From the Italians I learned color choice and zest.

Hanging laundry with the kids #2 1999
Hanging More Laundry With The Kids in Texas 1999

Switzerland

In 2007 we moved to Geneva where again most people live in apartments, and many still hang their laundry to dry.  Even in a place with such a swanky reputation.

The weather didn’t always cooperate for outdoor laundry hanging.  In summer, in most of the year in fact, blew the cold breeze politely called La Bise.  However, there were sunny days and a real summer that afforded balcony hanging.  Then as autumn approached, people whispered ominously, “We always have several months with no sun.”  They looked nervously about when they said this, as though superstitious that just talking about it would bring it on.

Sure enough the clouds locked arms overhead in November and when we took the children to the park on Sundays, some days were bitter cold.  Yet if the sun came out for even a few minutes, we saw a strange thing.  In the park here and there would stand a person, stock still, face raised to the sun, eyes closed.  A Du Pont retiree told us, “They’re sunning themselves.  That’s normal here.”  And so they would remain, standing, for ten, twenty even thirty minutes, without twitching a muscle.  Looking like human sun flowers.

Apartments generally had a laundry room in the cellar area that all tenants could use to dry their washing.  Ours was a dark, dank room with racks for spreading out clothing and I always wondered what lurked in the corners.  However, the room was equipped with a machine which circulated air to help things dry out.  The machine ran for thiry to forty minutes and then stopped.  So I had to travel down to the depths to turn it on several more times before all was dry.  A few hours usually did the trick.

A friend Caroline clued me in to save all that trudging up and down the stairs and waiting (twice I locked myself out of my apartment while checking on the wash, and while wearing slippers and skimpy clothes while snow leered from outside, and I spoke not a word of French to explain my predicament to the neighbor).  Caroline was from Canada and an expert:  “Just put it on a rack next to the radiator in your own apartment,” she counselled.  Et voilà—much easier!

In Geneva, I learned the power of radiators and un certain savoir faire.

Family with laundry in snow Texas 1999
Grevel Family With Laundry In Texas Snow 1999

United Kingdom

Arriving in 2009 in a small town in central England, I encountered the biggest surprise laundry-wise.  The neighbors, grandmothers, people my age and younger couples, regularly hung their laundry outside in good weather, inside in wet.  Some have no dryer; some do.  Whether they do or not, they still hang.

In fact, I believe the hanging of laundry has reached its highest form in the British Isles, a place famous for rain.  They have raised it to a sport.

The game goes something like this:

Cool sunny day at 7—wash.  Hang out at 8.

Cloud cover by 8:15.  Sprinkle at 8:47.  Bring in.

Sun at 10:09—hang back out.

Heavy rain at noon when the clothes were almost dry.  Now all is soaked—leave out.

Sun at 12:32 and the laundry begins to dry again.  Getting cloudy at 1:38.

At 3 the sky looks like rain so bring the wash in slightly damp and hang on railings and radiators.  Move around frequently to aid the drying.

Game over.

I know they do this.  I’ve heard them talk.  And even before I knew they did this, as though through osmosis, I began to do it too.  I’m now British by laundry habit.  It’s addictive.

Everyone knows the plusses of laundry hanging:

Economical and saves energy usage and bleaching agents.

Gives the hanger-outer light exercise.

Makes the laundry smell good if hung out in sunshine and good air.

The sun sterilizes the fabrics, even in cloudy weather.

Builds a strong character and makes one highly attuned to weather fronts.

I can honestly say, my character is stronger from all this.  As our Austrian grandmother Ottilie used to say, “Live to work, work to live!  Okay?”

Joachim hangs laundry Texas 1999
Hanging Laundry in Texas 1999

 

Click here to read about an anti-Trump, pro-environmental move by the Massachusetts state legislature which includes clotheslines.

Click here to read about the battle over allowing clotheslines in certain private U. S. communities.

Click here to read a New York Times article about clothesline struggles in Canada.

Click here to read about similar recent battles in a British community.

 

 

Click here to read the first story in Laura Grevel’s Texas Ranching Adventure series.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “The World Through The Hole in a Hanging Sock

  1. Love this! As condo dwellers we use an indoor rack for most all my clothes (and Zelda’s) Meanwhile, linens, and Mark’s stuff go in our dryer. We do have a sensor dryer so it doesn’t run too long.

    Like

  2. Thanks Laura,

    I truly enjoyed this posting about laundry. It took me on a trip around the world with you. You must be having a great life. I admire your willingness to move and adapt. I’m not sure I could have done what you have! I LOVE the pictures of you and your kids and you hanging laundry. So strong and tall and charismatic.

    XX, Pat

    Like

    • Hi Pat, I’m so happy to hear you took the trip around the world with us. This life has been very interesting, though not always easy. We learned a lot and met so many wonderful people. An enriching and awe-inspiring trip, it has been. Thanks for the praise! Best to you, Laurax

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s