Harry Musselwhite

Harry Musselwhite is the author of “Martin the Guitar” and is an award-winning filmmaker.

Recently the bride’s auto was in the shop and I had the pleasure of taking her to work . We drove past a small residential area and there in front of a tiny home stood a relic from the past, a clothesline complete with damp items waving in the morning breeze.

We had a clothesline in our backyard in rural Thomson, Georgia. The washing machine sat next to the back door in the basement, and I can remember unloading the machine into the clothesbasket and walking a few steps into the backyard to the family clothesline. It was a combination of wire and T-shaped supports.

Clothespins were perched like birds on the wires, but my mom would grab a handful from the top of the washer and toss them into the basket with the wet clothes.

Hanging the wash outside wasn’t a horrible chore, and in fact I rather looked forward to it. Here was an opportunity to listen to my mother’s tidbits of wisdom about everything from the proper way to hang clothes to the naughty goings on of the neighbors.

We would be at our tasks for just a bit when, like clockwork, a neighbor would walk over and offer a morning greeting. Sometimes, as strange as it seems, the neighbor (always female, never male!) would grab a towel and clip it to the line. Conversation would continue nonstop.

Clothes hung, mom would often invite the neighbor in for coffee or tea, and the morning conversation would continue.

I asked my wife if she had a clothesline in Roswell, Georgia, growing up. I kid her when I say that I grew up in Georgia and she grew up in Atlanta.

She replied that her grandparents (with whom she grew up) had moved from rural Georgia, and that upon “moving on up” they definitely would not have hung wet clothes out in a Roswell, Georgia, yard. The big city folks had a clothes dryer.

I can vividly remember my mother pining for the modern convenience of an electric clothes dryer, and I know that there were many years we did not have such an appliance. We didn’t have a dishwasher either, and my present high level dish drying skills are the results of years of being in action while my brother and father were downstairs watching Walter Cronkite and the CBS News.

As we drove toward the university where my wife works, we took a casual count of homes where we could spot a clothesline. We live in a rural area of New Mexico and our Valencia County area is filled with small ranches, dairy farms, and alfalfa growing outfits. It is not the kind of area where someone with an active clothesline would incur the wrath of a neighborhood watch detachment.

Other than our original sighting, I could spot only one other clothesline. I even took the scenic route home to broaden my possibilities. The second clothesline was clearly past its prime. The end supports were still standing, but the wire was so droopy it could not have served its original purpose.

Folks who reminisce about such relics often talk about the wonderful smell of air-dried items like sheets and towels. I suppose that was the case.

I remember more vividly the raw texture of clothes that had been completely dried on the line. They felt like cardboard, and there was nothing scratchier than bath towels dried in the backyard.

Here’s the thing: I don’t believe that much wisdom gets shared during the moments when wet clothes are transferred from a washer to an adjacent clothes dryer. It only takes moments. I don’t believe a neighbor senses that ten seconds and rushes over for a handful of words of news from back home.

Despite her wishing for a clothesdryer, my mother would probably be quite amused that I would have some romantic notion of hanging wet clothes on a line. Perhaps it’s the memory of the sound of the wind rushing through the pine trees in my backyard, but I am betting it’s actually the wistful desire that I could hear my sweet mother’s melodious voice one more time as she instructs me how to fold a bed sheet, stiffly dried by Mother Nature.

Down the dirt drive from Ranchero Musselwhite sits the rustic home of my wonderful neighbor Ramon. In his backyard sits a tree with low hanging branches.

We can always tell when Ramon has had his jean washing day, for the branches of the tree are festooned with numbers of freshly washed jeans drying in the warm New Mexico breeze.

I don’t mind it at all. Reminds me of Mom.

 Former Roman Harry Musselwhite is the author of “Martin the Guitar” and is an award-winning filmmaker.