In Praise of the Backyard Clothesline


"Let me be a little kinder,
Let me be a little blinder
To the faults of those around me,
Let me praise a little more."
--Edgar A. Guest, "A Creed"


A Kindred Spirit Letter

Dear Tracey,

It began when we were newlyweds renting a four-room apartment in Birdtown--a small old section of rental homes in Lakewood. The laundromat was blocks away. Although our apartment was tiny, we enjoyed a long, open-air balcony. When our budget was tight, we would launder our clothes in the bathtub and hang them to dry on a makeshift clothesline out on the balcony.

Eventually we graduated to our own home on the near west side of Cleveland. Over the years we acquired the luxuries of a washer, dryer, dishwasher, microwave and the like. We were also proud owners of a postage-stamp-size back yard. To make life complete, we soon were the parents of three small children.

Despite all of our modern conveniences, I still love the idea of old clotheslines. My neighbor--a Yugoslavian grandmother--has a bright yellow one. All summer long there is either a hand-stitched quilt or a pretty rug drying on it. Inspired by her, I crisscrossed four long lines from our garage to our house and bought bags of wooden clothespins.

Cleveland is a funny place to have a clothesline, I think. It can be cloudy almost to the point of hearing the rumble of thunderstorms--but I will still hang up a load of laundry despite the threat of rain. Nine times out of ten the load will dry without any rain falling. Why go to all that trouble and bother? There are many reasons. For one, I know I am saving money and helping the environment by not running the dryer for at least half of the year, and clothes seem to dry fairly quickly outdoors. But the best reason is the satisfaction I feel after my seven-year-old daughter changes her sheets, and I hear her say at bedtime, "Mom, My pillow smells good!"


Peggy West

Cleveland, Ohio

The letter above is an excerpt from Frugal Luxuries, published by Bantam Books, 1997.