I Had One of Those Flashes

Beth Ingalls

Beth Ingalls
October 30
Writer, activist, former Mayor, lifelong Deadhead, and above all else, single Mother to three sons. Killer memoir in the works. Agent needed.


Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 4, 2009 12:02PM

Defending Our Unalienable Right to Dry

Rate: 19 Flag

“Upon the clothes behind the tenement, That hang like ghosts suspended from the lines, Linking each flat, but to each indifferent, Incongruous and strange the moonlight shines"

 Claude McKay


The summer of 1968 in Ohio was stifling hot and seemed to last forever, but I was a five year old impervious to the heat and to the tremendous upheaval going on in the world around me. As I trotted through the backyards of my neighborhood in Upper Arlington, prickly stick grass poked the soles of my bare feet. Breezes were few in the middle of the day and colorful clothes and bright white sheets hung on the line stiffly and obediently under the midday sun. 

I loved to weave in and out of the long, neat rows of clothesline that we shared with neighbors in our block of duplexes. The soundtrack of my summer and even my dreams was a newly released single by Mary Hopkin entitled “Those Were the Days My Friend."  This was my place on the planet, my permanent home, or so I thought.  I had no idea then that it was merely a launching pad for my upwardly mobile family. 

By the time the next summer rolled around we had moved to a four bedroom home in a strictly residential part of town. My brother and I each had our own rooms for the first time, my parents’ master bedroom seemed absolutely massive, and we even had a extra bedroom room just for guests. There was a brick wall separating the family room and the living room with a fireplace in between that you could see through from both sides.  There was a really nice dining room we hardly ever sat down to eat in, and a basement with a pool table and expansive front and back yards.

There weren’t any clotheslines in that newer, upscale neighborhood. We had everything we needed to do the laundry inside. Not only that, it appeared that it wasn’t fashionable or acceptable to hang personal clothing items and bedding out in the yard anymore.  

I couldn’t walk down to the corner market with coins jingling in my pocket to pick up my favorite bazooka gum anymore either. The store was miles away and we only went there by car. Same with the pool, the park, the school, the shopping center and the sports fields.

My Dad, who used to hop on the bus at the corner in the old neighborhood to head to his job downtown, needed a car to drive to work too. So instead of making do with just one, we added another to the family fleet.


I adapted quickly to these changes in lifestyle. I suppose I even welcomed them. My parents seemed happy and after all, it’s much easier to get used to convenience and abundance than to give up things up. 

Now I see how dramatically these incremental changes in lifestyle affected me and how, on a massive scale, they have played an even larger role in altering the climate systems of our planet. The truth is, I was born into an era and culture in the early 1960’s where conspicuous consumption was just beginning to take hold. Since then, having more than we need and doing things without regard for resources has become standard american behavior. 


Now these standards must be unraveled in order to save the lives our parents worked so hard to build.

Many communities and subdivisions have ordinances in place which prevent residents from hanging their clothes up to dry. Does yours?

Until we restore these basic, unalienable rights, we will never get to where we need to be. And besides that, shouldn't every kid know the pleasure of weaving in and out of clotheslines on a sultry, summer day?

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Thankfully, I am free to hang clothes anywhere I want!

The several times I've been to Europe, I saw clothes hanging everywhere. I don't think most people own clothes dryers.

You paint a nice picture of clothes drying in the summer breezes.
Glad Jeanette that you suffer no constraints. Here in my town, in my particular subdivision, I am also free to hang. But elsewhere in town not the case. Work to do! Thanks for the comment!
In my town, we're allowed to use clotheslines only if they've already been installed. Sometime ago they decided to not let anyone put up new clotheslines.
Grandfathered clotheslines...wow. never heard of that one. Thanks!
I love the smell of freshly dried laundry. My mom used to hang out laundry out in the summer. It was nice.
Incisive, concise and truthful. Nice combo.

Born in '64, I also remember the days when clotheslines weren't a stigma and Depression-era sensibilities were more common. Having for the sake of having wasn't prudent and in some ways, was frowned upon for its obvious waste. Now, that very ethos is considered unpatriotic.
i put a clothesline up in my yard just this year. i love it! i love the smell, i like seeing my clothes flap around out there, and i don't even mind the stiff towels. we never hung up clothes when i was a kid in the 'burbs, though it probably would have been allowed -- we didn't live in a subdivision with HOAs -- but it just Wasn't Done. i was motivated by environmental concerns but also, to be honest, a really shitty clothes dryer. :) whatever the push, though, i'm now a born again air dryer. even in the winter, i hang -- on nice days i hang clothes on a line under my covered porch, and i adapted an unused shower stall for hanging things indoors. i machine dry a few things that don't air dry well, but ten minutes in the dryer is usually all it takes. i'd love to see a return to air drying.
Very interesting topic. It is easy to forget that I am spoiled living out here in BFN. The Amish are among my neighbors; therefore, I do not expect to lose my right to dry clothes au naturale anytime soon... or ever, for that matter.

Gee whiz, I just don't think I could ever buy a home in a subdivision with a HOA. It goes against everything I believe as a human being. A group of "elected officials" from your neighborhood telling you what colors your home must be, how the landscaping has to look, and what type of fence, if any, you can put up. No clotheslines? It's fascism.
Great to hear that most of you have the right to dry! Thanks for reading and the great comments on this.
" prickly stick grass poked the soles of my bare feet." Oh shit, I hated that stuff and Oklahoma grew it like crazy.
"I couldn’t walk down to the corner market with coins jingling in my pocket to pick up my favorite bazooka gum anymore either."

The little town I grew up in, Shawnee Oklahoma, had one of those. A drug store 1 block from my house. Used to get soft drinks called "phosphates" there, either vanilla or cherry. Kind of taste like cream soda, but they were made at the fountain, not poured from a bottle or a can. Damn, those were good on a hot summer day.

Used to get "Charms Lollipos" there too. We were always looking to get a free one when we opened them up and it had a piece of paper in it to redeem for a freebie.

The store owner always allowed us to read the comic books for free as long as we were buying the phosphates.

We had a fire station right next too the drug store. The firemen taught me how to play poker and blackjack.
I could hang clothes if I wanted, but I doubt that they would dry in this humidity. They would dry in no time in the winter. Thanks for the reminder, Beth. I will be hanging my clothes this fall. (as soon as the air dries out a bit. Like early November)
I am afraid to ask my HOA about a clothesline. I put one up last year, but it was well hidden from the street. Guess I'll see if anyone complains!

I remember grandma hanging out her clothes to dry. Lovely vision.
Michael, where are you then? Humid in summer, dry in winter....hmmm? I'll check your page. thanks for the comment!

Boomer - it sounds like you had the best of the walking to corner phenom. I hate that my kids don't have that same experience. Simple with lots of life lessons. Now parents have to schedule dates for their kids to get together. How screwed up is that?
Charms lollies...nice and round and lasted a long time. I liked the apple. Yum.
I'm inspired, but here in the NE we're getting our butts kicked by rain--the tomatoes have blight...

This piece was not what I expected, in a pleasant way.
Ghost writer-I know what you mean. Not what you expected anyway. Glad. And for sure, the weather in the NE has been crazy this summer, right? BTW, what did you expect?
I consider the right to dry clothes outside inalienable apart from all the other benefits you mention. They'll have to pry my clothesline/rack out of my cold, dead hands.
I live in the desert and feel it would be irresponsible of me not to utilize a clothesline to dry my family's clothes. It takes less time than the dryer does this time of year, it uses no carbon, and it doesn't heat up the house. I love it.
Also, I am beyond weary of the age of conspicuous consumption. It's time to simplify (I just hope to do it voluntarily rather than have a mortgage company decide).
Wow. I can't believe this. This would never (hopefully) fly in Australia.
Brilliant column. I used to love the smell of the wet clothes in the sun as we ran between giant white sheets (since there were no other color sheets back then, it seemed like)...
those were the days, my friend! we thought the baddies were on the other side.

free-fire zones and napalm tracks cured me of that delusion.
Beth- Michael Rogers isn't too terribly far from my locale and I can tell you he understates the weather. If you used a clothesline here from late April through October, it would take a couple of days to dry.

We have solid wooden "outside" doors here that we have to sand down at least once a summer, normally August, because they start sticking so badly from soaking up humidity that they swell almost shut. I need to either buy a plane or switch to metal.
My grandma had a pulley-clothesline out the second-floor window. She'd lean out the window, clip and pull, clip and pull, until aprons and shirts, girdles and 'brassieres' were billowing a floor above the tomatoes and peppers at ground level. I wish I had one, but settle for a line on my back porch.
That reminds me... I'd better bring the laundry in before heading out for the day, it's supposed to rain this afternoon.


What did I expect? I dunno...I had clicked on your piece from the home page which had, to my mind, some sort of misleading byline. I think I expected piss and vinegar but got fluff and sentimentality. Poetry, I'd say.

Something happened to people, in the States anyway (wont speak for the rest of the world, however, I think it suffered as well in smaller doses), that made them crave the artificial--manicured lawns, chem-lawns, scented anything (think: air "freshener"), meals-in-a-box, etc...I think it began in the 50's. At any rate, it made us monkeys of consumerism. It's hard to roll that back when we've grown so accustomed to the "convenience." But I suppose when we see that that portability is a trap--in so many ways--we will disengage slowly. The corporations will fight this process tooth and nail!
This is beautifully written. Thankfully, I don't live in a subdivision, but on a quiet street close to every amenity I can think of, and I installed a clothesline a couple of years ago. There's nothing like sun-dried laundry!
I simply can't imagine why anyone would be against drying laundry outside. "Airing dirty linen," sure. But CLEAN linen...?