Clotheslines transcription

00:28 And as they walked down the street a gust of wind was blowing heavily and there, as they looked up, a pair of bloomers were dancing on the clothesline as the wind was filling up the legs.

00:44 And with one accord the two young men took off their top hats and tipped very politely as they passed. I always had a lovely picture in my mind of those two young blades showing their respect for the female outline.

01:05 My laundry problems started many, many years ago, I guess when I first got married. And my husband, who was an electrician at that time, insisted upon wearing white duck pants to work every day. Oh yes. They were washed by hand. There was no other way. I would work from seven to seven, from seven at night to seven in the morning. But I had the kind of a husband that didn't help. In the morning, he couldn't leave the baby to come pick me up, so I had to take the buses home. And I'd come home and he'd still be sleeping in bed. I think I began to hate him then.

02:11 He didn't think it was anything--he just didn't-- Uh, I was young. I was ambitious. I really thought nothing and nobody could get me down. I did it for years and I look around me now and see young women doing it, I think, how could I have thought I was so modern and been so stupid? Really! To do it and to do it with such an attitude like I had to do it. Like there was just no other way. Uh, it's so many years ago, and you know, I could still weep over it.

03:23 When I was married, there was something about doing my man's clothes that was appealing to me. Perhaps it's a status thing about going to the laundromat and pulling men's socks and men's shirts out of the laundry ...this thing about people seeing that you're connected, that you've got that connection, that you have the man, you know, that you have your man. As a single woman. I have absolutely no interest in it whatsoever.

04:00 But I can remember as a child--very good sensual memories. I can remember walking in between the lines, and the sheets blowing, and the sun, and those were good feelings. The idea of clean sheets, I don't think there's anything nicer than clean sheets that have come from being out in the sun.

04:20 And it is energy!

04:25 And thank God when the line broke--Ohh.-- When the line broke. You know, like everybody would come out in the yard. What are we going to do? He's come from Italy, my father. He went out and I think he cut off a telephone pole somewhere and put it in the yard. "You need a pole? I'll be right back." I remember my mother wouldn't let him touch the laundry. He wasn't allowed. The only time he was allowed to touch the laundry was if she was out and it rained. He would pull in the clothes and lay them on the bed and that was it. That's all he was allowed to do.

05:08 But more than anything, it was the wash, my mother and the wash. How could I ever calculate the depth of peace and security this ritual of weekly cleansing had accumulated in me? A peace and security that the subsequent years had shattered beyond all redemption.

05:57 I don't think I could ever go through that again. Never. The laundry will never mean that much to me again, in my whole life. Never. My father and my mother had wanted to do the laundry when I started working. But I wouldn't let them. I wouldn't let them. I said I had to conquer this thing myself. You know, there's ways women do do it and I have to just find it. I wouldn't let them do it and she'd see me struggling carrying big bags. "Whe're you going now?" Where could I be going with a big bag of laundry? You know, where could I be going? It was one of the biggest things I had to accomplish working and going to school.

06:36 I hated laundry with a passion you cannot imagine. It was--it was the bone in my throat. It was the one thing I never could get rid of. Every day there was a new pile. But I hated laundry because I never finished. It was forever and a day, every single day. And the worst burden that I could ever remember. Period.

07:25 [Baby cry-- and response]

07:43 [ Child's voice . . .] [Nursery rhyme] Say what? Hang your mittens out to dry? You clever kittens. Then you shall have no pie.

07:51 First of all, there was a particular art about hanging your clothes on the line. And everybody had clotheslines and you looked at your neighbor's clothes. You really did and you sort of measured her that way. When I look at other women's clotheslines, I want to know more about them. If he had a spot on his shirt. You were rotten. If your child had a spot, believe me, you were the world's worst.

08:18 Sometimes they even hang them by color which fascinates me. All the white shirts. Or all the socks, all the white socks, all the navy blue socks. I think that it evokes the ghosts of the people that wore them.

08:41 "Hon, is my shirt ready?"

08:43 They' were like pieces of sculpture. Women who don't consider themselves artistic put a great deal of themselves into their household tasks.

09:00 My mother, I mean I never really appreciated all the work that she did.

09:03 (Applause and cheers)

09:11 I used to hang them nice. You know, I used to put them out in colors. I used to play games, you know, make the line look good because I knew them people were looking at my laundry. I knew it.

09:43 [miscellaneous laughter, baby crying, whispering]

09:43 She would say, "Come and look. She's fooling around with somebody. Lookshe got those fancy underwears. She's not buying that for her husband. She's married ten years. That means she's fooling around. You can't tell me she don't have a boyfriend. I look. She has black bras on the line and black underwear. She didn't buy them for my son. She's fooling around with somebody and that's how you could always tell. If they're wearing fancy underwear, they're fooling around.

10:03 I remember hearing it. She hung out some junk!

10:15 I've always felt that the roof was my special spot, but there's something about hanging the clothes on the roof that's, ...I don't know, It's not really like work, it's a pleasure. there's the light and the air and you're not in a dirty house and there's something very liberating about it. And it's a chance to go up on the roof and, you know, hang out and look at the skylight and the pigeons and everything ...with the wind blowing and to see the ships passing and the airplanes going by and the rest of the world. There's a kind of, um, a rebirth, a new beginning, the clothes being clean, a fresh start. It was sort of like when I gave birth, I felt like I was connected to all other women. And when I hang up the clothes, I feel connected to all other women. It's something that we have in common that we share together.

11:43 Think about what the courtyard looked like with all these lines crisscrossing--that line, that connection.

11:57 My mother fights with the people upstairs because when she washes her clothes and hangs them out and they hang theirs, their water drips on her clothes. She would tell them, "Well wait till I pull mine in because your water was dripping on my clothes." And then the landlord would fight because the water was dripping in the yard and it would ruin the cement.

12:18 I had friends out there. I could tell who was hanging their clothes by the squeak of their line. It was Peggy, Carmen--but really I knew them all by the squeak of their line. I didn't see them, and I used to yell, "Hey, Peggy, How you doing?" "All right." You know. Doing the wash and stuff like that.one. And then we'd start talking and then you get Mrs. Murphy down the corner, ... you know you're on your roof and you're talking to everybody and I like it.

12:41 [overlapping voices]- Oh what a beautiful day to hang clothes. Isn't it great?Let's wash the sheets. You know. If it was windy, my mother would say. "Hang the clothes out right away because they're gonna dry fast today because it's windy and and it's a little cool out. And they did! They would dry - a tee shirt and [overlapping voices]. On a good day with the sun out. Oh a good day.Wash everything. What a beautiful day. A windy day is best. Hang them out today. It's windy they'll dry right away. They dry good, You know, they dry extra good.

13:11 The women would all hang out the windows and spread the news of the neighborhood to each other. [chatter]

13:34 Who died, who got married, whose kid fell down. The news, the essential news of the neighborhood was not transmitted by the men, but by the women.

13:44 I didn't indulge. I really didn't have time. I really didn't have time for any nonsense like that. And uh, I was an extremely busy woman and uh, I liked to do other things--I loved to read. I didn't have a happy married life and that sort of kept me from gossip. When you have problems, you sort of keep a little bit to yourself. That may have been part of it. Those were the days when I used to iron my husband's socks. Now, if anybody could go any further than that, I really don't know in which direction.

15:03 [Singing: This is the way we wash the clothes so early in the morning] I iron on the floor laying down. They can't get over this. "How could you iron laying down?" Very good I iron.

16:03 She was really a perfectionist and didn't have an outlet for the perfectionism that seemed to take form in the way she did clothes. And there was very strict ritual for the way in which the clothes were gonna be folded and put away and put aside, and they were done beautifully with a skill and a craft and a kind of a mastery that she did not enjoy-- I think It's important to realize--she did not enjoy it.

16:36 It was sort of like an art the way she did it.

16:45 And um, I miss very much miss the smell of those clothes, the stiffness of the sheets, and I can listen to her still in my head telling me how I should fold clothes and why I didn't fold them well enough. But the memory and the missing of the quality is still very strong.

17:14 Yeah, it was a routine. You knew it was done and you know everything is done for you.

17:23 It is a sense of security because uh, because uh, that's living.

17:39 The linen closets were really a show place. I had a linen closet. When you opened the door, it was an amazing thing. But I kept extra linens tied up with satin ribbons in the closet . I did. And I want you to know, I had some very high standards. This she took pride in. I did.

18:14 I mean if I had to go through all that trouble about ironing and washing, which I hated, I might as well get some pleasure out of looking at it. So I did. When I walked into a friend's bathroom, I always snuck a look in the linen closet. And I know darn well that everybody looked in mine. Because they told me. They'd say, "Oh, I was looking for something and I opened your closet. And oh, Paula, I never saw anybody's closet look like yours." I used to love to have company because I knew everybody looked in the closet. And it was just--it was just one of those things, you know.

19:31 The first time I hung them out, I did it wrong. My mother came up. She went crazy." She said, "How could you do that?" I had like a towel and then I had a pair of pants. "You can't hang the clothes like that. Pull them all in." She pulled everything in. Said, "Now put all the towels and it's a certain way. See your towels gotta fall like with a loop in the middle. If they don't have the loop they're no good--you just can't throw them over the line. Everything was hung out perfect. Then she said, "At the end, you hang the underwear and the socks." And everything was just perfect.

20:02 So I got to like it and I used to tell my aunt, "I'll hang them out." And I love it, and I really love hanging clothes.

20:09 And sometimes she'd just sit there for hours staring out the window at what she had done.

20:25 And I hang my clothes out at night and I used to have to oil the wheels because I didn't want people to know that I was hanging my clothes out at two o'clock in the morning because it's the only time I had to do it.

20:37 Then there was a thing with lace curtains that I remember that was so complicated. She had lace curtains, you know, the "lace curtain Irish," and they had to be stretched onto these enormous frames, you know, with little nails all the way along. But it took hours and hours and hours to do that. And you had to put sugar on them so that they would be stiff. Some women used starch, but a lot of women use sugar. But what I did with mine, I got stains on mine. So instead of doing them with the sugar in the water, I used coffee or tea and I stained them all brown. (Laughs) So I wouldn't have to wash them.

21:16 I still have them. I've never washed them yet. I just keep dipping them in tea. She would die if she knew that, after all the work she'd done to make them. (Laughs)

21:25 (Laughter turns to crying)

21:42 "Ma, I joined the college--I'm going back to school" --she said, "did you do your laundry today?" So she said, "Who cares about college? You know, you got to worry about your laundry." That's how they are with laundry.

21:56 Every day. Every day she has the washboard and everything. I don't know how she does it. I mean it's like people have coffee every morning. She has to do the laundry every morning. Y

22:07 Yeah, I mean unbelievable. I think the laundry is like a confession. You know, if they seen your drapes on the line, boy, they knew you were into cleaning the house.

22:20 She loved it. She used to call up, "Bring the laundry."

22:36 As long as they came white, it was all right, That was the most important thing, that they had to be white. Otherwise you couldn't hang them out on the line. And people would read your fortune by your clothesline. I was hanging clothes while I was working, going to school with an anger. Like I was stabbing the clothespins on the line. Really stabbing them. My mother used to say, "But ain't you ashamed to hang them out like that? I said, "Ashamed? I gotta be ashamed? "

23:22 My mother was the only person who did the laundry and I remember the lady who owned the house didn't want her husband to come home and see diapers hanging on the line. And he thought that there was something wrong about that. It couldn't go up before nine o'clock in the morning because her husband was leaving for work and had to come down before four in the afternoon because he was coming home from work. So my mother found another girlfriend down the street. She used to go down there with the car and the clothes, and hang up the clothes at another girl's house because she couldn't be bothered.

23:48 My mother had a wash her clothes--she still does--in the morning at six o'clock so they would be dry by the afternoon. Because the Italian people used to say if you left the clothes out once it got dark they were no good because the devil would get in them. All the evil spirits would get in there. So they had to be pulled in before it got dark at night.

24:08 If you have a washing machine, you think the work is going to be easier. But what happens is you do more wash. You do it more often and you do more of it. As soon as I got a washing machine, man, I wet crazy. I was washing all the time. I mean I was washing every day. I was changing the kid's clothes like three times a day.

24:26 And then he'd come home and say, "What'd you do all day?"

24:30 You could have a stroke. You could really have a stroke. I used to think to myself, "how stupid can you be? I mean you're not deaf, dumb and blind." He was home for breakfast. He came home every day for lunch. And he's home every day for dinner and how could you say "What do I do all day?" So I finally got up the courage to tell him that I had gone to see the diaper service. I was going to have the diaper service. Well, he hit the ceiling. He raised hell. "How lazy can you get? You don't want to do your own baby's diapers! I...I... I never heard of such a thing," he said. "I never heard... the kid'll get rashes. You're going to subject your baby because you're too damn lazy to do diapers." But I said, "until the baby gets a rash, I'm gonna have the diaper service and you could stand on your head. I-I just don't give a damn." So, I had the diaper service, and the baby never got a rash, and that was my one big indulgence, and I loved it.

25:47 Well, my mother was a real rebellious personality and my grandmother would come over occasionally and throw up her arms up in despair at the way my mother kept her house. But my mother did other things which I think were more important. My mother used to say when she'd be dragging me off to the woods to look at nature, that those things in the house are dead things. They'll always be there. She was more concerned with the living and I'm grateful to her for that.

26:25 The memory I have that relates to my mother is of sitting around her couch in her living room about seven years ago talking about us...a dream she had. This dream--laundry blowing in the wind--was a recurring dream. The most recent time she remembered having it related to a premonition of death of someone who was close to her.

27:01 And she remembered that she had been doing laundry when her mother died, when she received news that her mother died. Eighteen years after that, she'd probably been dreaming about laundry.

27:55 It was an awfull thing... you know, and none of us ever helped her with it. I don't know why. The laundry was like hers, it belonged to her. [REPEATS]

27:55 "Hey, mom!"

27:55 It's everyday living and you're part of it. It isn't the only thing in life, but to me, it's part of it.

27:55 And if you let it go for a couple of days you were finished. It was just one of the trials and tribulations of married life and that's the way it was.

27:55 I always think of my mother when I'm hanging up the clothes. When I'm putting the clothes in the dryer, I don't think of my mother.

27:55 And the pleasure I take from these sun dried clothes is more than I can describe. I feel some satisfaction of existence that strikes so deep a note in me that it's almost as though I'm not performing these actions for the first time. Why do I have this feeling? What is its origin?

27:55 It's like the soap operas. There's always tomorrow, no matter how dirty everything gets, there's always a fresh beginning, which is a spiritual feeling with laundry. I don't think you get it with any other household tasks. It's just something that we got to do. It's our job to do it and that's it. There's nobody else to do it. It's so many years ago, and you know I could still weep over it.