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Remembering a Chore with Fondness

Visiting friends and my daughter Sarah hang laundry on our clothesline. Our dog Belle wallowing on ground.

Recently, I looked through a couple packs of greeting cards I bought that were designed by a former classmate of mine, Verni Singleton.  We attended an entrepreneurship course together several years ago offered at Penn Center.  At that time my daughter Sarah was 16 and still in high school so I had her attend it also as an elective course for homeschool.  Sarah was exploring her artistic abilities and managing her small egg selling business. The instructor was very impressed with her accomplishments. I was looking to gain information about how to improve our business. It was during that class that we became acquainted with Verni Singleton. 

Verni is a freelance writer and photographer.  Her goal then was to create a greeting card company and increase her writing of short stories.  Her greeting cards feature photos of her family members and their property in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island in a Black Gullah community that still exists. Her family continues to hold on to their land in spite of the encroaching development that has taken place over the years.  Many Black families were forced to sell their land and moved away. Those areas are now replaced with seaside resorts, shopping centers and restaurants.  

Verni’s photos and stories remind us of a time gone by, a simpler era when people lived in close knit communities with simple traditions.  A rural area where people wave to each other and extend greetings as they pass by.  

One of Verni’s cards has a photo of her grandmother’s backyard with a clothesline filled with the washing of that day.  It brings back memories of my childhood when I helped my mom and my grandmother when at her house, when at her house, hanging out the washing.  When too short to reach the line my job was to hand them an item and the clothes pins or pegs.  But as I grew taller I also hung out the wash along with them.  It was a chore and a tradition. Shirts were hung from the bottom joining the corners and using as few pegs as possible, connecting two shirts using three pegs rather than four, or two per shirt.  

It was important to get the sheets as straight as possible, spacing the pegs along the length and keeping it off the ground. Of course the weight of those set clothes, linen and towels caused the line to sag so a stick or two were needed to prop up the line. There was something beautiful about an organized, well hung line of clothing flapping in the breeze. On rainy days we used the laundry racks and hangers. But every now and again we went to the laundromat. My parents added a dryer to the laundry area after I grew up and married but the clothesline was still preferred over the dryer.  

Over the years we had more than one style of clothesline but always returned to the one between posts. Gradually, as there wasn’t a need for such a long line or multiple rows, the clothesline was a single , shorter one closer to the house.  When my dad retired he took over doing a lot of the laundry, especially his own and the larger pieces.  He enjoyed the time outside a great deal and that was still his way until he died. 

At my paternal grandparents’ house, I helped my grandmother with the laundry.  There were lines in the backyard near the chicken coop that extended towards the pear and fig trees.  When I was older I used to carry the laundry basket if it was a bit heavy for my grandmother.  Being at my grandparents’ house was very much like being at home, whatever my chores were at home I did there also. Many hands make light work!  So it did and I look back on those times with fondness. 

My paternal grandparents Gladys and Herman Glover sitting in their backyard with a portion of the clothesline in view.

Years later, married to Anthony Jones, moving from one duty station to another when we bought our first house in Dale City, Virginia, I remember putting the clothesline to good use. As our family grew I also remember teaching our children to use the clothesline more often than the dryer. We found that many neighborhoods or subdivisions have rules that prohibit homeowners from having a clothesline, it’s deemed unsightly. Imagine that, the same clothing we wear in public to work, school and around town is unsightly when washed and hung up on a line to dry. We used to always hang our outerwear or linens on the front line and undergarments on the back lines out of sight. Not long ago one of our metal clothesline posts rusted and broke and hasn’t been replaced.  But it’s being considered as well as another location.  

Dryers have a place and they serve a good purpose but there’s still something about that good, time honored tradition of hanging the laundry out on the line to dry.  It’s good to enjoy the time outdoors, the conversations, and the sight of a fresh load of laundry in the breeze.  As Verni so adequately describes it, “Traditions add fabric to our lives-the outdoors refreshes and makes us whole”.  Well said! 

As people look for more ways to lessen our carbon footprint and reduce dependence on fossil fuels and energy consumption, lessening our dependency upon appliances that drain energy like dryers and encouraging the use of clotheslines seems like a great idea.  Of course there are some situations where the same kind of backyard clotheslines won’t work, but there are many new developments in this area  that make fashionable, efficient clothesline designs that can fit inside or out and take us a bit more off grid.  

Who knew a photo of a clothesline would bring up so much?  Of course it’s not an urgent matter but whether it’s a traditional outdoor line or a simple folding racks if not used to bring back a tradition, doing so to lessen the need for electricity and to lower energy costs and consumption is definitely a worthwhile consideration. 

I’ll share more of Verni’s work soon.  Her work can be purchased at the visitor center at Penn Center on St. Helena Island, SC.  

Back of Verni Singleton's greeting card.

Photo From left: Christina Bates, Paulette Singleton, Dorothy Singleton, Vernie Singleton and Alvin Singleton. Photo From Hilton Head Monthly Magazine.

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