Clothesline conversations bring people together


Lorna Marquardt, Leader Columnist

Contributed Photo Lorna Marquardt’s cousins, Elaine (Buettner) Knope and her sister, Carol, hang out doll clothes on wash day in this photo taken in the early 1950s.

I’m pleased that in addition to The Shawano Leader, my column will be published in the Oconto County Times Herald, Wittenberg Enterprise & Birnamwood News, Super Shopper and Your Community Shopper.

I’d like to take this time to say “welcome” and “thank you for allowing me into your home.”

I began writing articles while serving as Shawano’s mayor, focusing on city issues. Since my retirement, I have been writing about people, memories from the past, nonprofit groups, businesses and area happenings.

Readers often tell me they enjoy the trivia questions. You can find the answer to today’s question on another page in this issue.

I hope you like my new name for the column, “Clothesline Conversation.”

I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s. Everyone had a wash machine, but a dryer was a luxury. Statistics show 90 percent of the families in the ’50s didn’t have a dryer, but nearly every family had a clothesline.

Our washer was kept in a corner of our pantry. The rinse tubs were kept on our front porch. Monday was wash day. Mother did the laundry in the kitchen. We had a cistern pump. She pumped the water into pails; the water was then poured into a copper boiler on our cook stove. The clothes were washed in hot water but rinsed in cold water. She had a little bottle of bluing she used in the rinse water for the white clothes.

Mother showed me how to separate the clothes into delicate, whites and darks. She washed the delicate items by hand. Her wringer washer did not have settings.

I remember our first clothesline. The poles were made of iron. The lines were wire. My mom disliked the wire lines and finally convinced my dad to replace them with rope.

It was my job to take the clothespins from the egg basket and hand them to her. The white clothes were washed and hung to dry first. She said pants and shirts dried best if hung upside down. Pants pockets were exposed.

I remember when our dog ran under the clothesline and got dirt on the low hanging sheets. You would not have wanted to hear that “clothesline conversation.”

A relative, Elaine Knope, remembers her grandmother making her own cottage cheese and hanging the cheesecloth sack on the clothesline. It was placed there to drain out the moisture before crumbling into cottage cheese. The neighborhood dogs had a good time licking the puddle that formed on the grass.

Mother and I had some memorable conversations under our old clothesline. It was a time when I had my mother’s undivided attention, and I cherish the memories. When we finished hanging out the family laundry, I hung my doll’s clothes on a line my dad strung between two trees. Mother handed me the clothespins.

Sometimes my mother would hang an old blanket over the clothesline. I loved sitting under it and having a picnic with my dolls. Other times neighborhood kids and I would play badminton over the clothesline.

Clothes were hung out year-round. Mother explained they would still dry when it was freezing if there was a breeze and low humidity. Sometimes the clothes remained damp and she hung them on a rack beside our kerosene stove.

When I was a young wife, I remember the backyard clotheslines prompted conversations between neighbors. It was how I met several, actually. I remember an elderly lady who came across the lawn to introduce herself. She invited me over for a piece of lemon pie.

The clothes that hung on a clothesline and how they were hung actually told neighbors a lot about a family, including how large the family was, age and size of children, and occupations of adults.

When my children grew older and left home, my beloved clothesline got me out of the house where I could experience nature and the changing seasons. From beneath my clothesline, I visited with neighbors or folks walking by.

I continue to find such simple beauty in laundry hanging on a clothesline. I love hearing the snap of the sheets and pillowcases on a windy day. The clothes have such a clean fresh smell when you bring them in.

Social media and cellphones are today’s popular means of communication, but to me, nothing compares to “clothesline conversation.”

Trivia question: Who was the manager of WTCH Radio Station in 1955?

Clothesline Conversation trivia answer: Ray Gruetzmacher

Lorna Marquardt is a former mayor of Shawano.