One afternoon last summer, I went to the hardware store, bought a length of clothesline and 100 wooden clothespins, went home, and hung out the wash.
It was the first summer in my 14 years in St. Paul that it had occurred to me to do this.
Our house came with a sturdy white hook embedded in the side of the garage, and, across the yard, a tall pole with a white iron ring. It wasn't until last summer that I realized what they were for -- that stretching a line between them gave me a way to dry my clothes.
Hanging wet clothes on a line is, of course, the current "green" thing to do; everything that is old is new again, and all that. Like riding your bike to the farmers market.
Clotheslines save money, conserve electricity and burn calories. They give me sheets that smell of the sun and towels that, admittedly, feel like sandpaper.
They have also been banned in several suburbs and neighborhoods.
Some homeowner associations maintain that laundry is ugly, low-class and unsuitable for public display. Apparently it's not something that people who have paid top dollar for their condo want to look at on a summer afternoon out on the deck.
There's also a fear that the sight of clothes flapping on the line could bring property values down (as if they weren't dropping enough already).
This is not just some Minnesota oddity. Homeowners associations all over the U.S. and Canada restrict clotheslines to the back yard, or ban them outright. Bend, Ore., Daytona Beach, Fla., Peoria, Ariz., and many places in California. Tucson, Worcester, Mass., and Waterloo, Iowa.
Lately, though, there have been signs that public opinion is starting to swing the other way. Towns and associations are starting to reverse those laws -- primarily on the East Coast and in Canada. In April, for instance, the premier of Ontario grandly lifted the ban for the entire province. Southampton, N.Y., on Long Island, repealed its six-year-old ban in late May.
This trend, which is documented on a website called Project Laundry List (www.laundrylist.org), has yet to reach Minnesota.
Nancy Polomis said a desire for aesthetics and privacy is keeping the restrictions in place. Polomis is an attorney with Hellmuth and Johnson of Eden Prairie and represents 300 to 400 homeowner associations.
"The property managers I'm working with have not seen that come up," she said of the clothesline issue. "And they're not expecting to anytime soon -- I think just because the uniform aesthetics are so important to most of the communities."
Besides, she said, clotheslines aren't terribly practical in Minnesota, "We have a pretty short outdoor drying season," she said. "Stuff won't dry -- it's so humid here. Even if someone has a line up from May to October, they may not be able to use it very much."
The Southeast Como Improvement Association in Minneapolis would almost certainly disagree. Last year, the neighborhood group got a $4,000 grant from the city of Minneapolis to buy retractable clotheslines for residents' basements, as well as for outdoor clotheslines.
"We're seeing that people are interested again," said James De Sota, a neighborhood coordinator. "It's because of energy savings, being conscious once again of the environment."
Awash in memories
But hanging out the wash can also be an exercise in nostalgia.
My mother had 10 children and a clothes dryer. I have no particular memories of her doing laundry, even though she must have done eight or nine loads a week.
But every now and then, our dryer died. In the winter, we dried wet clothes everywhere we could -- on the backs of chairs, along the radiators, and, sometimes, inside the warmed oven.
If the dryer died in the summer, though, my mother got to come up out of the basement and go outside.
I have strong memories of her hanging clothes on a pop-up, umbrella-style clothesline. It is, admittedly, a romantic memory. She has her arms up, and she's clipping something to the line. There is a wicker basket next to her on the ground. She is wearing a sleeveless blouse and a blue wraparound skirt. The sun is out. The wind is blowing. She is looking directly at me, and she is smiling.
Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302