Photo by Consuela Kanaga “New York Tenements in the 1930’s”
I looked out my open Studio door, trying to think of something else to say to my mother who I was on the phone with. I saw the clothes blowing on the new line I put up earlier. The old one broke I told my mother, I got a thicker rope so this one should last a while.
Clothes smell so good when they come off the line, she said. Then it was as if the memory of the smell brought back another memory of clothes lines, one she hadn’t thought of in years. A memory I had never heard her talk of before.
The tenements were four or five stories high my mother told me, halfway between the backs of the buildings there were poles as tall as the tenements. They had rungs coming out either side, she said, or something like that.
And men would come and climb the poles to hang clothesline. They would climb them so quick. And they would call out to the people in the tenements, and if they wanted a line hung, the women would lean out their windows and call back. It was a kind of song the men called, but my mother couldn’t remember the words.
After I got off the phone I tried to find that “song” on-line. I found some photos of clothes lines in many cities and even a piece about the clothesline of New York tenements from the Museum of the City Of New York. (My mother lived in the Bronx from the 1920’s to 1960’s) But no one mentioned the men who hung the lines and their “song”.
It made me wonder how many stories like these are forgotten and lost. All those jobs that no longer exist, that me, in my time and life would never have even imagined.
I thought about the men yelling out their song, like hotdog vendors at a baseball game. What did they say and did people recognize the call because of the way they “sang” it, even if they didn’t understand the words.
And I felt like, for a few moments, as my mother remembered and told me her story, that I was experiencing the memory with her. I know I wasn’t seeing and feeling the same thing she was. I was creating my own memory from hers. And from her telling it to me.
And I feel that it shouldn’t be forgotten. That’s it’s really these kinds of stories that make up our history, as much as the stories of wars and disease and money. The everyday stories of everyday people.
My new Clothesline