Hanging a New Clothesline

Photo by Consuela Kanaga "New York Tenements in the 1930's"
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
My new Clothesline



4 thoughts on “Hanging a New Clothesline

  1. How interesting. I agree that these old ways of doing things, all sorts of things, need to be saved, which is part of why I’ve been volunteering at our local historical society museum for the past 13 years. Today I had 3 different families come in to tour, which was good. One young girl wanted to know about what schools were like in the old days, so we went to our rural schoolhouse, which had been moved onto the museum grounds 20 years ago. She seemed to interested in everything. I learn a lot from the older folks who come in, as well as teaching a lot to the younger ones, I hope. There is surely a NY state historical society of some sort, probably many of them, possibly you could contact them and see if this sort of story has been recorded before, and if not, just tell them and hope they will write it down.

    1. Sounds like you love your volunteer work Melissa. I’ve always been interested in softer, smaller parts of history, the everyday stuff that gets lost. I posted my mother’s story as a comment on the blog about clotheslines on the Museum of New York City website. So I suppose it has been recorded already.

  2. I’m glad to know you recorded it that way. So much history, of so many sorts. I wish more people were interested, but at least I know some are. And like you, I enjoy the smaller, more everyday parts of history. I am 65 and it’s interesting to realize that so many young kids who come to see us at this local museum, have never seen any of the older types of phones, privies (outdoor toilets)–so many things that had at least some part of my own growing up time, that are totally foreign to youngsters today. And it’s fun when older folks come in, as they share so much that they remember, which I find interesting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Full Moon Fiber Art