My mother preferred clotheslines to dryers. We lived in the country and she wanted her wash to smell like great outdoors. Actually, we lived in a new suburb, but there were still horse and cow pastures nearby, so it seemed like the country.
Our sheets, towels and clothes blew in the breeze. Then we'd bring them into the house stiff, scratchy and unyielding, but nature-fresh. Except on the days the neighbors burned their rubbish in outdoor incinerators. Then our clothes and linens would have a earthy smoke-odor which would upset my mother to no end. The incinerators were legal in the county during the 1950s.
As well as hanging laundry, one of my chores was to empty our waste-baskets in the outdoor incinerator which was in the back corner of our half-acre yard, next to our irrigation ditch. When I was ten I was allowed to light the match to set fire to our paper trash. I'd stand and watch until the last ember died.
Some of our neighbors burned weeds and dried grass which really made our laundry stink and agravated my mom. She'd complain to the neighbors, who would inevitably ask, "Vi, why don't you get an electric dryer like other modern housewives?" She was stubborn and somewhat old-fashioned until an event which changed her mind, as well as our lives forever.
We were getting ready to leave for our summer vacation in McCall, Idaho where several families from our neighborhood had cabins. They'd haul their boats to Payette Lake and we'd drive our huge green Cadillac with the fish-tail fins. For a week we'd enjoy water-skiing, fishing, swimming and barbecues with the Kings, Doyles and Andersons.
On this particular trip, I was thirteen and had just started wearing a bra. Mom washed our underwear the night before the trip and hung her bras, my sister's bras, my bras and our panties on the clothesline to dry overnight. We arose early the next morning to hit the road. I went to the backyard to retrieve our under-things, only to discover a completely empty clothesline!
Needless to say, we were all shocked and dismayed. Three women without underwear leaving on an early morning trip. We left anyway and bought new items when we arrived in Boise, still curious about the disappearance of our unmentionables. Who would want a bunch of used women's things?
After a week of play, we came back from McCall and mom agreed to buy a dryer. Our clothes were softer, easier to fold, but most of all they were safe from bewildering thefts.
It remained a mystery for many years until a mentally disturbed young man who lived several blocks from our house was arrested for peeping. Hidden in his attic, the police found trunks full of women's underwear! They seized the items for evidence which was fine with us. We'd didn't want anything back, thank you.
(Photograph by Susan Huntington)