The following is the first in a series of autobiographical and biographical sketches about Project Laundry List volunteers. Anne Lawrence is a clothesline hobbyist and historian who has given dozens of talks to community groups:
Among my fondest memories as a young girl are those of my mother and grandmother hanging the wash outdoors on clotheslines, while I had the grown-up job of ‘clothespin handler.’ I loved watching the laundry flapping in the breezes, and I sensed the relaxation and tranquility that seemed to envelop my mother when she finished hanging a load of laundry. I can still picture us both burying our noses in the freshly dried clothes and inhaling that unmistakable sunshine smell. We would laugh at my father’s frozen-stiff long-johns fresh off the winter clothesline that were brought into the house standing up like cardboard cutouts.
Many years later I came upon a 1966 photo that I had taken of my mother leaning on the porch railing with a small load of clothes hanging on the lines behind her. The nostalgia and warm feelings triggered by that photo became the inspiration for my hobby of collecting images and representations of clotheslines in all forms, which I’ve been doing for the past 19 years. I’ve amassed a sizable collection, including paintings, photographs, objects of art, jewelry, clothing, books, personal stories, ceramics, crafts, wallpaper, postcards, greeting cards, antique laundry items, comic strips, videos, music, and I’ve organized reference materials into ever-growing binders on subjects such as clotheslines in the news, in film, video, essays, advertising, literature, music, and more.
Retirement in 2009 afforded me much more time to devote to my hobby, and a move from the Boston area to Ann Arbor, Michigan provided opportunities for sharing my hobby with others. Since then I have been offering presentations on “The Love, Lure, and Lore of the Clothesline” to folks in various senior-living residences and retirement communities, for whom stories of hanging laundry on outdoor lines revive pleasant memories. Eventually my audiences grew to include church groups, antiquing groups, university-affiliated clubs, memory-loss groups, and historical preservation groups. I gave a class on the subject at two continuing education institutions in the Ann Arbor area, and appeared on a local radio show to share my love of laundry nostalgia and spread the benefits of clothesline drying. My latest venture is to visit preschools to share the fun of hanging clothes outdoors to dry with youngsters who may have no idea of such a thing!
Ironically, since living in condo communities for many years, where outdoor clotheslines are prohibited, I have reluctantly had to create interior drying arrangements in my basement and laundry room – but I dream of the day when I will once again be free to let it all hang out — outdoors!