Reflections of a Southern Yankee First-World Problem

I opened the door to my dryer and reached inside for an article of clothing. My hand closed around a shirt—a shirt that was cold and wet like a dog’s nose. Ugh!  Immediately, I knew the heating element in “Old Reliable” had finally died. I was disappointed in Whirlpool more than I usually would have been. I had just flown in at midnight the night before from a 10-day work trip in Phoenix and I had two large loads of laundry to do. The first load went just fine. The second load not so good. I was in a bit of a laundry quandary. Do I lug everything to a laundromat to get it dried?   Nah. That’s too much of a pain. What to do….  Then, it hit me. I thought back to my childhood. I recalled how my adopted parents taught me one of the many ways to be frugal. In the winter, we would hang our wet laundry all around our kitchen where the wood stove produced the heat to warm our home, tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s not that we didn’t own a washer or dryer. We did. But why use the electricity when you had a perfectly good wood stove emanating the kind of heat that dried clothes just as well as a dryer?  (So, what if it took a little longer?).  As I think about it, I’m not really sure we ever used the dryer. During the warmer weather months, we would hang our laundry on the clothesline and let the sun’s energy and the gentle breezes do the work.   My grandmother in upstate New York was the same way.  For as long as I can remember, she would haul loads of freshly washed laundry up the cellar stairs to the only bathroom in the house.  Weird, right?  Not really.  I’m assuming my grandfather had made sure that she had a convenient clothesline many years before I ever came into the picture.  All my grandmother had to do was open the bathroom window that looked out into the neatly kept backyard.  Then, using the pulley system attached to the house and a tree, she would hang all her laundry without even having to step outside.  I can still hear the squeaky sound of the pulley in my mind as she pinned various articles of clothing, towels, or bed linens to the line. 

I still fondly remember many a night falling asleep on sheets that had been hanging on a clothesline all day. I can tell you there really isn’t anything that compares to the fresh smell and feeling of sheets and pillowcases that have been kissed by the sun and the wind. 

With the wonderful memories of growing up in much simpler times, I began pulling my wet laundry from the dryer and hanging everything on the backs of my kitchen chairs, over the TV that I hardly ever watch, and any other place in my apartment that I could find. The only thing I was missing was the wood stove. But I knew that everything would eventually dry out, even without one. 

As I sit writing this, I’m surrounded by clothes hanging all around me. Who would have thought that a simple first- world problem like a bad element in a dryer would bring back so many memories of my childhood?  But bring them back, it did.  Thank you, Whirlpool.


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