Family Matters,  the laundry,  the sticks

Laundry in the Sticks

Laundry in the Sticks

When I visit my mom, I take my laundry. I don’t make her do my laundry (I’m 35, after all and very capable) but I do my laundry at my mom’s house. In her laundry room that is outside in the back yard.

It wasn’t always this way. The washing machine ended up in the backyard because when my brother lived with her, they put my sister-in-law’s fancy washing machine in the house and put my mom’s old tired washing machine outside so my brother could wash his ugly oily mechanic pants outside and not ever bring them in the house. I think that was a great idea. I think all ugly dirty greasy oily men should do their own laundry outside.

So when my brother and his family moved out they moved their fancy washing machine out of the house with them, leaving a big gaping hole in the closet where the washer and dryer used to sit. Moving washing machines around is a tough job and for some reason or another my mom’s old washing machine never made it back into the house.

Now that we’re all used to doing wash outside and then turning around and pinning the wet clothes on the clothesline that is so conveniently right behind us, we kind of like it this way. It’s a nice peaceful spot in my mom’s backyard.

The tree’s cast dappled shadows on the long grass that needs to be mowed. Leaves crackle when you step because it’s fall now. It all reminds me of growing up. Even the spiders and the cobwebs, the mud from the washer’s makeshift run off hose, the sticks and leaves you have to pull out of the washing machine before you run a load… I like it! I love being outside. It reminds me of so many good memories.

Laundry in the Sticks II

When we were little, my brother and I used to go visit my Aunt and Uncle’s Ranch in Red Bluff, California. My parents would send us out there for a week and it was like taking a camping trip on the moon for us. The Ranch was huge. You couldn’t see from one side to the other because there were so many acres and acres of rolling hills covered with yellow waving grass and big huge oak trees. I think there were seven reservoirs but we only ever discovered two or three of them. It was cowboy land. Cows and horses, pigs and chickens… right out of a story book.

The interesting part of visiting The Ranch was that there was no electricity or running water. They would hook up a generator at night to have light and run electric appliances but the generator was so noisy it made it impossible to think. Often they didn’t bother. Old oil lamps, flashlights and cooking in a big Dutch Oven was totally normal and acceptable. I’ll never forget the taste of cornbread cooked on coals in the front yard. Delicious!

Water was brought in from town in big giant tanks and well… I don’t remember a whole lot of washing going on. Maybe it was because I was a kid or maybe it was because washing was kind of an ordeal. I do remember the bathroom and how terrified I was of going into it at night. There were spider webs and scary bugs everywhere. Or at least they were there in my imagination because I couldn’t really see what lurked in the dark corners because there wasn’t any light.

Heavy Soil with leaves

It really was like camping in every sense of the word. I hope my relatives who still live there and might read this are not offended by me writing about that. Because the memories I have of the Ranch are some of the best memories I have. Doing laundry outside at my mom’s and walking up her rickety wooden steps that are covered with cobwebs instantly send me back to The Ranch that I knew as a child.

We did so many amazing things at The Ranch. I could go on and on. My cousins and I watched a cow being born. I’d never seen afterbirth before. It was mind blowing. I remember standing on the split rail fence with my cousins, watching my Aunt try to pull the slimy calf out of the mother cow’s butt (or so it seemed).

Some man, who happened to stop by selling Catholic Bibles (of all things), helped my Aunt out. They both must have tugged on that stubborn unborn cow for hours. This is how things happen when you live out in the country. People who stop by help birth cows and then they cool off afterwards in the shade with a big glass of powdered lemonade.

And then there was the time we were hiking around and my Aunt caught a rattle snake and skinned it right there in front of us. She kept the skin and made a belt out of it I think and then roasted the meat that night on the camp fire. I never ate any of it but I was definitely impressed. Only a Ranch Woman knows how to skin a rattle snake on the spot without any preparation at all and cooks it that night for dinner.

My Mom's Laundry Room

So maybe doing laundry outside at my mom’s isn’t exactly the same as spending a week without electricity or eating snake for dinner but it definitely reminds me of those many summers… something about the smell of the outdoors, the crackle of leaves and… spiders.


  • SmocknMama

    I love to hang our warsh out on the line. I love the way it feels and smells when I bring it in. I had an aunt that used to live in Red Bluff too. They owned a Walnut Grove/Ranch. They had mountain lions and peacocks (and rattlesnakes) running wild all the time and, of course, deer and other “regular” animals.

    SAJ says: Hey! Maybe they know each other. My Aunt and Uncle have peacocks too! I’ll never forget the sound of peacocks screaming bloody murder from some branch way up in a tree.

  • lynne

    My friend’s parents farm had peacocks, they terrorised her sister and used to flatten themselves against her bedroom window and fluff out their feather’s in a ferocious manner. The female bird was madly jealous and used to strut after visitors and give them a sharp peck on the bum if she thought you were giving her male mate the eye (daft bird). I like the way when you visit that a long train of animals peacocks, dogs hens and cats follow you around the farm wherever you go.

    I am amazed that your mother lives in a place so temperate you can keep your washing machine outside all year and it won’t seize up from rain!!!

    SAJ says: Oh, it might. I think they plan on moving it under some kind of shelter when it rains… which might be this week. We’ve never been “thinking ahead” sort.

  • OMSH

    How does that thing not rust out from rain? Is it under covering? I do love clothes on a line. When I cloth diapered, I hung them out on the line and it was like therapy.


    Maybe I’ll have Mr. OMSH put a line up for me.

  • Jenifer

    Thanks SAJ for the memories. This post reminded me of when my family was trying to save money and we hung all of our laundry outside to dry. I loved the smell of the sun baked clothes and how it added a certain crispness to the texture of the fabric.

    It makes me wish that I didn’t live in an apartment with a communal courtyard but a house where I could have a clothesline.

  • chris

    I miss hanging the laundry on the clothesline with my grandmother. Her washer was in the basement and the clothesline was on the second floor. It was the kind you push and pull.

    The only rule was that I couldn’t hang underwear on the outside line – she had a special line inside for that. She let me break it only once when she was angry with my dad (her son) and let me put his unmentionables out for all to see (like he cared). It was pretty funny.

    Maybe now that everyone is trying to be green this tradition will return. I love the smell of clothes that have been dried in the sun. :)

  • Gramma

    There really is something therapeutic about hanging out the wash. I remember hanging out in Hawaii…by the time the second load was done, the first was already dry and could be taken down and folded. Just a tip…hang all those lovely colorful wearables inside out to prevent some of the sun bleaching. It really helps. There’s nothing like crawling into bed after wash day and smelling the wonderful ozone sheets and pillowcases.

  • Michelle

    My gramma used to hang wash out to dry….there is something really right about doing that! I put Gus’s (our dog’s) bed out to dry the other day, and it just smelled so good…of course he was looking at me like I was crazy, what with changing the smell and all :o)

    Just one of life’s little pleasures, hanging laundry out to dry.

    Take care,

  • carrien

    Hanging out the laundry brings back memories of my grandparents farm and all the summers there and watching my grandmother hang out the wash.

    It’s such a ritualistic part of homemaking, a moment to pause and be still eve while working that I bet a lot of us has similar responses.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  • Michelle

    Now I remembered what else I wanted to say – lol…my kiddos did/still do the same thing your Baby Bug is doing, SAJ – they would eat and eat! They grow too fast! She is too adorable, btw :o)

  • BeachMama

    What colourful laundry! I love your description of “the Ranch” and it looks like it would be such a gorgeous place to visit.

    Your post also brings back memories for me, of hanging laundry with my Grandma in Montréal. All the houses in Montréal have laundry lines out the back and we used to wash in the kitchen and then hang outside, everything smells wonderful. We (here in Ottawa) aren’t allowed the old fashioned laundry lines, but we can have those ‘trees’ I keep meaning to pick up one, but just carry my drying rack through the house and put outside on a warm day. I wishe we had our laundry outside, there is much more room out there than in our actual laundry room.

    Great post!

  • Kuky

    What amazing stories. I don’t have an aunt like that. Just one who wrongly accused me of stealing. She gave me a wallet when I visited her in Hong Kong. And then when she came to America she had another wallet that looked the same and thought I had taken hers.

    Hmmm…no electricity that reminds me. I visited China when I was little and stayed with relatives where there was a bathroom with no electricity or toilet (just a hole in the ground). And no beds. Sleeping on mats on the floor with hard square pillows. Hmmm…still not as cool as The Ranch.

  • Angella

    We have a line! Clothes and sheets smell so fresh on the line! Towels…they just get crispy for some reason, so we put them in the dryer.

    Everything else goes on the line in the summer though :)

  • Bee

    hey, i just want to say, this post…so very vivid. i felt instantly transported to the ranch and i could even smell the crackly leaves and campfires. really nice writing.

    so, thanks,
    from an A#1 lurker.

  • Rae

    Ours is outside! I love hanging the clothes on the line, and I usually have little “helpers” too, who alternate between handing me clothes to pin up and dropping them on the ground. There is nothing more evocative than a line of colorful dancing clothes in the sunlight.

  • Valerie

    Hanging clothes out is one of the very best things. I got the dog picture in the mail last week, love it!! Riley has that orange birdy shirt, I actually went back and bought another in a bigger size because I love it.

  • bluejaye

    We need to hear from Gramma. I think the nastalga is different if you “had” to hang out the laundry. I know my grandma embrased every conveinience as it was available. When I was 3 or 4 I remember when my dad built the first indoor bathroom at our ranch. My mom didn’t bring the dryer into the house until after I moved out. We did the wash in the house and then had to carry it out to “the buiding” outside.

  • Marilyn

    I have a major THING for clotheslines. If we didn’t have the front yard (of our duplex) I’d have one. (If I strung one up, I’m sure the City would be on my *ss in a hurry!) For the first 8 months or so we were in the islands, our washers and dryers (in two different houses) kept breaking…so I did a lot of laundry by hand…and strung up rudimentary clotheslines on the various balconies. I LOVED IT. I’d stand outside pinning laundry to a line, looking out at that blue, blue water and the neighboring islands. It wasn’t ‘inconvenient’…it was a TREAT! I feel that way reading about laundry at your Mom’s. I would totally dig it. :)

  • ioi

    Thank you SAJ. The memories you brought back are priceless. It’s neat to see what the Ranch was to visitors. You did a wonderful job portraying the best parts of my childhood accurately. I vaguely remember the rattlesnake cooking… though even I didn’t venture to try it. I don’t think there were more than three times in my life that my mom actually cooked a rattlesnake. Usually we just chopped them up and fed them to the cats after we’d skinned them. Oh, and the reason you don’t remember any washing of laundry…. was because we hauled it all to town and while my mom worked through the mountains of clothes at the laundromat, my siblings and I drove her crazy running and climbing everywhere. Thank you so much for bringing back the good parts of where I grew up!

  • Michelle Picon

    I love hanging clothes out to dry, but any suggestion on how to prevent the crispiness and sometimes not so fres air smell