Recently, an “artifact” from the boomer age has resurfaced in the news. Clotheslines have been popping up around the country as personal expressions of energy conservation and “common sense.” Some boomers, however, disagree that the act of placing laundry on a line to billow in the breeze is natural and good; they believe dryers were invented to forever relieve us of this manual task. Some go one step further, and see the stringing of lines draped with clothespinned-garments as an assault on their sensibilities and a blight in their neighborhoods. As a result, homeowner associations have banned the practice in many states, to the point of fining offenders who break the rules.
Clothes dryers in various mechanical forms have been around in France and England since the 18th century. On June 7, 1892, George T. Sampson from Dayton, Ohio, was granted a patent for a clothes drying system that used heat from a stove, thus replacing the older models that required hand-turning a basket over an open flame. Despite the increases in technology throughout the years, it wasn’t until the boomer age — post World War II — that the popularity of dryers increased. By 1955, they came in electric and natural gas versions, but were too expensive for the average consumer. That year only 10 percent of U.S. households had a dryer.
Mister Boomer’s experience certainly follows the historical trend. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, there wasn’t anyone to object to the neighbor’s drying clothes on a clothesline because everyone dried clothes on clotheslines. Mister Boomer recalls helping Mom put up sheets on the backyard lines, securing the ends with that amazing little utilitarian invention: a shaped piece of wood that had a split three-quarters of its length, and a rounded head to easily grasp. Yes, the humble clothespin. There’s a great invention, if you ask me. We owned and used very few of those flat spring-type clothespins. Mister Boomer’s Mom reserved those for thicker and oddly-shaped garments that weren’t easily secured with the traditional pin.
Mister Boomer recalls the time — a decade before the Clean Air Act of 1970 — when clothes hanging outside weren’t exactly finishing fresh-air fresh. Little bits of rusty-brown soot from the nearby steel mills would sprinkle onto the drying laundry, forcing a good shaking before folding and placing in the wicker laundry basket. Winter was not much kinder. The snow and ice complicated outdoor drying. Mister Boomer used to get a laugh out of his jeans drying in the cold breeze — or rather, freezing — into a stand-up shape like the Invisible Man were somehow modeling them. The method then was to remove the jean-sicles from the line and bring them indoors. Propping them against the dining room wall by the heat register, they soon melted into a foldable fabric, like denim witches from the Wizard of Oz.
Mister Boomer’s family didn’t get a dryer installed until the mid-sixties. Mister Boomer had gone along for the ride when his Dad visited a local appliance store. “90 days, same as cash,” read the sign on the wall. Mister Boomer’s Dad double-checked on that before signing on the dotted line. A gas dryer was a helpful appliance in the Boomer household that lessened the drudgery of the modern housewife, allowing her to rejoin the workforce to enjoy a rewarding career in retail sales.
The debate, to outside dry or not, amplifies the point that the Boomer Generation, unlike others before them, is not one of a single mindset. While some find it a nostalgic glimpse at a bygone era whose time has come again in the form of energy conservation, others feel technology has reigned supreme for the past hundred years, and has made our lives the better for it. This has prompted some to go to the point of demanding legislation that allows residents “the right to dry.” Last month Vermont became the first state to pass such legislation, while other states, including Texas and California, have considered it.
Now, it’s far from Mister Boomer’s mission to get involved in political debates, one way or the other. But doggone it, we changed the world, man — so surely this is a problem we can solve on our own. Instead of new laws allowing people their “God-given” rights, how about if we require those persnickety homeowner associations to set up a fund from members’ dues that would subsidize the purchase of solar dryers? They could paint them in homeowner association-approved colors. Surely a box in the backyard wouldn’t offend the sensibilities of the gated crowd like colorful undies blowin’ in the wind.
And how about it, Mr. Boomer President? Can we make America number one in manufacturing solar appliances? What do you think, boomers?