Laundry Day, Grandma’s Way

Reader Contribution by Sheila Julson
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My grandma was an urban homesteader well before the term became popular, or even before the term existed. Besides reusing and recycling almost everything, as well as gardening and baking, I remember how on any given summer day Fels-Naptha-cleansed laundry flapped from the clotheslines as we kids darted around the yard, dodging flailing slips, housecoats, and Turkish towels. Grandma never explained to us why the towels were called “Turkish.” They were just Turkish towels, so there. (I later learned that they’re basically just any towels made from cotton terry cloth, and I was a bit disappointed by the blasé definition.)

Grandma had these neat wooden clothesline poles – or props, as she called them – that propped the line up high to keep sheets off the ground and allow for maximum air flow. She even painted the props her signature “aqua” shade, a color she made up by mixing two paint hues. Don’t ever call it blue or green in front of Grandma.

Our family cousin Dennis rides his bike past one of Grandma’s clothesline prop poles during the 1950s.

“Aqua,” she had always corrected. Everything in the yard and home was accented with “aqua,” from the clothesline props to the decorative bricks in the yard to the trim on the house. Her neighbors had tried to imitate the color, with little success.

Unfortunately, Grandma’s cool aqua clothesline props were lost over time. I’ve been hanging laundry outdoors for years, but had trouble finding clothesline props like Grandma had. Metal or aluminum props were available at hardwood stores and online, but they just weren’t the same. They also averaged around $25.

My mom found a piece of scrap trim that measured 1” thick by 2” wide, which was just about the size of Grandma’s clothesline props. The scrap wood stretched seven feet long, which was the perfect height to raise wet laundry toward the sun and wind so Mother Nature could do her thing.

We measured and marked a “V” shape at one end and cut out the shape with a jigsaw. That was the end to prop up the clothesline. At the other end, we angled the corners to shape a point so the pole would stab into the ground and stay put. We sanded the edges, and presto! We had recreated Grandma’s clothesline props.

The Top of My DIY Clothesline Prop

The Bottom of the DIY Clothesline Prop

I found more 1” thick by 2” wide strips of wood and cut those in the same manner. After a good sanding, the homemade props have lasted several years.

Due to both environmental consciousness and a frugal nature, I’ve decided to go all out with recreating Grandma’s laundry day. I usually have a bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap on hand for stains, so I decided to ditch my usual liquid detergent and go with Fels-Naptha. The bar grates just as easily as any hard cheese, and a handful of the soap shavings tossed into a full load on the warm cycle got everything really clean. Estimated cost per load: 42 cents. Also, no plastic jug; just a biodegradable paper wrapper.

It’s not cheese, but grated Fels-Naptha laundry bar soap.

Best of all, the scent reminded me of Grandma and her backyard on summer days.

I’ve also tried to recreate Grandma’s “aqua” paint color to apply to the homemade clothesline poles, but just like Grandma’s neighbors, I couldn’t get it right.