Nooks and Crannies

Wash flowing in the wind — a picture of mothers’ lives


Sunshine, gentle breezes and cool temperatures made the perfect day to hang out laundry, but even if the weather was not ideal, the clothes were hung outside. When I grew up in rural South Dakota, our clothes dryer consisted of three wire lines stretched between three T-posts stationed in the back yard. The sun bleached and brightened the towels and shirts. The wind flapped, billowed and dried the sheets. Cool temperatures made the clothes, sheets and later the whole house, smell heavenly.

Laundry needed to be dried in winter, too. Sometimes the coveralls froze before we could clamp on the clothespins. Freeze-dried stiff as a board, they made a comical sight when carried in like a dance partner.

The drying display of washing was organized in an orderly fashion, so on summer Mondays dazzling whites all swayed together in the wind. Colors flashed next with unmentionables on the middle line between sheets and towels; some things were best kept hidden! Warm sun rays soaked into heavy dark chore clothes, but the thick seams remained damp for a long time.

My sisters and I all helped hang out laundry. I was not very old when Mom pulled down the heavy metal wire with the sliding clothespin bag so that I could reach in and grab two clothespins and hang up a washcloth. She smiled then and said, “I love to hang out clothes.”

Sixty years later, like the flash of light when the sun peeks from behind a cloud, I realize why my mother and generations of other women held dear the vision of their wash flowing gently in the wind; the picture portrays the story of their lives.

Just married and on their own, Mom draped her farmer husband’s overalls, work shirts and socks next to her homemade work dresses and aprons. Every day of her life she worked beside the man she loved.

More than a year later the sun blessed tiny pink booties, along with diapers, soakers and kimonos. Mom fondly hung small white sheets on the line between her clothes and Dad’s. Months passed and soon blue receiving blankets and little boy rompers joined the other baby clothes as the woman cherished the scene and the new chapter in her life.

Many full clothes baskets later, the overflowing lines danced with dresses, shirts, and pants of every size and color, mingling with nearby diapers and bibs. Mother’s gaze swept the scene and proudly accepted the new episode, her growing family.

Later on, patches plastered knees on jeans and overalls, no matter what the age of the man, for farm work was hard; sometimes patches covered patches. Gradually, dresses and shirts faded and wore thin as they were passed on from child to child. Hand-me-downs guarded the meager budget. Did her eyes cloud with worry or weariness as the mended garments whipped before her in the wind?

It did not seem like many wash days later when bright reds and whites flashed between the poles. Jerseys, shirts, sweaters and socks flapped like flags as school sports took the lead. Juggling schedules and farm work challenged the best of parents. The mother’s role stretched to include the behind-the-scenes booster club, and life was so full that time flew by.

The pages turned in the mother’s story. Soon the mountain of laundry dwindled to a small hill, and some of the lines were bare when she scanned them, empty basket at her feet. Everyday dresses and aprons snuggled next to overalls and striped shirts, and again, she worked side-by-side with her farmer. Though some clotheslines were empty, her life was full, and she looked forward to the next chapter.

One Monday morning Mother carried her basket to the line early. Guests slept inside and breakfast cinnamon rolls were rising on the counter. She reached for the tiny pink dress on top and her eyes glistened as she tenderly clipped it to the wire. Little pajamas printed with cars and trucks waited for her loving hands. At the bottom of the hamper lay a small blanket, on which bears and elephants invited snuggling into the blue softness. The corners were worn thin. On the line the coverlet swayed in the breeze.

She heard the front door squeak open, and soon a child rounded the corner. A grin of anticipation lit his face, and he toddled toward Mom. Suddenly he spied the blanket and reached for it. He plopped to the grass clutching the soft, wet corner and his thumb found his mouth. Content that now all was well in his world, the little boy gazed up at the woman next to him with trusting, blue eyes and breathed “Gram-ma.” Her heart melted, and she beamed happily.

Yes, her story was written there week after week, proclaimed by the wash on the line. If we had thought to look, we may have seen it, too, for it was there all along, blowing in the wind.

DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, SD, the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow.  She attended school at Erwin and De Smet. Married Vicar Robert Kruempel and lived in Benedict, ND, Toeterville, IA, Akron, IA and Missouri Valley, IA. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan, IA and is employed as Children's Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of books, (four published so far, fifth to come out soon) "Promises to Keep," which are available at


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