When and where I grew up, a clothesline in the yard was as much a given as a roof on the house or gravy on the potatoes. But frankly, the part about airing “dirty” laundry never made sense because no one would place dirty laundry on the line — the whole point was to place the freshly-washed and clean laundry on the clothesline so it would dry and be sanitized by the sun.
There were few secrets in a neighborhood where people put their underwear on a clothesline for the world to see, and whose houses had open windows with screens that kept out flies and mosquitoes, but also let the conversations inside be heard outside. Since we could get only three channels on the old black-and-white TV on a good day off the rooftop antenna, when TV was boring, one could just sit near a window and catch up on what the neighbors were saying.
And if they were on the phone, we could still keep up because in the days before the government monitored all our social media posts and taped our every call, most of us had “party lines” for phone service. That meant that several families in the neighborhood shared a line. Each family had a distinct ring so we knew whether to pick up officially or just pick up and listen in without saying anything. Party lines were much cheaper than private lines, so naturally, we had one.
In the summer, when it was too hot to sit indoors on an August night in Arkansas until well after sundown, most folks would take to the front porch. The porch usually had some chairs, a ceiling fan of some kind, and ideally a porch swing hung from the rafters or ceiling of the porch. If you were lucky, the porch was screened, but if not, there would be several flyswatters and everyone took turns swatting at flies and mosquitoes or wasps or yellow jackets. If insect repellent products like OFF! had been invented, we certainly couldn’t afford to buy them, and a flyswatter would last for several summers and usually was given for free at the hardware store when you bought some stuff. I don't think we ever had a flyswatter at my house that didn't remind us that we could buy lumber or tools at Duffy Hardware. And alI of our yardsticks (three-foot type) and twelve-inch rulers let us know that Lagrone Williams Hardware had paint and pots and pans.
As we sat on the front porch, it was a time to talk and hear stories about the “good ol’ days” from my relatives that didn’t seem all that good to me given the way they described the hardships of the Depression and World War II. We'd break out guitars and play music and hear the same old family stories that we'd all heard a thousand times before. In the sweltering hot nights of the summer, everyone who wasn't playing a musical instrument had to shell purple hull and black-eyed peas that had been bought that day from the back of a farmer's truck that would pass through the neighborhood selling peas by the bushel. Shelling peas made one's fingers turn purple so I hated shelling peas, and thus one of my many reasons for learning to play the guitar.
Sometimes the neighbors or relatives came to sit on the porch and sometimes when things were quiet on our porch, we just listened to what the neighbors were saying on theirs. Many nights, it was for sure better than TV.
The culture I grew up in created a sense of community, but also a sense of accountability. The openness of our lives with our laundry visible to God and all His creation and conversations being heard without the whiz bang electronic surveillance devices we would come to despise meant that we lived with our families, but within a neighborhood and community. And out of a combination of courtesy, old-fashioned manners and the need to survive by having neighbors we could count on, we didn't talk “ugly” about neighbors too much. There was a good chance they could hear us. That meant they’d never help us shell our peas again.
Also something to consider before hitting “send” on an angry, threatening tweet.