By Teddy Allen
Maybe springtime made me think of it. Could have been the smell of fresh cotton on Easter.
Or my neck just hurt.
But in an instant, it was boyhood again, and with it the hazy memory of a red streak on your sweaty little neck, a sign of a rite of passage, long gone now thanks to all the modern conveniences.
In sports, getting “clotheslined” means getting knocked down by a guy’s outstretched arm at neck level. Your neck is just running along minding its own business when suddenly an angry arm hits it and stops it; the bottom part of your non-neck body keeps going, but obviously not for long.
This happens often in TV wrestling. Standard move. It is the cousin of the “lariat,” which is the classic clothesline, only with the offending arm moving forward like a hatchet.
But in unrehearsed arenas, most often on the football field and daily ‘way back when’ on the school playground, the clothesline was Standard Operating Procedure. Everyone’s neck knew this going in and, if you were a victim, you held no hard feelings … at least not at once you’d caught your breath and felt your neck pipe would live to breathe again.
But the saying itself — clotheslined — would be lost on the youth of today. We knew exactly what it meant and why it fit perfectly. We knew because our moms had clotheslines.
They are rare as an honest soul these days, the clotheslines of our youth. We all have inside clothes dryers now. Even in the 1960s, some people had electric clothes dryers inside their actual homes. Awesome.
But the rest of us had dryers, too. They were just non-electric and hung in the backyard.
The most basic of rural clotheslines were a pair of cross pipes about 20 feet apart, maybe 30, and three or four rows of heavy twine or light wire connected the two. On those were clothes pins holding up various blouses and socks and jeans and underwear.
Very few secrets in rural life concerning haberdashery.
The ends of the cross pipes were hollow, so we’d stick 6-ounce Dr Pepper bottles in the ends to keep the wasps from homesteading. There was a step stool, in case little sis had to help “hurry and get in the wash” before a brewing rain.
You didn’t want the clothesline right in the middle of the backyard because that would mess up playing, but you couldn’t hem it in; the wind needed a fair shot to dry the clothes. Our backyard was big enough so that our clothesline was pushed to the back third. Sweet. It just made the run to the back door a little longer if you were hurrying in under a sprinkle with a quickly gathered load.
The only problem with clotheslines came if you were playing around one you weren’t familiar with. You were the visiting team in another kid’s yard. The lines were high enough so we wouldn’t run into them unless … unless you were on your bike. If you hit a clothesline, it was like being whipped off your bike by an invisible and unforgiving, very healthy and surprisingly strong string.
The days you saw a buddy get clotheslined while on his bike — the bike would keep going and your friend would half somersault in the air before landing on his back — those days were the jewels of childhood.
It was always funny — when it happened to somebody else.
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