Lombardi Column: She’s pinning her hopes on a clothesline

It’s that time of year. North Fork women, and even some guys, seem to enjoy hanging out. But before you jump to a faulty conclusion — like we’re just a lazy, bucolic bunch — let me tell you we’re not hanging out on North Fork street corners late at night.

Not at all. We’re hanging out in backyards and usually early in the morning. Sometimes as early as 6 a.m. and most often we’re hanging out alone. Our only companions are a basket of wet clothes and a bag of clothespins.

Many North Forkers use clothes dryers in winter only and even then reluctantly. It would be difficult for them to live in a community that prohibited outdoor clotheslines. There are lots of reasons why.

I, for example, just like the way a backyard clothesline looks. Lots of colors — blue jeans, red T-shirts, snowy sheets, pale green bath towels. And shapes — a big circular tablecloth, tiny square washcloths, bright triangle scarves.

There’s a social bonus, too. When I hang out I’ll probably get to talk face-to-face with Denise, my next-door neighbor. She may be hanging out, too, or gardening near the fence separating our yards. We talk about the weather, her children, my grandchildren. Even politics and baseball. I’ve never had a decent conversation with the clothes dryer in my basement. It just sits there looking dumb.

In my quest for fellow North Forkers who are clothespins custodians, I met quite a few folks who are pros. There’s Tina Marie Drake from Mattituck, for one. Tina practically lectured me on the benefits of hanging out. Nothing beats the sun for bleaching sheets and removing stains of all kinds, says Tina.

And, Tina asked, did I know lint in the dryer is really fabric? Well I never thought about it, Tina, but it certainly makes sense. That dryer in the basement can wear out clothes faster than any clothesline can.

But Tina wasn’t all practical. She admitted she is moved when she watches the breezes play hide and seek with the clothes on the line. A kind of poetry.

There’s a bit of poetry in Betty Bresloff, too. Or at least in one of her reasons for hanging out. Betty lives in East Marion and claims the cardinals and blue jays and all their bird pals gather in her yard and sing away as Betty pins the laundry to the line.

Betty believes she inherited a “hang-out gene” from her mom, who had no patience with drying clothes in a noisy machine. Mom sounds like a smart lady, Betty.

Now, a guy who specializes in taking clothes off the backyard line. Gale Alexander lives in Southold and is every inch a determined, independent guy. But when wife Julie, the hang-out lady, sees a storm approaching, even just a few raindrops, she knows what to do. “Quick, Gale. Get the wash off the line.” Julie asks and Gale obliges.

I told Gale he appears no worse for the wear. His clothes are sunshine-clean and he looks rugged and ready for anything. That’s ’cause he’s out in all kinds of weather taking in the wash.

I’d like Gale to meet another guy who excels at the outdoor sport of clothes-pinning. Andy Warkentien lives in Mattituck and enjoys helping his wife, Dorian, whenever he can. Dorian is grateful, though she has one little complaint about her husband’s laundry techniques. Seems he never even thinks of folding the things he takes from the backyard line. You know what I believe? The inability to fold a sheet is a male affliction with no cure in sight.

If things go as planned, the North Fork will have a guy who knows all the clothesline tricks. Trey Ross is 11 years old, lives in Riverhead, and helps his mother, Mary, hang the family laundry “outside in the fresh air.” Trey and his mom have a pulley system, the clothesline stretching between two backyard trees. When I spoke with Mary she was excited about a recent purchase — a whole box of wood clothespins! That’s North Fork.
Call me crazy, but I’m going to talk to the kingpins in the Clotheslines Department at both Riverhead and Southold town halls about a community clothesline for all North Forkers. A clothesline stretched out along Main Road from Riverhead to Orient. Why not? After all, we have community gardens, community theaters, even a community college.

A North Fork Community Clothesline (NFCC) would be so much fun. Little kids searching for a missing sock would meet there. Teens would say hello as they checked to see if their T-shirts were dry. Dads? Well, a Riverhead guy might meet up with a Southold friend as they hung up, feeling just a bit uneasy, some baby clothes. And North Fork women? They’d smile and say, “I told you so.” Nothing beats a warm sunny day, clothes hung neatly on the line. Everything, indeed everyone, ready for tomorrow.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.