The shouting matches started shortly after my family moved

into the Dutch Colonial house across from the town's public high school.

Mrs. Gibson, a widowed socialite with a butler, a poodle and a two-toned

Cadillac, had never expected to see a family of Italians next door.

But there she was in her twilight years, battling the reality of a changing

society. The tony New York suburb, known for its debutantes and coming out

parties - this was the mid-'50s, an era when "coming out" wasn't followed by

"of the closet" - was being infiltrated by the nouveau riche with last names

ending in vowels. Mrs. Gibson wasn't ready for it.

They arrived with screechy station wagons, smudge-faced kids and religious

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statues on the front lawn.

She upbraided. My mother retorted. The words got nasty.

So I can only imagine her apoplexy when she saw my father cementing a

carousel clothesline in our side lawn, and my mother hanging clothes from it.

The blight was visible from all angles, including Mrs. Gibson's windows.

When I read about the controversy in Southampton over outdoor clotheslines

and their impact on property values, I felt compelled to speak up. I applaud

town officials for repealing the ban on hanging clothes.

That first summer in our home was also my first year of life.

I'm told Mrs. Gibson's window shades went down on the day we moved in and -

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except for when she was spitting nails from an open window - didn't come up

again until she passed away years later.

Though this was an era when most middle-class households were equipped with

modern appliances, our first dryer wasn't purchased until long after I left

for college, some 18 years after my family moved into the house.

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The decision had nothing to do with money. My mother simply didn't want


So throughout my junior high and high school years, my schoolmates would

stare out classroom windows at my mother's waving laundry.

She had an unchangeable system: unmentionables were (thankfully) hung on

the inner ropes and meticulously surrounded by increasingly larger garments -

my brothers tiny shorts, my skinny pedal pushers, my sister's sleek shifts, my

mother's billowy housedresses - until my father's shirts and workpants flapped


It never occurred to me until now that my mother was single-handedly

bringing down property values in that Westchester County community.

In an era when green is cool and sustainable design is trendy, how many of

us think twice about the energy consumed each time we load the dryer?

If I had the nerve, I'd run a clothesline off my back patio. I'm certain

the sight would startle my neighbors, but I can't think of a more practical

invention. Hanging laundry not only conserves electricity, but it introduces

fresh air and exercise in between computer stints.

Years ago I took a trip to Prince Edward Island. As I rode my bicycle amid

the sea- sculpted landscapes, so stark yet alluring, I found myself drawn not

to the ocean and its white sand, or the blue herons wading in the estuaries,

but to the clotheslines adorned with garments. Instead of scenery, my

photographs were of rippling threads. I was struck by the incongruity of the

deserted yards and buttoned-up homes against the obvious telltale signs that

people with rich lives lived inside.

If Mrs. Gibson had lifted her shades all those years ago, perhaps she might

have learned something about the people next door.

I don't think our elder neighbor lived long enough to see our gas dryer

arrive, but somehow she endured us in spite of herself.