16 August 2006

I Blame it on the Dryer!

I GOT INTO A FIGHT, with this kid named George. It was really a grabbing and pulling match more than anything. He pushed on me, I grabbed him, we fell against a fence, I pulled on his coat, he held onto mine. I don't even think I dropped my book bag in this punchless showdown of four grade warriors. After 29 years, I have no idea of what we were 'fighting' about. It lasted for less than three minutes and I was home in less than five minutes after that.

Why was it that my mother was waiting at the back door for me when I got there?

She demanded, "Why were you and George fighting in the street, just now?"

I didn't curse back in 1978, but if I had, I would have said, "Ma, how in the hell did you know that?"

What had happened was, a woman up the street that knew my mother through another woman in the neighborhood, who also knew me and all my little buddies, called my mother to let her know I was acting in a manner - that was not proper for little nine year old boys.

YES, I got in trouble. I got in trouble because of the neighborhood network! What I would come to call in later years, "The Clothsline Syndicate".

I'm in my late thirties, and one of my most promanent memories as a pre-teen / teen was is of my mother, my next door neighbors, the rest of the ladies with back yards along our alley, and the rest of my buddies moms - all hanging up laundry to dry on Saturday afternoons. (Sure, us kids hand to hang up laundry too, but that's another blog for another time). This "Clothesline Syndicate" was how the neighborhood moms shared, information, news, receipes, and 'intel on us kids!' It was one of the key ways families got to know each other. A hand wave to the woman 6 houses up the alley and just out of shouting range! A casual stroll down the alley to complement the mom hanging up these cute "Tom and Jerry" bedsheets.

The "Clothesline Syndicate" was me and my crew got to be known by many of the moms in our Baltimore neighborhood. We were always treking up or down the alleys with footballs, baseballs or frisbees or bicycles looking for one another. We'd throw a wave to one of our buddies mom's, "Hi Missus' Brentley, can Kevin come out?" They'd nod and say, "Hey Ralphie, yeah he's upstairs in his room, go on up." Or, there were those times when we'd be somewhere we shouldn't be and the memebers of the "Clotheline Syndicate" would step out on the back porch and yell, "Cal-vin! Calvin come on in here!" Then you'd hear another voice a half block away calling, "Cal-vin! Your Mama is looking for you!" Then, "Here he comes!" And then Clavin would come trotting down the street.

Then the Clothesline Syndicate, died.

I Blame it on the dryer. When electric dryers became more affordable, and my mom and then Mrs. Brentley and Mrs. Newhaven, and Mrs. Jenkins, and Ms. Ellen got them. I saw less and less meetings at the clothelines. I saw less bed sheets waving like family flags from the clotheline flagpoles. I saw less and less of the mother's and mom's in my old neighborhood standing in the back yards talking, laughing and sharing kiddie intel.

I think Kenmore, Whirlpool and Amanna improved the quality and ease of washing clothes and keeping our fabrics clean. But, they killed the Clothesline Syndicate and changed forever the dynamic of our family and community. Some might even say - they ruined The Village.



Anali said...

Very interesting theory. I think there is definitely something to it. I've been reading articles on the NPR website about how homes don't have front porches like they used to and that has added to a decline in people talking to their neighbors and the weakening of communities.

The Thinking Black Man said...


Anali, I never thought about that!

I do see fewer porches! I've NEVER thought about that. Now you've REALLY got me thinking!


Ann said...

You can't just blame it all on clothes dryers.

Other factors to take into consideration:

-Work. Many black women have always had to work. It is in our history. Not all black women were able to stay home and raise their children so they had to take jobs to help make ends meet in supplementing their husband's income. Even now, in 2006 America the majority of black women still have to work. Unlike most white women, we have never had the luxury of being able to stay home in large numbers and not have to go out and work. With black women, we have always worked because we HAD to, not because we WANTED to. And if it wasn't for those ladies who looked out for us for our mothers, those ladies many of whom were able to stay at home either because they were retired or through some stroke of economic blessings on their husband's part in being gainfully employed, if they weren't able to stay at home and watch the streets for us, God help us in where we older blacks would be if not for these ladies.
-INTEGRATION. Yes, that horrible monster integration. With the legal (on written paper at least) end of Jim Crow/segregation, many black families moved away, got better jobs, and broke ties with the black community that stood the test of time against the ravages of segregation. Gone were the days of your lady neighbor down the street keeping an eye on you. With many people of other races (Latino, Arabic, etc.) moving into our neighborhoods, the "village" communication went the way of the dinosaur. Take a look at the present multi-racial/black neighborhoods of today: Latino, some white, some Asian, etc. They do not look out for black kids the way our black elders did for us. That is an important factor that cannot be dismissed when speaking of neighborhoods of today. Black people looked out for each other. In the black/multi-racial neighborhood that I live in, I do not see much of any body trying to look out for the black children, especialy not the other races. And yes, if you ask them why they (the black children) are not at home helping Mom or Dad or at least at home doing their homework, then they look at you like you are crazy. The demise of many black businesses (cafes, humburger stands, etc.) where a young black person could hang out have practically disappeared. Many black neighborhoods have no decent place for young blacks to congregate between school and 6:00PM, so many black children go outside of their neighborhood for entertainment and other forms of diversion, causing them to get back home at late hours of the night, especially if they catch the bus.
-I agree with Anali on the porches. Houses of today, epecially unlike the "brownstones" of Striver's Row, etc., of New York, do not have the front porch/stoops that allowed people to sit, watch passersby, speak to each other, catch up on the latest news, sit a spell and visit.
-Add to the fact that everyone is now "into" him and herself. Gone are the days when the "ladies of the neighborhood" looked out for everyone in the community. Now it is pretty much "I've got mine, now you get yours" mentality.

Much has changed in the black communit.

And not all of this change has been good.

Ann said...

That was supposed to be "hamburger" and "community."

JJ said...

U can think central air for the demise of the porch. Porches existed as a way to keep cool. On really hot summers you could sit on your covered porch, shaded by big trees and cool off b/c it was a lot better than sitting in a stuffy house. With the advent of AC then there was no need for the porch.

The Thinking Black Man said...

Hey JJ-

I never even thought about A/C and the demise of the front porch.

Hmm, Driers / Clotheslines and A/C Porches, I'm going to have to sit back and think about what else changed things like that!

Stay tuned...

Anali said...

Very interesting about the a/c. It makes sense. So many things in life are interconnected and we never know what repercussions will follow from life's "improvements."

Evia said...

So many things in life are interconnected

So true. Actually, I think that if we but see it, everything in life is connected.
We've just lost sight of all the threads that connect.

Anyway, when I was a child, I was the most stubborn and hardheaded child, but I couldn't get away with ANYTHING! News travelled like a wild fire in my community, and I knew that. That is what stopped me from doing a bunch of stuff because I KNEW that once my family heard of it, I wouldn't be able to lie my way out of it and I would be done!!

The adults were wise enough to see that some children need more watching than others and I was one of the children that got more of their attention because I was strong-headed and considered a wilful child, lol, but there were adult relatives around who were more wilful than me!! They were determined that their will would prevail. They were ALWAYS consistent, so I knew that there would ALWAYS be negative consequences for any negative behavior.

I was intelligent and got tired of those negative consequences. LOL!!

Even after I left home, I didn't want my family to hear about any negative stuff I was doing because I didn't want to disappoint them, so I didn't do what some of my peers were doing or I was EXTRA EXTRA careful. LOL!! Even now, I wouldn't want some of my relatives to hear about me or my children doing anything bad, so that teaching that I received as a child apparently sunk in to the bone! LOL!

The Thinking Black Man said...

I've got one for you, when it comes to not getting away with ANYTHING...

When I was 13 and on summer break between middle school and high school, I spent weekdays alone at home [my younger siblings were with my Grandma]. I was chillin' one morning watching TV or whatever, and suddenly, my Dad, who should have been at work came strolling through the door. He had a strange look on his face and he proceeded to give me one of those, "We need to talk..." talkings.

As it turned out, the week before, I had foolishly tried to sneak my girlfriend into my house while my parents were at work. {Yeah, I was a little stupid and sneaky at that time).

Basically, my next door neighbor saw me and dimed me out to my Dad, who proceeded to give me a long drawn out lecture into the dangers (from HIM and fate) of trying to be sneaky with the "little girls". That was my first and last time getting busted like that!

It seemed that the neighbor network was up and running at peak efficency!!!

Anali said...

It is funny the things that our parents actually end up finding out about. I grew up in pretty small town south of Boston with a relatively small black community, but we pretty much all knew each other. There is still a network even now and news travels fast, even when people are out of state.

Sean said...

Wonderful post. Brings back memories for me and the neighborhood I grew up in too. Man I miss those days.