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The Way We Were INDEX 1  2  3
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Laundry Day

Doing the laundry has certainly changed.  I still remember laundry day, summers when I stayed with my grandparents.  Grandma Hine had a little room off the kitchen especially for laundry.   Water was heated in a huge, oval copper tub on the huge wood-fire range, and ladled out into the antique washing machine in buckets.  The washer itself consisted of a wooden tub, bound with metal like a half-barrel, with a  wringer in the center that swiveled in four positions:  the wash tub, the first rinse, second rinse, or whatever you put in the fourth position to catch the clean clothes.  The wash tub had an agitator, and the hottest water was put into this one.  A plunger, like a toilet plunger but flatter with several partitions inside, was used to agitate the clothes in the two rinse tubs.   Warm water filled the second, and cold the third.  The wringer engaged when a lever was thrown.   The first and perhaps the second load from the wash tub was usually too hot to handle, and had to be fished out with a pole and sort of slung into the wringer.   Then things started to cool down and we could fish for the clothes by hand, something that amused me greatly as a small child, for some reason.

The whole thing worked with a ratchet and belt arrangement.  I always knew it was laundry day when I awoke to the distinctive chucka-chucka-chucka of Grandma's  washer.  I've never enjoyed getting up early, but I'd get up in a hurry and put on old clothes so I could help put things through the wringer.

The History of Washing Machines 

The Invention of the Washing Machine

Evolution of the Maytag Wringer Washer

The clothes were sorted carefully into piles;  white shirts, ladies underwear and very light colored fine outer ware, white doilies and so on in the first wash.   Sheets, towels and other light clothing in the next.  Colored items followed, then dark colored items in another run.   Finally, dark socks, blue jeans, overalls, anything really dirty.  Last, in water gone cold and dark gray, rugs and rags were run though.   Then the water was dipped out in buckets and thrown out the back door.   Sometimes in warm weather Grandma poured some of the soapy water on one of the porches or outside steps and scrubbed with a broom.    This whole process was usually done only about every two weeks, as it was a lot of work!

Next, of course, was hanging them with old-fashioned clothes pins.  Spring clip ones weren't made yet.  Grandma had an apron with a huge pocket full of clothespins, especially made for laundry day.  The laundry line was hoisted high with a pole to keep it off the lawn and catch the breeze.   In winter, the laundry froze before it could dry completely.   It was brought inside stiff as boards, and draped all over the kitchen to thaw and finish drying.  You haven't seen rustic until you've seen and smelled several sets of damp long johns and overalls drying all over the kitchen, while cooking and sometimes eating went on around them.  

Ironing was done with a flat iron, a heavy piece that was heated on the big, wood burning kitchen stove.  Most people had two, one to be heating and the other to iron with.  The ironing board was covered usually with old blankets for padding and old sheets or tablecloths for a cover.  As they scorched and deteriorated one was put on top another, sewn in place with heavy thread or pinned with straight pins or safety pins.  Taking off all these layers, if ever required,  was a family history lesson.  

Is it any wonder that your usual working-class citizen changed clothes less frequently than most do now?  And for those of us who have automatic washers and even dryers, keep in mind that a large part of the world still washes clothes on rocks in a river, or with a washboard and bucket!   Give thanks!

After World War II, an electric pump was installed in Grandpa's cellar, replacing the hand pump over the sink that had been in use since the house was built.  Water was piped in and an inside bathroom built, a true luxury with tub, toilet and lavatory.  The old Maytag was removed, replaced with a modern, electric wringer washer in one corner of the large bathroom.  An electric iron replaced the flatiron, which was demoted to doorstop, as was done in homes all over the USA.   Even the wood burning kitchen stove was replaced with a kerosene burning one, complete with its own water heater. 

With all that pumping, hauling buckets, manhandling the washer and heavy wet clothes, hanging, un-hanging and then ironing with a heavy iron, it's no wonder our female ancestors had muscles, and only the wealthy were inclined to be fat and change clothes once or twice a day.  Now we go to the gym instead, and still the nation gains weight.          

Standard glass soda bottles with sprinklers, and even ironing, to a great extent have gone out of style.  Personally, I use the permanent press cycle on my dryer, and take the clothes out before they cook, while not damp but certainly humid.   If I get something that comes out wrinkled, I give it away.   I swore off ironing a decade and a half ago.

I had one of those Ironrite mangles when my kids were small and most clothes had to be ironed.  With plenty of time available, I even ironed the pillowcases and my husband's boxer shorts!  The mangle worked great.  I sprinkled by hand or with a soda bottle sprinkler, and rolled things up in a plastic bag for ironing a few hours later, as a sprayer was too tiring to use.  I have no clue what happened to that old cork and metal sprinkler top!

Many households were still retro with older wringer-type washers, although I had an automatic washer and used it daily.  Daughter Cathy fondly recalls sneaking off every chance she had to a home a half-block away, to help put a neighbor's clothes through the wringer, a process that fascinated her.  None of that automatic stuff for her!

When I went to work full-time, one of the first things to go was the mangle.  Next went by necessity most of the clothes that had to be ironed, as I just didn't have the time.  The few really good clothes that needed ironing I did on a board.  This also allowed me to watch a movie on TV while ironing,  something I had little time for otherwise.  Just try watching TV while you use a mangle!  On second thought, don't!  Then I got a dryer, since hanging the clothes and remembering to take them in before it rained (not always easy in Florida), or hauling wet clothes to the Laundromat to dry them when it rained for days, was just too much.   And little by little, as the chancy "wash and wear" was mostly replaced by "permanent press", I gave up ironing too.  

It's no wonder that women rarely went outside the home to work decades ago! 

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