Here awhile back, I was hanging laundry out to dry and suddenly remembered doing exactly this, well almost exactly, with my Mother many years ago. That memory prompted a flurry of emails between Mother and me, exchanging memories and ideas.
I found this “Warshing Clothes” recipe a year or so ago and kept it with the idea that it might come in handy someday. According to the story, a Grandmother from Alabama wrote it out for a new bride. What follows is supposed to be an exact copy of what was found in an old scrapbook, complete with spelling errors. I have my doubts about the authenticity, but it’s a good tale, isn’t it?
Build fire in backyard to heat kettle of rain water. Set tubs so smoke won’t blow in eyes if wind is pert. Shave one hole cake of lie soap in boilin water.
Sort things, make 3 piles
1 pile white,
1 pile colored,
1 pile work britches and rags.
To make starch, stir flour in cool water to smooth, then thin down with boiling water.
Take white things, rub dirty spots on board, scrub hard, and boil, then rub colored don’t boil just wrench and starch.
Take things out of kettle with broom stick handle, then wrench, and starch.
Hang old rags on fence.
Spread tea towels on grass.
Pore wrench water in flower bed. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.
Turn tubs upside down.
Go put on clean dress, smooth hair with hair combs. Brew cup of tea, sit and rock a spell and count your blessings.
*wrench means rinse
Monday is wash day, Tuesday is ironing day, Wednesday is mending day, Thursday is market day, Friday is cleaning day, Saturday is baking day, and Sunday is a day of rest.
By the time I came along in the mid-1950s I reckon a great deal of the routine daily chore assignment had fallen by the wayside. Monday though, was still wash day and no two ways about it. Tuesday was still allotted for ironing and Sunday was a day of rest. We’ll talk about churching later; right now laundry is what’s on my mind.
Let’s start out by letting you know that there was no running water in our house. We had a spring about 20 yards or so from the house. We carried water for household use in a galvanized two and a half gallon bucket. “Jim (or Tony or Michael), go get me a bucket of water!” I can still hear those words echoing across the years. Mother had three boys of an age to “tote water” so naturally we argued each time about whose turn it was to get the water. Mother gave no attention to such trivial matters; she wanted water and she jolly well wanted it right now.
I seem to have gone off the track a bit. We were about to do the washing weren’t we? Now you know how we got the water to the house; picture this. On the back porch is a Kelvinator wringer washer and two #2 washtubs that have to be filled. Each rinse tub holds around 12 gallons or so and the washer about the same. So, we’re looking at 35+ gallons of water toted to the back porch, uphill mind you, a couple of gallons at the time. Hold that thought and consider there were four beds in the house, two adults and five kids. Dad worked in a foundry, so his work clothes were washed separately and last.
Are you still with me? My brother Dwayne, and a couple of years later, my sister, Bonita were in diapers for a while. We didn’t have those disposable horrors they use nowadays. Nosiree! White cotton, and didn’t they have to be bleached and blued? Hundreds of thousands of them, it seemed. I was sure that if I had a continuous clothesline, I could hang diapers from our back yard all the way to the Ireland and quite possibly part of the way back! They were such wee creatures; how did they piss and soil that many diapers?
Okay, we aren’t getting any clothes washed this way. The white clothes had to be washed first. That meant hot water. Now Mother, being the “thoroughly Modern Millie” that she was, had found herself a real time-saver for all that hot water. It was an electric water heater! It was about the size of a family sized bar of Ivory soap, made of galvanized steel. All that was required was to drop it into the water and plug it in. But, not in reverse order or you’d find yourself doing the St Vitus’ dance!
One fine summer day, we were hard at it getting ready for the wash. The heater was in the washer, warming the water and Mother was in the kitchen getting dinner on the stove. I came in with the latest bucket of water for the kitchen. Mother never looked up from her stirring.
“Jim, go out on the back porch and see if the wash water is hot yet.” And, off I went. Have I mentioned that I perhaps wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box? I pranced out onto the back porch and dipped my hand into the water to check the temperature. What an interesting sensation…
Next thing I know Mother is shaking me and calling my name. “Jim! Jim!” I was lying peacefully on the cool grass of the back yard.
“Boy, you’re as dumb as an Airedale! You know you’ve got to unplug that heater before you stick your hand in the water!”
I just lay there quietly; not pointing out that she’d never mentioned unplugging the blooming thing. Hell, I was eight years old; what did I know about electricity? Oh, and just before we leave this subject, you should know I never did that again. Lessons hard learned are hard forgotten…
When the clothes were deemed to be clean they were passed through the wringer into the first rinse tub. Now, for those of you too young to remember such things, the wringer or mangle consisted of two hard rubber rollers turning in opposition to squeeze as much water as possible from the garment. A tray underneath the wringer caught the water and directed back to whence it had come, thus saving water for the next load.
The clothes were then dashed up and down in the rinse water to remove most of the soap, put through the wringer and into the second rinse tub for another thrashing to remove any remaining soap. A third trip through the wringer and it was off to the clothesline.
Mother had a very particular way to hang the wash, too. Don’t think for one minute you could just grab a garment nearest the top of the basket and pin it on the line. Oh no, that wouldn’t do at all! Everything had to be hung according to a prescribed order. Sheets were hung first, followed by the pillow cases. After that would come the white and light-colored shirts. By this time we’d have filled the lines visible from the road and the “unmentionables” could be hung behind them. God forbid someone should pass the house and see a brassiere or pair of panties or garter belt hanging out there in the bright sunlight! These instructions may actually have been on that fourth tablet Moses brought down from the mountain. I’m not sure about that part, but it was definitely holy writ!
Naturally, I just couldn’t see the sense of getting into such a tizz over a bit of laundry.
“Mother, why can’t we just hang ’em up as we come to ’em? What does it matter?”
Mother gave me a cold, withering look that told me she was having a great deal of trouble believing she had given birth to such a simple child.
“Lord have mercy boy, what would people think if they saw the wash hanging on the line any such a way as that?”
Those of you who follow this blog are well aware by now that I’m definitely not a genius. I thought about it for a few seconds and hazarded a guess.
“Well, I reckon they’d think we’ve been washing clothes today!”
With a long glance heavenward, Mother threw up her hands and marched back into the house.
“Did I really give birth to a boy that ain’t even got enough sense to come in out of the rain?”
I sat on the ground and pondered on these people were who rode around looking at people’s laundry and making judgments about them. Who were these people? Was it a paying job or strictly voluntary? Did they file reports? To whom? These questions laid heavy on my mind and I was determined to get to the bottom of it… just as soon as I could figure out who’d talk about it. I never did.
Blog Scratchers Corner
Blogs To Follow
- Through the Wringer! (countryliving4beginners.wordpress.com)