I should sympathize instead of laugh. As any housewife of my generation will tell you, we all have our stories. And although we all might dread the day when we might face a similar situation, none of us would beg to return to the good old days when Monday was wash day, and we would iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, churn on Thursday, clean on Friday, bake on Saturday, and — joke of the day — rest on Sunday. (I think we memorized that litany before we learned our ABCs.)
Clothes, and all that goes with them, seemed to take up an inordinate amount of the time and energy of the lady-of-the-house in families before the day of “modern” conveniences. (In Marguerite’s case recently, it was a modern inconvenience.)
The affordable household machine age evolved rather slowly. After all, what good was a washing machine without electricity and plumbing, both of which were late in arriving at homes in rural North Georgia? And once we had the pipes and wires and machines, why would one put clean, wet clothes in a machine when she could spend time at the clothesline, hanging those bleached white sheets and soft cotton diapers and gingham dresses and starched skirts and shirts and pants out for the neighbors to see. (I’m being facetious, of course, but I really did love that part of laundering!)
I have no memory of life at home without electricity, but I do recall the excitement of suddenly having a faucet that brought that wonderful spring water to our kitchen via pipes instead of buckets carried by hand from what seemed to be a mile away.
That same miracle called for a new room on the house, a room made especially for a bathtub, a commode, and a “laundry heater” that stood in close proximity to a tall water tank. The heater was fired up, summer and winter, to heat the water in the tank, and the water magically made its way to the kitchen sink and the bathtub, and, eventually, to the washing machine.
But someone had to “feed” the machine, run the clothes through the wringer into the rinse water, repeat the cycle for rinsing, then prepare starch for those cotton skirts and blouses and aprons. We “cooked” the starch, and carefully dipped the collars and cuffs of Papa’s white shirts in heavy starch, thinning it down for other pieces. Later I would marvel at the use of pant stretchers for my hubby’s khakis, which made ironing a smooth chore, pun intended. (He came home from the Army accustomed to khakis and never went the way of denim jeans.)
Since cotton was the main fabric, the clothes had to be dampened before ironing. Usually, the sprinkler used for that was a pint fruit jar with holes in the lid. But with the patent office working overtime, we eventually had nylon and polyester and all sorts of blends, most of which could live without an iron of any kind.
I threw away the pant stretchers and purchased a steam iron, and Tuesdays became a day of leisure. (Yeah, right.) We had progressed from Grandma’s curtain stretchers (Remember those tiny little loops on lace tablecloths and curtains used for tacking the item to the stretcher?) and clothespins, and wringer washers which we often filled with rainwater, to tumbler washers and, the greatest invention since sliced bread, clothes dryers.
Married with children, our first “automatic” washer was a Westinghouse, and it was installed in the kitchen very near the breakfast (and lunch and supper) table. Our oldest daughter could almost reach the top of the tumbler door from her high chair, and she first learned to count by pointing out the number of letters … one through 12. I thought she was so smart. But I digress.
Strange sounds have been coming from our dryer lately. It isn’t housed in an appliance closet, but at this stage of the game of life, I really don’t want to try to get acquainted with a new one.
Our clotheslines are long gone, as is my love of them. But there are “built-in conveniences” in the kitchen. And like most folks, we are a lot more concerned with the function of those appliances than with the laundry. I just hope Marguerite doesn’t get the last laugh.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.