by Joyce Whitis
My niece is writing stories these days, putting them together for her grandchildren. She is explaining the way common tasks were completed when she was a child. “Some things just aren’t easy to explain,” she said. “For instance the old tub washing machines with wringers attached and the rinse tubs with cold water, bluing and starch.” Most folks alive today can’t remember past the automatic washer much less back to the cast iron wash pot over a wood fire. The next question is…..why would they want to? Well, some of us do and in fact even have warm fuzzy memories about wash day and hanging clothes on a line in the back yard to dry. Those clothes brought the clean, fresh smell of the sun right inside and snuggled down in bed with you at night.
By the time I was a teen-ager we took our clothes to the “washateria” but as a child, I helped do the laundry on days that were “nice”. “Tomorrow looks like it’ll be a nice day,” Mother would say as she stood on the front porch, surveying the sky, “I guess we’ll gather up the dirty clothes first thing in the morning.”
Mother was a pretty good weather forecaster. She used signs and cloud patterns that she had learned from an Indian woman her family knew when she was a child, together with the fact that she had spent her entire life in the country and observed nature close hand. We always planned things to do outside on “nice” days. The term, “the first nice day that we have” was the prefix for a set time to explore the cliffs around Farmer’s Valley or clean out the barn or visit relatives on Mulkey’s Ranch. We did interesting stuff outside on “nice” days. On “bad” days we stayed in the house and cleaned out closets, sewed up new garments, read or put jigsaw puzzles together.
What started me thinking about wash days and my Mother was a letter I got from a friend with the following description of laundry day in a very primitive time. My sources said this was written by a Kentucky grandmother who gave this recipe for washing clothes to a new bride.
Bilt fire in backyard to heat kettle of rain water.
1. Set tubs so smoke wont blow in eyes if wind is pert.
2. Shave one hole cake of lie soap in bilin water.
3. Sort things, make 3 piles. 1 pile white, 1 pile colored 1 pile work britches and rags.
4. To make starch, stir flour in cool water to smooth, then thin down with bilin water.
5. Take white things, rub dirty spots on board, scrub hard and then bile. Rub colored don’t bile, just rinch and starch.
6. Take things out of kettle with broomstick handle, then rinch and starch.
7. Hang old rags on fence.
8. 9. Spread tea towels on grass.
9. Pore rinch water in flower bed.
10. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.
11. Turn tubs upside down.
12. Go put on clean dress, smooth hair with hair combs. Brew cup of tea, sit and rock a spell and count your blessings.
Hey, I suddenly feel the need to kiss my washing machine and clothes dryer. Rocking a spell with a cup of hot tea wouldn’t be so bad either. It looks like its going to be a “nice” day.
I missed the wash pot days, but I do remember my grandmother and her old wringer machine on the back porch. I steered a wide berth around that contraption for fear it would reach out, grab my arm and pull it through those wringers.
Yep, I think I'll kiss my automatic washer and dryer as well. And that cup of tea will be mighty nice on these cold winter days.