Mother’s beast of a thing was a Maytag, it looked just like this picture and resided in the “wash house,” a building behind our house. Mother didn’t wash on Monday, which I never understood anyway, why wouldn’t wash day be on Friday so people would have clean clothes for the weekend? But anyway, she worked, so Saturday was the day.
In the winter she washed inside the wash house, but in the summer it was hot, so we had to manuever the bulky washer down a couple of steps to the grass so that we could wash under the shade tree. Then we would have to carry out the two heavy rinse tubs as well, and position them next to the washer.
And then the fun began. First, there was no power, so she had to open a kitchen window and string an extension cord, and there was no running water, so we had to dip a bucket in the well, draw bucket after bucket after bucket of water to fill the tub, not only in the washer, but in two rinse tubs as well, and we had to first heat the water on the stove to make it hot. You were exhausted before you even started washing the clothes.
She would fire the thing up, it would chug and churn and belch, and she would have to hand feed the clothes through the wringer to squeeze out the soap, then transfer the clothes into the first rinse tub, flip that ringer to the tub and run the clothes through the ringer again to get out the excess moisture, then repeat the process once more in the second tub so that you got out all of the soap. You had to be really cautious, too, because more than one woman got her arm caught in that wringer. She always had a washboard handy, and she would take a cake of lye soap that she had made, rub the soap into the stains and then scrub it against the washboard.
Then she would pile all of that wet laundry into bushel baskets and we would trudge to the clothesline to hang them to dry. But first I would take a damp rag and run it the length of the clothesline, in case a bird had pooped on it, and then I had to take a 2x4 and prop up the middle of the line or the weight of the clothes would make it sag to the ground.
But we’re not finished, yet! After the clothes were hung to dry, we had to empty the water and somehow lift that heavy washing machine and the rinse tubs back into the wash house.
It was a full day’s work, and regardless of how tired we were, we still had to take the clothes off the line, fold them and put them away. The only bright spot is the smell. There is nothing that can duplicate the smell of clothes dried in the sunshine. It is a beautiful thing. It’s also gratifying to see them blowing in the wind, knowing what it took to get to that point. But it wasn’t very graitfying in the winter, when your hands would freeze as you pinned them to the line, and the clothes would freeze on the line.
And if I go back a generation, my grandmother had no electricity, no washing machine, ten kids, and she boiled water in the yard in a big copper pot, washed all of those clothes on a washboard, and hung them to dry. I can’t even imagine.
So the next time you complain about having to do the laundry, rethink it! It’s so simple now compared to the way it used to be, many of you don’t have a clue!