Back in the day, wash day meant boiling water over a fire, filling a washtub, hand scrubbing the clothes against a washboard, then running them through the wringers, before hanging them on the line. Today, my wringer stand just holds a washtub waiting for some summer annuals. And, that's all you will see as you pass by my little Creative Handz shop next to the house. "Oh, look!" you'll say, "What a great antique." (Which is better, I suppose, than suggesting that I'm the great antique.) You'll smile and drive on.
But, my heart sees something different. I see my mother, mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and friends, thrilled to death that they wouldn't have to hand-wring all those heavy overalls, sheets, and woven fabrics, because someone invented this hand-cranked wringer miracle. There were still some items that had to be hand-wrung, that would produce blisters the size of quarters on our hands, healing just in time for the next wash day -- and, it would start all over again. Hand-cranking wringers were a big step up and we were thrilled to have them.
Time moves on and, in the 60s, at my first apartment, the tenants were graciously supplied one (yes, one!) electric washing machine in an outside covered porch with a concave floor for spillovers, along with two lines for solar drying. (If you think women get ugly at Black Friday sales, try putting that one extra shirt on another tenant's line space!) You attached the water hose to a cold water faucet over a wet sink where you could soak really dirty items. If you wanted hot water, you boiled your own and carried it to the washing machine. [Psst! Don't tell anyone, but, I used to insert one of those plug attachments into the single light socket and, then, hook up a hotplate to boil water.] Then, I got smart and filled metal buckets with soap and water the day before, set them out in the sun, gave everything a good swish with a broom handle and let them have an overnight soak. The next morning, I would carry the buckets to the washing machine for some agitation and wringing. It was easier than using the hot plate that limited the pot size, meaning, lots of refilling and waiting. While the washtub was filling up with a fresh cold water rinse, I would add 1/2 cup salt to the first rinsing, to help remove the soap from the loosely wrung clothes. Then, it was agitate, wring, change water, return clothes to the tub, and repeat until no suds appeared during wringing process. (This was actually optional; but, I couldn't stand the stiffness from left-in soap.)
Now, for the uninitiated, those rollers required a learning curve. Many's the time I watched in horror as my husband's shirtsleeves would choose to wrap around opposing rollers! Karate moves were required to pop that thingy on the top or it was new rags for cleaning. Easier said than done, since you were so busy trying to feed everything towards the middle of the rollers to avoid your clothes and linens catching on the gears at each end and the inevitable shower created from ballooning suds-filled items, you forgot about the sleeves doing their ying-yang thing. (My gift for expletives grew with each wash day, as screaming "Oh, dear!" at the top of my voice lacked a certain something...) And, sheets? We're not even going to go there. Wash day was truly a three-wring circus!
Thanks to my drill-sergeant landlady, you had to plan on getting up before the birds, if you wanted to get a turn and find good line space. Leaving clothes on the line longer than it took for them to get solar dried was just asking for trouble. The other residents would either pull your clothes off the line and leave them in a heap on the ground or, if more friendly, they'd be knocking on your door, letting you know that their clothes were ready to go up and could you please take your DRY things down. No cell phones, then, and the only available phone was in the landlady's house and, according to the Tenant Rules, it better be used strictly for business!
Better days were coming, but most households couldn't afford the new-fangled all-electric washing machines that you could use inside your kitchen. But, it was definitely on your Wish List!
Of course, we still had to use that handy-dandy solar dryer! And, frankly, that was fine because nothing smells better than sun-dried clothes! Indoor dryers were still down the road. Today, these Energy Saver washers and dryers do everything but bake cakes and are a convenience taken for granted. The more crafty folks turn old clotheslines into gorgeous baskets.
As my family dwindles, every day that I pass this old washtub and hand-cranking wringer to go into my shop, I'm reminded of the days when my younger self, my family and friends, fighting the dust and grime of a different world at a different pace, fell in love with the convenience of this time-saving wonderful new way to get the family's clothes clean. It's not just a yard ornament, to me, it's a family timeline.
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