Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for Wash Day, a Three-Wring Circus - A-Z Challenge

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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16 comments:

  1. I remember everything, but especially from the wringer washer like it was yesterday when I was a student I did my laundry, and two white blouse that I had to buy myself have remained caught in the wringer and came out every tear and full of fat black and my mother when she was doing the washing, was putting himself in the sacred cause of clothes caught in the wringer, after the engine caught fire, and my father replaced it and start over. And you had the clothes you déjas caught in the wringer?; VIEW AN EXAMPLE BELOW
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onfiYh9s8t8

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    1. It certainly demanded a learning curve, that's for sure. Sorry you had to lose a favorite blouse. Most of us did, in the beginning. Now, we don't even think about throwing clothes in a washer and doing other chores waiting for it to finish. Thanks for stopping by.

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  2. I could remember my mother on wash days, nothing like we have to day. Mondays was always wash days when I was a child and wednesday's was for ironing.
    Loved reading your W word.
    Yvonne.

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    1. Yup, we lived according to the days, to get the chores done. Don't know why, but always loved ironing. Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. At home back in the 1940s and 1950s we had a wash-house with a big copper heate by coal to get hot water for washday and fo use in a tin bath. My job was to turn the handle on a big cast iron mangle to wring out the clothes.

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    1. Lordy, totally forgot about the mangle wringer. My Mother bought a Mangle Ironer back in the 40s for doing sheets and other flat items. I loved using it to make everything crisp and pretty! Those were much slower times. Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. Oh, this was a wonderful post. Took me back to my childhood kitchen, helping my mother with the washing. You've perfectly captured all those little details that I had (almost) forgotten.

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    1. Thanks, Stephanie. Those were the days -- loved and hated, at the same time. Hard to believe we lived those times and did so much by hand. Fogot to mention the boiling starch. Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Sharlene, thanks for your visit and comment at my blog. I loved this post! We lived in Brazil for almost 30 years and the stories I could tell of doing laundry there! The most difficult was washing in the stream when we lived in an Indian village. We would go in with our clothes on, soap up, rinse off and walk back to our home in wet clothes, change into dry and hang out the wet ones. The Indians used bushes, we used a clothes line made of parachute cord. Diapers were the real challenge though. My baby lived with eternal diaper rash since it was impossible to get all the soap out of the diapers. The Indians were more practical. Their babies all went bare bottomed. I couldn't quite get the hang of that though.

    Sharon
    http://grandmaisawriter.blogspot.com

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    1. Yeah, a bare-bottomed baby would be difficult for me to adjust to, too! That meant they could relieve themselves, anywhere, and that could very easily be on MY mattress! I've washed in streams, too. Used vinegar and salt in my rinse water to get rid of the suds. Clothes were still pretty stiff, though. I think we've gotten soft -- which is a fine way to spend old age! Thanks for stopping by.

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  6. Ah, Sharlene......my memories of wash day pre-date the wringer.......we also had irons that were just ovoid shaped iron thingies with a strange latch on the top for it's handle....you latched in the handle, put the iron on a lighted stove burner, removed the handle and let it heat..... and when it was hot enough you latched the handle back on, removed the iron from the stove and ironed like crazy till it got too cold to remove wrinkles.
    Then you put the cool one back on the stove and latched the handle onto the 2nd iron which was already heating on a burner......etc.

    We also had an ice box and every Friday the Iceman delivered several blocks of ice to stock it. And one had to empty the melted ice water pan too frequently

    But at least a person didn't trip over electric cords and wires every six inches through thru the house.......and you didn't need to remember your password to accomplish anything......

    I dunno......hard to tell which is better......

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    1. Hey, Lo! Finally getting around to answering some of this years Challenge comments. Where has the year gone? One of my first childhood jobs was emptying the water tray under the icebox! We couldn't wait for him to come so we could get big slivers of ice to suck on on those hot summer days... and, it was horse-drawn... can't answer your question 'cause those good old days were just plain hard work and I rather enjoy meeting folks like you online.

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  7. What a great post! I'm too young to have ever used the wringer rollers - but I'm old enough to remember my cousin getting her arm caught in them! Her arm was broken, and shortly after my Aunt got a new roller-free machine...

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    1. It can be quite scary when that happens. I always wondered why those rollers had so much give in them to let an arm go through. Thanks for stopping by.

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  8. oh dear...that sounds like too much work!

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    1. It WAS too much work, but volunteers were scarce and it had to be done. We had nothing else so they were luxuries, then. The new GREEN movement is discovering our earlier days and sort of updating them to make them easier to use. Still need elbow grease and back labor, though. Thanks for stopping by.

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