We can thank Eve for the task of laundry. I mean, before she ate the forbidden fruit, there were no clothes to wash. But I don’t mind. It’s actually one of my favorite tasks.
I remember my mother’s ringer washer in the basement where she did our laundry. With four girls, there were lots of dresses and lace-edged socks to be washed. The wringer washer was actually a step up for her.
She grew up doing laundry on a washboard alongside her mother.
On wash day a fire was built outdoors and the big, black kettle set on top to heat the water (carried by bucket from the cistern). Dirty clothes were dropped in the boiling water and stirred with a stick. Once pulled from the hot water, clothes were scrubbed on a washboard using the homemade soap they’d made from lard and lye (in the same black pot).
After wringing out by hand, clothes were hung on a rope strung between trees. Then following the drying, heavy irons were heated on the cook stove and used to remove the wrinkles all that hot water and scrubbing produced.
I don’t have to work so hard but I’ve still chosen to line-dry my clothes and make my own laundry detergent, pre-wash spray, and soap. I’ve always loved the smell of clothes dried outdoors and the memories that are attached to that smell, like walking between the folds of the sheets as they turned warm and crisp in the hot summer sun. So I built myself a clothesline. I remember it was the summer my husband had a heat stroke and I was feeling powerless without his brawn to get things done. That’s when I decided I really could do this by myself, so off I went to the lumber yard. I bought wood and rope and cement and built the thing myself.
That same summer I turned my “if we don’t know where to store this, it can go in here” laundry room into a lavender museum of old clothes pins, washboards, irons, and soap. One of my favorite pieces in this space is an old Pepsi bottle with a sprinkler where the bottle cap used to be. It’s a prize I found at a yard sale for three dollars, but it packs a memory worth a million bucks. When I was growing up, my mom ironed everything – I mean dresses, shirts, underwear and sheets! And because permanent press was yet to be invented, everything washed was wrinkled. Since this was such a time consuming job, my mom tried to entertain us while she ironed. Sometimes we set up our own toy ironing board and ironed our doll clothes or pretended to be visitors coming to chat with a neighbor or asked her to tell us one of her magical stories. And it was then that my mother used her Pepsi bottle to sprinkle water on the clothes to be ironed.
But time has a way of discarding the way we do things. And so when my grandchildren ask the question, “What is it?” as they gaze up at the wall of hanging washboards or the rows of black irons lining shelves above my modern washer and dryer, I share stories of past generations and hope they’ll love laundry day too.